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Friday, January 09, 2009

Is Citizenship dead?

From the business world I have read a number of articles about corporations being the 'new religion'. These articles propose that for a large portion of the western world religion is no longer what keeps the fabric of our society together. They surmise that corporations now take this space and that corporate & social responsibility is all about companies being active participants in the community and bringing benefits and taking responsibility for what they do.

Jack Welch, the former GE Chairman and CEO states a very clear case for the benefits that successful companies bring to society - and in his drive and ambition there seems to be a great deal of personal commitment to this, even when making redundancies and closing factories. His belief is that to be successful brings more benefits than perhaps a more 'European socialist model' that might favour 100% unemployment regardless of productivity. (Jack Welch)

Plastered across the news though are plenty of examples of bribery, corruption and fraud. People and corporations exploiting opportunities for individual gain and significant cost to others.

Weak enforcement of regulation and controls around these sorts of activities have enabled things like the Parmalat scandal, ENRON, the
recent issues with a fund managed as a kind of pyramid scheme with hundreds of millions being plundered. Articles like: bbc news really bring it home.

So what would it mean to be more of a citizen? Our friend wikipedia gives us some insights: Citizenship and of course also a bit of a role model.
"Active citizenship" is the philosophy that citizens should work towards the betterment of their community through economic participation, public service, volunteer work, and other such efforts to improve life for all citizens.

I think that the key thing to emphasise there is to improve life for all citzens.

I take a look around TCL and I see some great citizens of the company and I see people that are great citizens in general (usually the same people). But I look further afield and I see a lot that doesn't look like citizenship, a lot that isn't helping everyone, a lot that isn't giving back and a lot that is just plundering.

If corporations are the 'new religion', this doesn't look so great. It makes me wonder: is citizenship dead, dying or maybe just not getting all the press it deserves?

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Paul Darby said...

I have to argue that religion has never been particularly good at keeping the fabric of any society together, since it has caused more war and conflict than anything else ever.

With regards to citizenship: there are a number of factors working against it and nurturing a 'keep your head down' society. These include, 1 - long work hours and commuter hours. People are working ridiculous hours (particularly in this country and particularly within IT) to earn money and to get the job done, but also just to be seen to be putting in the effort. Those that are doing this are most deffinately giving something back in the form of their time. 2 - High cost of living. This does not compell people to work for the good of others or society when they are struggling to meet demands on their time and finances already.

I'm sure there are more reasons than this.

I personally would rather this was not the case. I try to rise above it but I can certainly empathise with it as I struggle with these things every day myself. If your alraedy working your butt off why would you want to do even more in the name of citizenship?

This is such a shame.

Stewart Noakes, TCL said...

So what holds society as a whole together - is there a single thing that you can point to?

Also, here's a thought.....
is citizenship something that you do when its convenient, or as a matter of course? e.g. do you donate money to charitable causes when you have a 42" plasma and your xbox collection is up to date or when you feel it is the right thing to do?
(sorry - that reads it bit personal, and its not meant to. Read as 'does one ...')

your thoughts, as always, appreciated.

Paul Darby said...

The 'right thing to do' in this area gets increasingly clouded when your major concerns are your immediate family.
My wife and I pay money to a cancer charity every month. We used to pay to an animal wellfare charity in Africa and we also paid a monthly fee to pay for schooling for children in Africa. Unfortunately some of this had to stop a while back because times got tight and keeping the home in the manor that we wished for our kids seemed more important. Selfish? absolutely, but also perfectly understandable.

Viewing this stuff in black and white will always be wrong as there is lot of grey involved.

You said "So what holds society as a whole together". I think one answer could be 'a united purpose or goal'. History is littered with instances of countries pulling together in times of conflict because everybody had the same interests, goals, purpose. Until you get agreement where your going, citizenship can not occur, until then people will be pulling in all different directions and simply be out for themselves. Such is the nature of the human race.

I have no answer as to how to solve this.
I feel I may have babbled a bit here - sorry!

Stewart Noakes, TCL said...

Don't worry, Paul - I don't think you are babbling, in fact I think you have a great point.

So, this common goals stuff - how do you get there? How do you find or create a place where there are large groups all pulling together towards a common goal?

Next question - how do you get people to value the collective, or team, higher than their own, more personal agendas?

As always, interested in your thoughts....

clare.batten said...

I don't believe citizenship is dead, more lost in a world that appears to be increasingly focused on materialism, wealth and greed.

Ownership of the current state of society could be put at many doors without even opening the religious 'can of worms' let alone juggling the political 'hot potato'.

Whether it be societies ever changing focus, shift in morals or even the increasing demands placed on the individual, I do sometimes think that 'we' over complicate stuff.

Being a good citizen costs us nothing. What ever happened to making someone smile, opening a door for someone or simply just saying thank you?

I firmly believe in the power of the individual and that the strength of a society depends on the strength of its people.

So why not just make someone smile today you never know what might happen :-)

Paul Darby said...

A common goal will only ever truelly be a common goal if it has been sold to the group in the first place. If the goal is just dictated to the group, even if it's a great idea, there will be resistance from some. This is just human nature and is often the cause for people choosing to do something differnt or not acting at all.
If it is sold and everyone agrees then the chances that they will all muck in and join the collective is much greater.

This approach works in sales too: first sale the product then sell the fact that the person/s can have that product.

My thoughts here are repeatedly proven through history, typically through conflict or extreme situations. I suggest anyone who wants to understand my thoughts on this should take a look at the following:
1. The British populations unity during the two world wars
2. The worlds unity during the Live Aid efforts in 1985
3. The European reaction to the British Church reformation and absolute supremacy over it of Henry VIII

These give great examples of buy in a push back to certain goals in history.

I think this answer both your questions Stewart.

Clare Batten said...

Stew - did you manage to catch the inauguration of President Obama on Tuesday? If not it is well worth a listen!

I for one found it positively refreshing and in parts inspirational :)

He spoke of traditional values, citizenship and the need for the individual to take responsibility not only for themselves, but for their communities, their country and their World. Stating that the strength of any nation comes from the integrity and strength of 'its' people.

It made me wonder if this is why citizenship has become so lost?

Have 'we' as a society become divorced from traditional values?

Just the other day I read of an elderly woman who died as a result of injuries sustained when she was mugged. One could argue that this is not unusual in this day and age. However, what horrified me was the fact that it was documented that 'numerous' people walked around, past and over her, ignoring her pleas for help. They assumed 'that she was a drunk'

Additionally, I overheard a conversation in which a gent spoke about a lady who had fallen on the ice. His companion asked if he had helped her. His response 'I can't mate, we've been told were aren't allowed to unless we are a registered first aider'.

His response rendered me speechless!

It's examples of this nature that make me wonder if citizenship is actually dead or is it the fear of judgement and litigation that has made us afraid to be good citizens?

Stewart Noakes, TCL said...

It's certainly some interesting stuff around Citizenship that comes across in his speach.

Perhaps Citizenship is starting to get some of the press it deserves, after all!

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