The picture of futures, grey

He sat alone. He seemed to be the only person at the conference not peering apprehensively over a metaphorical shoulder. He caught my eye as I loitered gazing at the dog-eared manuscript sat across his lap, The Soul of Man Under Socialism. He smiled softly in my direction, perhaps a shared sympathy at the lethargy of the day, and the paucity of ideas. I imagined he was going to simply say “This is crap, isnt it?” It was a far more eloquent introduction.

“My dear chap, your workplace is a struggle for the soul. In the hundred and twenty years since I wrote this, the arena has merely moved from the theatre of grand politics to the denuded avenues of primary and secondary circulation.”

His assurance was calm, his assertion suffocating. And he had been listening.

“What, then, are we seeking that remains the same?” I asked hesitantly.

“To live, as an Individual. To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.”

“But we are striving for this. It may be slow, but we recognise that we need to base our decisions, our organisations, our processes, our aims around people. We here today are committed to it. These are good people, with a shared vision. This is the right place to be, isn’t it?”

“As when I wrote this” he rolled his manuscript as though a weapon “the obsession with private property changes nothing, as it has made gain not growth its aim. While we reach for gain, our aims will remain underfoot. So obsessed with property are we that we cannot freely develop what is wonderful, fascinating, and delightful in mankind— in fact, we miss the true pleasure and joy of living. The important thing is not to have, but to be.”

“But we are challenging the soul of our organisations, we are upheaving measured taylorist monotony. We are fighting the inevitability that previous decades would have us live tomorrow. As you said so yourself in your pamphlet” I gestured to the scroll “man is made for something better than disturbing dirt.”

I felt a little self-satisfied, quoting the icon before me in my own defence. He nodded his head sympathetically, and not without a little pride.

“Ah, disobedience, in the eyes of anyone who has read history, is man’s original virtue. It is through disobedience that progress has been made, through disobedience and through rebellion. Agitators are so absolutely necessary. Without them, in our incomplete state, there would be no advance towards civilisation. People like Perry Timms.”

“Organisations are becoming more democratic.” I responded. “The flow is with us, and will only grow stronger as the ideas gather credence and a practical footing. True, the germ-free hipster press don’t help, but its only a matter of when, not if.”

“The pursuit is foolish. Like so many ideas today, they gather pace before they have the oxygen to sustain them, they accumulate followers fearing abandonment, not those of conviction.” he laughed for a moment, drew breath and fixed his gaze on me. “Democracy is not your answer. Democracy means simply the bludgeoning of the people by the people for the people. And be careful that the people who do most harm are the people who try to do most good.”

“So what is our hope?” I asked, by now expecting little.

“Our hope, dear chap, is Individualism. Not selfish, harmful or egotistical individualism, but the Individualism of the true artist. That is, the artist who shuns populism, who grows through joy. Your workplaces need to create, nurture, grow Individuals, to create only the opportunity, not prescribe the solution. The tyranny of the crowd – its “crowd” everything, right? – the collaborative, the artificial collectivisation of creativity is a damnation. Organisations and structures make only what is useful – while only the Individual makes what is beautiful. Art is the most intense mode of Individualism that the world has known.”

He leaned back, and appeared to survey the interaction, chatter, irregular clank of porcelain with sadness. He was lost in his own thought.

“And what of the soul of humankind? Why is the struggle here, in our workplace?”

“Its where the Individual of your age flourishes, or is lost. Not in politics, but in your social relations and your environment. Only when you realise this, will you think of your environment, your relations and your intentions differently. For now, all the rebellion and disobedience in the world is in vain. It is a mirror.”

In that moment I saw myself, or perhaps the parody of myself. As I turned my gaze to think, he was gone. We were summoned back to the conference. When everyone had meandered in, chattering, clutching teacups, lost in themselves, I dropped my badge in the bin and slipped away. I hoped I would catch him hailing a taxi, window shopping, sneaking a cigarette…. but the streets were already awash with the human tide.

 

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Some of what Oscar Wilde says is taken directly from “The Soul of Man Under Socialsm”, some are his words that I modified, some I made up altogether because they felt right

2 thoughts on “The picture of futures, grey

  1. Immense writing which we have come to expect from you Neil.

    This is particularly powerful for 3 reasons I’d like to share with you.

    1. Getting a mention. Forget anything else I consider a success this year: this means a lot more than I could express in words. Fantastic feeling and really really appreciated.

    2. How amazingly well you’ve captured what is in my head at the moment. The feeling of belonging to something is important to me. Hence Mod, Northern Soul, HR, PunkHR, ConnectingHR, the Cobblers whatever. What IS vital within that for me is individuality within that belonging sphere. I wrestle with self-interest versus totally altruistic acts and gestures. I am driven by doing things for others, because it is I who likes that and gets something from it. I withdraw sometimes because I feel individuality is taking me to the doorstep of narcissism and all I have to do is knock and I will be let in. I celebrate sometimes because I love who am I based on what I do with what I have. Unashamedly enthused by the potential I have to do my bit to change this thing for the better.

    3. How THIS blog has even topped the logasphere one. How you can continually exceed your previous thoughts and words is inspiring and baffling. But great for sure. How THIS blog should be the one we all default to when checking in why we’re putting out some prose or suggesting a gathering of whatever clan we are in with. Why we need to get off this track of self-important pious intellectual chest-beating and make sure our contributions are 100% individually beautiful. Not sarcastically clever. Not outmoded tub-thumping.

    Beautiful. Not popularism. Don’t believe your own hype. We’re in this for us all. And that has to start with you. Doing beautiful things. That we love. That celebrate our art with others.

    I have said it to people before without knowing why until now. The Rebirth of CRAFT. You lead the way my friend.

    You’re the Miles Davis and John Cooper Clarke of our world.

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