Musings on ‘what we should do’ …

One of my mantras when I used to run schools was ‘everyone a leader’, and I meant this in the widest possible sense – literally, everyone in the organisation could and should be prepared to take responsibility for their spheres of activity, but also be prepared to contribute – readily and openly – to the wider whole. In essence, I believed (and still believe) that in any organisation (or, indeed, in any grouping of human beings), we have not only an individual responsibility, but also a collective responsibility, and not only an individual contribution to make, but a collective one. Together, we are more able to fulfil our mission, we are more creative and inventive, and we are more able to turn ideas into practical, functioning reality in a way that makes a difference.

It is remarkable, however, how often we feel as though we can’t – or indeed aren’t ‘supposed’ to, or ‘allowed’ to take this collective responsibility. Perhaps this is because other emotions get in the way … I remember my children feeling really embarrassed once, when as we were on our way home to the UK from Portugal, waiting in a crowd of people at the departure gate at Faro airport, I noticed that the gate had been changed with no announcement. We could just have slunk off to the new gate ourselves, but since it was patently obvious that everyone else waiting around was also intending to board the same flight as us, and none of them seemed to have noticed, I thought I should point this change out to everyone, and so made a mini-announcement to the gathered hordes. This achieved its goal, and we all headed off to the new gate; and I explained carefully to my children why it was important to take responsibility and step up to the mark when you can see that something needs to be done, and not let embarrassment (or fear) hold you back. I think they have forgiven me … in any case, I know I was right …

This reluctance to step up and take personal responsibility for the collective good, however, is all around us – and understandably so, because it can be really hard. We all have that child inside us – the voice that says ‘surely there is someone better than me to do or say this’. Ironically, of course, children often have the clearest vision in morally challenging situations; as a society we just don’t listen to them enough. Anyway, sometimes this reluctance manifests itself in avoidance of responsibility to the extent that it results in selfish behaviour which then has the potential to harm others (eg crowds of people socialising and therefore passing Covid around when scientists worldwide are telling us this is a bad idea …); sometimes, however, it manifests itself in what we don’t do – when we don’t reach out and ask how someone is, or if we can help them, for example, or when we don’t speak up, or when we don’t volunteer. And because it is arguably harder to spot an absence of action taken, because there are multiple forms which this action could take, depending on the choices we make to say, do, act and so on, then it is equally arguably easier for us just not to do what we really should.

So, what should we do? Well, there is no simple answer to that – what we do will depend on the myriad aspects of the context to which we are applying that question. But a good starting point is to ask the question, ‘What should I do?’ Really, truly, honestly – what should I do? Sprinkle into your reflection on this question a dollop of optimism, a spoonful of positivity, and a pinch of self-confidence, and I reckon there is a fair chance that a decent answer will pop out.

So – here is a daily challenge for the week – why not give it a go …?

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