Text Size

Search Articles

More By This Author

More From This Category

Article Information

Do All The Good You Can.

By Laura Black in All Sorts

arguments for actually doing good rather than just feeling good

May Angelou famously* wrote they may forget what you said — but they will never forget how you made them feel.
I suspect this was originally a call to compassion, to the accordance of dignity to the other; for basic human respect.
But in our market-oriented world, and particularly in politics, it has become rather more a call to frame debate in terms of feelings above all else, sacrificing substance and complexity for “messaging”.
In the last month we’ve seen this in every Trump utterance – he rarks up his base with dramatically insupportable “logic” on a daily, hourly basis, to a quite wearying degree. (Defining Branolini’s Law for those of you with Google and a stomach for light profanity.)
We see it in the ongoing catastrophe that is Brexit (or more properly the way the UK government is “planning” for Brexit, i.e. via slogans rather than, you know, actual plans).
Locally, we’ve seen it in the Government’s new plastic bag ban, announced part way through the official review, even though – uncomfortably – 94% of plastic waste in the oceans comes from fishing nets, and a study from the Danish Ministry for the Environment this year showing that plastic bags are BETTER for the environment than cotton tote bags. (Cotton tote bags have to be reused thousands of times to have the same environmental footprint as a supermarket flimsy§).
And unfortunately we see this anxiety – to present the very best feeling about our work – all the time in social services.
Staff at the Mission collectively attend upwards of a dozen inter-agency meetings in Otago, Southland, and Wellington, every month, in pursuit of collaboration. (We have invitations to more than double that number.)
Too often, the meeting turns out to have been the extent of the collaboration. If there is further work to be done, it is almost always on creating the conditions for further “collaboration”!
I have known staff who were close to overwhelmed with work, because of all the do-nothing-feel-good meetings they were going to.
One of the greatest gifts of Methodism is our phenomenal history of pragmatism. The fundamental commitment to getting out of bed today, and doing something, and getting out of bed tomorrow and doing that something better or more or finding another something to do. Our understanding that perfect is the enemy of good enough and our deep theological commitment to living in the Spirit daily.
I recently briefed a bunch of new MPs confused by officials’ briefings on social services. My advice was ask them: What will it do? Why do you think this will work? How will you know it has? (Being the same three questions we ask of every inter-agency meeting Mission staff get invited to.)
The message that our clients should feel good about our work with them, of course, is paramount. But our work should equally do something, make a difference, create change that works. Surely, this is not too much to ask?
* Except that it was almost certainly first coined by Carl W. Buehner, a high level official in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
§ https://www2.mst.dk/Udgiv/publications/2018/02/978-87-93614-73- 4.pdf
Laura Black