People Are Pretty Decent

As Merlin Mann likes to say, Tuesday is the optimistic day. So here’s a dose of optimism for Tuesday 12th May, 2020.

The latest episode of Reasons to be Cheerful features an interview with historian Rutger Bregman about his upcoming book: Humankind.

In the clip below, Bregman argues that our default view of humanity is a pessimistic one. A view that he believes has been cultivated over the centuries to benefit those in power. He goes on to say that making more positive assumptions about humanity can therefore be considered both revolutionary and dangerous.

This is a thought provoking perspective that is definitely worth consideration. Our democracy is founded on deeply entrenched structures that have allowed the rich and powerful to maintain social inequality. Religious institutions, the monarchy, and the government have and do rely on our need to be governed. No revolution has ever resulted in the people choosing to go without some form of rule. One form of governance is simply replaced by another.

What if we tore up the rule book and decided to structure society in a completely different way? We don’t have to overthrow the government to do it. At least, not straight away! 😉

Since the onset of the global pandemic, we have witnessed the human capacity to do good in multitudes. In the UK, for example, private companies have used their capital, expertise and resources to help in the fight against Covid-19 by building ventilators. Schools and other business have donated personal protective equipment to help protect nurses and doctors working on the frontline. Local communities have come together in earnest to support each other, delivering food and medicines to those who are most vulnerable.

With the ‘milk of human kindness’ so readily on display, surely we can create a kinder, more humane society? A society that is less “chartered”. A society that is equitable and open, where the rules to which we adhere are based on the needs of the many not just the few.

Idealistic? Maybe. But Bregman’s views about humankind are not unfounded. To explore them further, begin with this adapted excerpt from his book about a real life Lord of the Flies. Spoiler Alert: The boys do not turn savage and murderous. Instead, their tale is one of “friendship and loyalty”. You can follow that with this essay on the decency of humanity, published in The Correspondent. We’re hardwired to help each other.

And, remember:

Purpos/ed Redux

It is make or break time for humanity and we have a responsibility to draw a line in the sand, admit our mistakes and create a system of education that can begin to undo the harm that we have done to the world. For all the talk over the last twenty years of the ‘global village’, it has not stopped us continuing to destroy our planet, to wage wars and to continue to ignore the inequalities in society. What is the purpose of education? Surely, it is to create unity by helping future generation to recognise the values that humanity share.

That was me in March 2011. Weirdly apposite right!?

Doug Belshaw included the quote[1] in a post about ‘education for a post-pandemic future‘ with a number of others that featured in an online campaign to capture ideas about the ‘purpose of education‘. A book was even published collecting all of the 500 word contributions. My copy is sitting in my office at work. 😋

Re-reading the varying ideas collected in Doug’s post, not least my own words from nine years ago, gave me chills. They also left me feeling deeply sad. I don’t believe that we have moved forward in that time. Inequality in society, and in education, has only widened. Will it be better post-pandemic? I want to believe that things will change. I want to believe that after the lockdown is lifted, and life returns to normal, people will reevaluate the contribution schools make, not only in providing education, but also as an important component of their local communities.

Education is both a gift and a right. It can be the silver bullet; a cornerstone on which an open-minded egalitarian society can be built. Schools should be utopian spaces where ideas can be explored and debated; where creativity is encouraged; where our similarities and differences are celebrated. But society has to change first. We have to throw off the “mind-forged manacles” of capitalism; eschew entrenched divisions; and agree that we are all better off when we work to support each other.

If that can happen then education can serve its great purpose: Helping future generations to develop the thinking and skills that will allow them to contribute to, and shape the world around them.


  1. You can read my full 500 word contribution to the Purpos/ed campaign here: Busting a hole in the wall (the purpose of education).  ↩

The Leaky Boat

While I agree (sort of 😉) with Nick Cave, that “now is the time to be cautious with our words” when considering the cultural and societal impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, it is hard not to consider the possibilities given how different everything seems. Not least when you step outside into quieter, calmer streets; greeted by the sounds of nature literally calling out a song of reclamation.

David Byrne, on the site ‘Reasons to be Cheerful’ has been considering the potential for change after taking a “long bike ride”…

“I ask myself, is there something we can learn from this, something that will prepare us to better weather the next crisis, some different way of being that might make us stronger? Is this an opportunity to change our thinking, our behavior? How can we even do that? Are we capable of doing that?”

Such existential ruminations may seem trivial as we try to come to terms with our new existence amidst this global crisis. But, it is hard not to dwell on such notions when you are isolated, alone with your thoughts; faced with a daily increasing count of the people who have died; and no end in sight.

That said, there is hope and reason to be cheerful. People are coming together in solidarity, as Byrne notes…

“It’s ironic that as the pandemic forces us into our separate corners, it’s also showing us how intricately we are all connected. It’s revealing the many ways that our lives intersect almost without our noticing. And it’s showing us just how tenuous our existence becomes when we try to abandon those connections and distance from one another. Health care, housing, race, inequality, the climate — we’re all in the same leaky boat….”

“In emergencies, citizens can suddenly cooperate and collaborate. Change can happen. We’re going to need to work together as the effects of climate change ramp up. In order for capitalism to survive in any form, we will have to be a little more socialist. Here is an opportunity for us to see things differently — to see that we really are all connected — and adjust our behavior accordingly.”

The response to the pandemic in the UK has given me hope. A government that favours privatisation and decentralisation has been forced to unite the country and recognise that the well-fare state is a very, very “leaky boat”. Over, half a million people signed up to help the NHS when the call was put out. That is not the voice of a people who still believe in Thatcherism or the false ideals of Brexit. On the contrary, it is the chorus of a nation who recognise that our socialist values and institutions sit at the very heart of our society. And, in a time of crisis, they rely on our interdependence. After all, it is doctors, nurses, teachers, social workers, police officers and bus drivers (to name a few) who will get us through this crisis.

Byrne closes his article by asking the vital question:

“Are we willing to do this? Is this moment an opportunity to see how truly interdependent we all are? To live in a world that is different and better than the one we live in now? We might be too far down the road to test every asymptomatic person, but a change in our mindsets, in how we view our neighbors, could lay the groundwork for the collective action we’ll need to deal with other global crises. The time to see how connected we all are is now.”

It remains to be seen if there will be lasting change but the selflessness of the British people over the past week has restored my faith in humanity and filled me with optimism for the future. I’ve seen the altruism and solidarity first hand in the actions of my colleagues. They have been nothing short of miraculous, keeping school open for a small number of children whose parents are key workers; emailing out hundreds of voucher codes for pupils on free school meals; and making calls (on the phone and in person) to check-in on our most vulnerable pupils and families.

To say I am proud is an understatement.

The day after tomorrow…

Julian Simpson in his most recent newsletter:

“And we have to remember that there is an “other side” to this, an overmorrow where we step back out into the world and the shops are open, and the cafes and bars and museums and galleries, and we can see our friends and family and put our lives back together. It’s going to be different, I think, but there’s a chance there may be benefits in the long term, if we can learn from this quiet time and find the upside to a planet given a moment to take a breath and regenerate. We have had a glimpse of what happens to nature when human beings just stop for a bit, and that at least seems to be a valuable thing to observe and learn from.”

I dearly hope that he is right.

Considering the state of the planet; levels of social inequality; and the spread of populist and isolationist ideologies, we need a seismic shift in values and policy.

It won’t come from our leaders on their own; it has to come from each and every one of us.

We must open our eyes and see!

As I walked to work1 along the sea front this morning, with the sun shining down, I could not help but think of this passage from Nick Cave on the beauty that we too often miss…

“If there is sadness in Ghosteen, perhaps it is the recognition that we are often blind to the splendour of the world and indifferent to its attendant wonder. Perhaps the sadness is the recognition that the world is indeed beautiful, that it spins within the palm of our own hands and its beauty is available to all, if only we had eyes to see.”

~ Cave, Nick, The Red Hand Files2 (2019)

If anything good comes out of the Covid-19 pandemic, I hope it is this. I hope that we emerge with a renewed appreciation for each other and the world around us. Society has been consumed for too long by capitalist and commercial ideologies – resulting in a moral decline – that has contributed to the creation of an inequitable, fractured society and a broken planet.

We must not allow ourselves to be blind to the beauty of the world any longer. We must open our eyes and see!


  1. I’m Vice Principal of a Secondary School, and we were opening for vulnerable pupils and children of key workers.  ↩
  2. The Red Hand Files started in September 2018. Nick Cave responds to questions from fans. The results are deeply intimate and thought provoking.  ↩