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Carol Craig is the Centre's Chief Executive. She is author of The Scots' Crisis of Confidence, Creating Confidence: A Handbook for Professionals Working with Young People, The Tears that Made the Clyde: Well-being in Glasgow and The Great Takeover: How materialism, the media and markets now dominate our lives. Her latest book is Hiding in Plain Sight: Exploring Scotland's ill health. She is Commissioning editor for the Postcards from Scotland series. Carol blogs on confidence, well-being, inequality, every day life and some of the great challenges of our time. The views she expresses are her own unless she specifically states that they reflect the Centre's thinking.

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Posted 04/01/2011 | 4 Comments

I have been giving around fifty talks a year for the past five years and have found that lots of people of all ages, not just in Scotland but throughout the UK, are looking for new values and an image of a different society. This has fuelled the disenchantment with modern politics where all parties  simply seem intent on getting us back to 'business as usual'. Ordinary people know that the economy and our current life styles are not simply unsustainable but cannot be the basis of a good life. It is the politicians who are trailing behind. Their fear of the media and the short termism of their political agendas means they are not even attempting to look at how we can move towards a fairer, greener and more sustainable way of life.

There is also huge confusion about what, as a society, we need to do next. Many individuals, myself included, have responded to the debt crisis and the potential environmental catastrophe caused by modern western, lifestyles by trying to rebalance our way of life as best we can. I have consciously been trying to spend less money and save more and cut down on unnecessary and environmentally wasteful consumption.  Isn't this what we all need to do more of not just to help the environment but also to rebalance the economy away from debt and an over-reliance on consumer spending? What's more, given mounting inequality in the UK, and the pain yet to come for many who rely on benefits or public services, isn't there something distasteful about buying stuff you really don't need?

Here's where the confusion kicks in: the Bank of England, and the Government,  are urging us to spend more money to aid the economic recovery. Folk like me, it appears, are a major problem. Indeed the title of Phillip Inman's column yesterday (the Guardian's economic correspondent) proclaimed:  Baby Boomers aren't evil – just selfish. (This only made it to the first, Scottish edition. The title was moderated in later editions.)

In response to the news that home owners are paying down their mortgages rather than spending Inman writes: 'Baby boomers are at it again, making decision after decision to protect their wealth at the expense of the country's economic wellbeing.'

In the course of the article Inman quotes the writer Geoffrey Wheatcroft who recently wrote a breast beating article claiming 'My generation squandered our golden opportunity'. I couldn't agree more with this analysis. My generation's legacy to our children and grandchildren is very poor indeed. I am also appalled at the way in which well-off older people are being feather-bedded by the recent round of cuts. 

Selfishness is an issue. We are all too intent on pursuing an individualistic agenda for the good of ourselves or our families. However, isn't this what the media, advertising, politicians and particularly economists (like Phillip Inman) have encouraged us to do for decades? Has this not been the ethos of our age? How are we ever going to do something to reduce our wasteful use of resources, get out of debt, and stop fuelling the engine of consumption if people don't cut back on what they spend?

One thing is clear: it isn't economists who will furnish us with the new vision and values to help get us out of this mess. 

(OK I accept there are a few economists, like Tim Jackson or those working for the New Economics Foundation, who are really worth listening to.)

Comment By Comment
Joined: 05/01/2011

Comment Posted: 06/01/2011 19:04
As an early baby boomer I found myself echoing your sentiments and concerns, and was motivated especially to think about a new vision that might better serve us, literally and figuratively. It begins with re-visioning our 'self', then our relationship with those in our world - our 'us', and then with a wider embrace - 'all of us', all sentient beings.

We may come across as mostly self-ish and self-centred to some less-privileged or less-enlightened folk, but we can choose a higher/wider form of 'self' than our raw ego, and have this power us to greater realizations. I am finding some direction in trying to always pair self with service, and aiming for a serving beyond my narrow self. It is certainly an advance on self-serving! We baby boomers have hopefully a third of our life left to leave a legacy that will evoke more pride, if we can live a broader/higher sense of service.

I sense your own conscious efforts are heading in this direction - self in service of greater balance, greater equality, greater authenticity. We can expand our sphere of thinking and acting: from not only the material, but to the immaterial (in the sense of the spiritual); from not only our outer world, but to greater regard for our inner world (the soul for some); from not only the individual dimension, but also the collective dimension (the realm of the heart, and love).

Well-being, as a practice of greater-whole-making, provides a wonderful vision and vehicle. I was fortunate to spend some time last year immersing myself in the Centre's work, and achieving some rich insights. One was a simple 'mantra' that keeps bubbling up for me, to put me straight when I'm confused:

Doing well by my Self
Being well Together
For the well-being of ALL

My Centre experience helped me 'see with new eyes', as Marcel Proust advised. The full quote - not often used, is:

The only real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new landscapes but in having new eyes, in seeing the universe with the eyes of another, of hundreds of others, in seeing the hundreds of universes that each of them sees Marcel Proust (1871-1922)

The 'eyes' that Proust had in mind are much much more than the two-some that we each possess. It is a call to a much wider awareness and commensurate compassion - a service call like no other!
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Joined: 08/01/2011

Comment Posted: 08/01/2011 20:10

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Great blog post - I completely agree. The sustainable answer to all these problems caused by reckless spending and over-consumption can't possibly be more of the same.

I love Tim Jackson's quote about our crazy, wasteful and unfulfilling model of conspicuous consumption...

Were being persuaded to spend money we dont have, on things we dont need, to create impressions that wont last, on people we dont care about.

But let's not put all economists in the same 'lack of vision' boat. A few, like Richard Layard, have been working tirelessly to encourage a shift in priorities towards the things that really matter.

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Joined: 26/03/2010

Comment Posted: 09/01/2011 11:31
Some 'heterodox' economists have been making that point for some years now. See here for a history of the Post-Autistic Economics movement: http://www.paecon.net/HistoryPAE.htm
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Alex Smith

Comment Posted: 12/01/2011 21:42
Sorry, Carol, but I don't agree with you about 'ordinary people.' Many of the 'ordinary people' that I work with are with the politicians on this one. They're the people who buy the papers which the politicians are afraid of. I know that our political leaders should have the guts to lead and not constantly be trying to keep Murdoch's empire and the Daily Mail happy but they don't. And the Murdoch press, etc. simply represent what many 'ordinary people' think (if they think at all)
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