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The voice of Scotland’s vibrant voluntary sector

Published by Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

TFN is published by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, Mansfield Traquair Centre, 15 Mansfield Place, Edinburgh, EH3 6BB. The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) is a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation. Registration number SC003558.

The power of a good conversation

This opinion piece is almost 6 years old

Simon Bateson explains why he believes honest communication can be the basis for social change

The debate about the political icebergs coming from the US and the removal of of the UK from Europe have often seen real conversations outflanked by unproductive narratives of mistrust, pessimism and scarcity.

Fortunately, in recent weeks, commentators have highlighted the danger of the us and them narrative bubbles, while Scottish leaders have reassured us that “we do things differently here". But what, if anything, does this practically look like?

My curiosity has its roots much further back than the rise of Donald Trump. As a founder of the charity Take One Action, which organises film festivals across Scotland to inspire social change, I have often faced accusations of preaching to the converted. Does that resonate for your own work?

In response, since 2012, Take One Action has surveyed our 10,000 plus attendees to see whether their attitudes and actions actually align with each other or even within themselves. It is unsurprising that the majority are living divided lives – the different roles we inhabit as parents, colleagues or some-time idealists often pits conflicting values against each other.

No wonder that our ability to effectively collaborate with people who are different to us in the real world is limited. Unsurprisingly, collaboration is often just as challenging when it comes to those most similar to us, who we see as competing for the same resources.

Simon Bateson
Simon Bateson

Finally, when we do manage to move beyond the threat of both difference and similarity, internal divisions between what our hands, hearts and heads know about the world often result in solutions to problems that cannot be sustained. Most third sector organisations act but how many reflect? It is hard to in a world where fallow time is viewed as inert and unfundable – but remember a field that is never left fallow will cease to produce anything!

Inevitably this brings us to one of the curses of the third sector: burnout. People motivated by great values struggle to accept life as it really is or to change in response to it. To paraphrase the Quaker author Parker Palmer, burnout is not a result of giving too much but giving what is not ours in the wrong way. And it is a symptom of our society, not of individual excess.

I look out then at the converted, at people like myself, or Scottish politicians who claim to operate beyond divisive narratives of us and them, and I see we are falling short. If we are to truly honour the tensions in today's politics we need to become comfortable with discomfort. If we are to truly serve the long-term needs of communities left behind by short-term politicies, we need a revolution in the way we relate: first to ourselves and then with each other.

Starting in April, then, with friends from the third, private, public, faith and cultural sectors in Edinburgh, we are piloting a new project called Amidst. This starter-for-ten series will focus on the art of creating better conversations for the common good, in one city.

It promises time out of typical roles, time to be honest and time to reflect. We’ll consider what revolutions of the heart might really be needed for more people and organisations to actually be the change they want to see in this divided capital, one emblem of a divided world. We hope that Edinburgh’s politicians will pay attention and that it will spark further conversations across the Lothians and beyond. We really hope that you might join us.

Find out more or register for Amidst.



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