One of the great pleasures of having a blog is the opportunity it provides for pontificating, monologues, and general grandstanding. The opposite of co-production in other words (and I suspect that’s part of the charm too!).
So you can imagine that, except in the most exceptional circumstances, I’m not much inclined to offer up this space and your lovely, perspicacious and radical selves to A. N. Other. That’s a democratic step too far. However, the time has come and the most exceptional circumstances have presented themselves in the form of a modest and unassuming (so far so like me) young man (so far so not like me) called Dave Horton.
Dave runs a organisation called ACE – Action in Caerau-Ely – based in a sprawling suburb of Cardiff where he, and his family also live.
What he, his colleagues, and community members have achieved over the past couple of years feels almost miraculous. Some 90 community groups set up and run by community members; over 24,000 hours of volunteering given by the community for the community; volunteer Community Ambassadors helping support individuals to have a voice and to make a contribution; mentoring and befriending schemes run by the community; huge increases in health, happiness and well-being; a community-designed health strategy; stronger networks, less isolation and a community where people really look out for each other.
Two days ago, Dave sent me a response to our We need to talk about love series. I thought it was awesome.
So here it is, in full. With love.
The characteristics of love – a dangerous game?
The recent blog articles on the theme of ‘we need to talk about love’ got me thinking about the nature of love, and whether we’re ready to have our lives overturned by it…
First of all, what are we talking about in our context when we talk about love?
It seems to me that those of us attempting to pursue values and practices of co-production might be committing ourselves in some form to the following principles, and that these principles might be understood as characteristics of love:
- We want to move across the boundaries that exist between us and others and to listen to, and value, those with different experiences.
- Together we want to identify common needs and to work in solidarity with others to meet these needs.
- We want to develop relationships in which everyone receives what they need and in which everyone is able to make a contribution that is valued.
- We want these relationships, and our co-operative efforts, to transform our society into one that is more just and equal.
These characteristics of love require us to be alongside others, particularly those we have traditionally relegated to the role of ‘service users’ or ‘customers’.
But there is a vulnerability associated with this coming alongside, and this is precisely what our current emphasis on professional boundaries in service provision has been established to protect us against. Relationships based on love will involve an honesty regarding our own needs and weaknesses. We may find ourselves investing our energy and emotions only to experience rejection and disappointment. It will mean, at times, sharing in the pain and loss of others (because we are no longer in a position to ‘keep our distance’). At some point we will be confronted with the need to challenge injustices and inequalities that are being suffered by our new brothers and sisters. Once on this route, we will be setting ourselves against current power structures and vested interests. This will surely end in tears! An insight from the Christian faith is that love is intimately linked to risk and to suffering. Love is a journey that more often than not ends at a cross of some sort because it disrupts the very nature of society.
There is an alternative to love, of course, and that is to maintain a safe distance.
In short, it is to stay where we are currently, to maintain the distance between the professional and the ‘service user’ or ‘customer’, to remain in a world of care which is characterised by the language and relationships of the state and the market, its targets and care plans, its bureaucracy.
But if we reject the bureaucratic model, what might this coming alongside others mean for us?
For George Lansbury, Labour leader 1932–1935, it meant refusing to move from his constituency, Bow, to the more comfortable suburbs. In his own words: “I would sooner be here in the Bow Road where the unemployed can put a brick through my window when they disagree with any activities, than be in some other place far away where they can only write a letter.” (Holman 1990:86) Lansbury was a committed socialist. He understood that to love in a way that transforms society involves a ‘coming alongside’; for him this meant living alongside his people, and it involved vulnerability and risk.
So, although we probably should talk about love, I’m not sure it’s really such a good idea! It could be a very dangerous game. After all, our predecessors have spent years creating professional structures, policies and procedures to protect us from risk and to ensure we can do our 40 hours and return home relatively unscathed.
Love runs the risk of transforming our society but could well turn our own lives upside down in the process. On the other hand, it could be a great adventure – our highest calling as human beings.