Kinship and being a Good Human

“Its better felt than telt” (James Docherty) 

One of the things I’ve learned after 39 years in the police is that strategies and policies, no matter how big or grand, seldom make any difference without committed people to make them happen. Relationships are not just important, they are vital and they are the answer to every question.

With every election we are subjected to wall-to-wall media coverage of political leaders of every hue, each one claiming to be smarter than the other. Every one of them claims to have a strategy that will make our lives better, every strategy is different and every strategy is claimed to be the only one that will work. The message on offer is simple, if we follow the man with the plan (its usually a man) then everything will be fine the Health Service will be fixed, Education will be fixed, the Economy will be fixed and a bright future is assured for us all. To make this happen every public agency operates systems within structures using strategies that are guaranteed to make everything better. These services are delivered by professionals, well educated, well trained and, for the most part, well paid. The challenge, as I see it, is the concomitant bureaucracy created by all of these systems sucks the humanity from their purpose.

I have no doubt every strategy is well thought out, every claim well informed and every politician well intentioned but if the best predictor of future events is past events then the claims these potential saviours are making are at best misguided. Politicians must always assume that every challenge or problem requires a political solution but politicians can only really do 2 things, they can make laws and they can spend taxes; I wish they were as enthusiastic to do the latter as the former.   

I think as humans we are programmed to try and fix things, its what we do, so we are always ready and usually keen to buy into strategies that claim to fix the issues that trouble us and to follow the leaders who offer up these strategies. There are some issues, like inequality, that can’t just be fixed, sometimes they can only be made better and sometimes we can do this ourselves.  But Political Policy can also make things worse and when that happens it’s usually the most vulnerable in our communities who bear the brunt. The outcomes created by vigorously progressing a policy of austerity are obvious to anyone with the humanity to see.

Humans are born connected - we are programmed to form relationships and most of our problems begin when this connection is broken. This need to connect to other human beings remains with us throughout our lives. Compassion and empathy are two of the human traits that help this connection. When these are missing we create disconnection and inequality.

It follows then since humans live together in communities - that those communities where people are connected, are the communities that thrive. There are great examples everywhere in Scotland of people who just get together with their neighbours to make their communities better. They set up youth clubs, run football teams, start community gardens, nursery groups, run men’s groups, women’s groups, homework clubs, breakfast cubs. They don't have strategies, they don't wait to be led and they don't ask anyone’s permission, they just get on and do whatever they can to make it better, even if it’s just a little better. They help each other and look out for each other because that's what humans do and that's what good communities do and have always done; its not a political strategy – it’s what we humans do. It’s real people who make the real changes.

In a world where the value frame is money and where personal success is measured by how much we own - we seem to have forgotten the value of human relationships. But those who do value relationships and understand their importance to our wellbeing are still required to inhabit systems and structures that have an in-built bias towards monetary profit - charities spend much of their time and energy trying to reconcile the “profit” they generate by way of connection, wellbeing and community with the business profit of money. In doing this, they are often left to feel that the work they do is not worthwhile, has no value and is irrelevant. It is their compassion and empathy that drives them to continue and to make things better.

One of the best examples I know of a community where connection and humanity are obvious is GalGael. GalGael is a place where people come together and help each other, a place where there is no judgement, no blame but a powerful sense of humanity and connection. There is no notion of profit other than helping those who need help through kinship and care. At GalGael people stand shoulder-to-shoulder as they work through individual everyday challenges together. GalGael also build beautiful boats. It works and I’m incredibly proud to be a small part of it. 

John Carnochan is a retired police officer and was the co-founder of the Scottish Violence Reduction Unit. He is a Trustee on the Board of GalGael.

You can help GalGael steer its course by supporting our work, a monthly commitment would be wonderful but anything you can spare will be used to help humans connect.