Dignity at work

work community values resilience Angus Soutar

Head Hand and Heart

The search for dignity and status in the 21st Century"

by David Goodhart

Review from Angus Soutar

Head Hand and Heart Cover

Inspiration can come in a variety of guises. There's that "Wow! I'm just bowled over" impact of a sudden insight, a new way of seeing things. But there is another form of inspiration that results from persistent observation of someone's application to a task, especially if that task involves skill and patience. Think of the quiet caring of a nurse or the almost meditative application of a skilled wood-worker.

Reading David Goodhart's latest book "Head Hand and Heart, I was reminded frequently of the many people that I have admired throughout my life. Recalling them as I worked my way through the the book, I felt an unease, and perhaps a bit of anger, that many of those who provided me with that quiet inspiration, some long dead, do not appear to have been replaced in our current society.

Krysia Midwife Hands at work

Goodhart's main theme is that our society has drifted into over-valuing university education, leading us into a place where the cognitive class dominates our value systems. The result is an ever-increasing disdain for those who work with their hands, or their "hearts" (the carers who look after other people). He began work on the book in 2019, before the virus pandemic began to rage. Now, we have all been given a sharp reminder about the people we need keep the country going, and they are definitely not drawn from the cognitive class. In spite of "heroic" responses to the pandemic, nearly all of them are still treated as "low status" and unfit for generous rewards.

As hinted in the book's subtitle, there is much in here to compare and contrast on the values exhibited by the polycultures of modern Britain. Everything seems to be up for grabs; the traditional ideas of stability, belonging and purpose have been thrown up in the air. But one inspiration leads to another. There are connections to be made across history, from Aristotle's ideas about virtue to Michael Polyani's writing about tacit knowledge. The exploration will be fruitful, but that should not stop our work in addressing the problems.

Values map
One side of the values divide
From David Goodhart, mapped by Erica Naylor

Many of us are frustrated with current leadership, the cultural dominance of "voodoo" economics and the continuing hostility towards our many and varied projects. Working as I do, often reluctantly, in the world of training, I am one of those dis-satisfied with the current culture of "certified education". The skills required to shape a sane future are in short supply although there are young people ready and willing to learn them.

I remain convinced that the future belongs to the people who work with "hand" and "heart", to those who will "roll their sleeves up" or "get their hands dirty". In particular, our future belongs to those who care as our permaculture ethic requires us to do. Soon, we will all need to be friends with those that society currently undervalues. Making those friends and working freely with others will often lead us to examine our own views and values. None of us can afford to be too picky or under the illusion that there is a "right" way to do things. People need to find dignity in their work, let us be among the first to bring about that dignity in others. They will, in turn, bring dignity to our work.

Goodhart quote
David Goodhart gets to the heart of it

I was inspired by the quiet reassurance of "Head Hand and Heart". I found little in the book that was "novel", let alone "disruptive", rather there is much that is carefully observed and assembled. The Goodhart art is in distilling the apparent confusion of modern Britain into manageable questions and concepts. He takes a measured and even-handed approach, keeping calm in areas where others would get over-excited. This is a well-crafted book.

As with his earlier work The Road to Somewhere on the divisions in society between the "Somewheres" and the "Anywheres", Goodhart treads a fine line between broad narrative and oversimplification. In any society, things can get complex quite quickly. Head Hand and Heart documents this with many worthy facts and figures about life in Britain today. However, as he works through them with us, the research data falls out of focus and the patterns come into the foreground. These are the patterns that I am confident will become part of our stock-in-trade as permaculture designers, as we root our work in place and community and continue to co-create the future with our "hands-on" friends.

Men at work

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