Halfway between a stranger and a friend

Halfway between a stranger and a friend

Insularity is one of the biggest risk factors. The more we isolate ourselves from the views and expertise of others, the more we are blind to the challenges that might affect us. Worse, we begin to blame those who disturb our comfortable world view for the realities they proffer. It’s all too easy to shoot the messenger bearing bad news.

It’s why I’m always so delighted to find organisations and individuals who seek to challenge their own perspectives. At a strategy day for a large company this week, I found myself one of a few external contributors, giving the board a range of perspectives.

One of the other contributors was Maff Potts, founder of the Association of Camerados. Camerados is an organisation devoted to creating the space for people to communicate and support each other in times of hardship, not as professionals but as peers. It’s about a sense of solidarity. Potts describes the relationships between Camerados using a phrase coined by one of its users: ‘halfway between a stranger and a friend’.

This phrase came back to me when speaking at a dinner later in the week. Around the table were the legal counsels of a range of large organisations. As I talked to them about the future, I scared a few (as usual). The inevitable questions arose: ‘what should we be teaching our kids?’, and ‘what will people do in the future?’

I gave my stock answers about the three Cs, and the resurgent value of craft. But I was also thinking about what Potts said: part of the answer must be that we will be supporting each other.

No-one can have missed the demographic shift facing our country. In some parts, the ratio between those receiving pensions and those of working age will be approaching 1:1 within 25 years. There’s no sign of dramatic service increases and investment in these areas to support the challenges that presents. We face a crumbling infrastructure and over-stretched services. So what do we do?

Increasing engagement in our communities is not an answer. We probably need a radical rethink of our beliefs about what drives national success and growth – if growth, in the traditional sense, is even a valid objective anymore. A new approach to tax, spending and welfare should ultimately emerge*. But this will take a very long time.

Between now and then we may have to grow our sense of solidarity and appetite for co-operation and mutual support. In a wider sense, maybe we all need to be camerados.

*Before anyone thinks I am calling for some form of communist revolution here, let me point you to this post. In short, if you think markets can solve everything, you’re an idiot. But if you think states can solve everything, you’re just as much of an idiot.


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Tom Cheesewright