Many people find Sundays difficult. But I suspect the problem has changed. In a brilliant Hancock episode, the characters were overwhelmed by the tedium of the day. But now we have Sunday shop opening, a busy day of sport and culture, not to mention hundreds of TV channels and the internet. And, more of us take work home at the weekends.
The problem with Sunday now is that we feel we should use it as a day of freedom, rest and reflection but it ends up being as packed with demands and distractions as every other day. (And now I have made things worse by agreeing to manage an under-15 football team.)
In particular, I get aggravated by the Sunday papers. To read them properly would take me four hours and I’m lucky if I have even one. Then there is the RSA reading I am supposed to do, and I try not even to think about the ever increasing pile of interesting books I have brought home, started, then put to one side.
Of course, I need to be more focussed in my interests but this leads on to a big personal and organisational challenge.
In its simplest form, the way I now describe the RSA mission is this:
• The Society believes we will only create the kind of future most of us say we want if we (citizens as a whole) are willing to think and act differently; we need to be more engaged, more resourceful and more pro-social.
• These characteristics are also necessary to live a good life as a full citizen.
• To enable people to be full citizens we need to have a credible and practical model of human functioning: what is it that shapes our attitudes and behaviours?
• Exploring this involves a range of interventions from practical research exploring the impact, for example, of social networks, to a more theoretical questioning of some of the assumptions which underpin policy, politics and culture (as I tried to do in my 21st Century Enlightenment lecture). It also involves supporting our Fellows to be exemplars of an enhanced model of citizenship
This is, I think, an exciting mission which enables us to bring together the many different aspects of this unique organisation. The danger is that it is also a very wide canvass onto which we are painting some huge ambitions.
It is combining many different perspectives, disciplines and models of change that can make the RSA special (distinct, for example, from politically affiliated think tanks which put all their effort into pumping out policy recommendations for Government). But this combination also makes it hard to draw a boundary around what is and is not relevant to our work.
To know enough about many things is vital. It is how we stay broad in our vision while building intellectual capital and deepening the conversation among staff, with Fellows and with the wider world. But it also means being painfully aware that behind the level of insight we need to have there is so much more we would love to be able to understand and explore.
It is the privilege of listening to a great lecture – and in my lucky case even sometimes chairing it – but knowing you’ll rarely, if ever, read the book on which it is based. It’s backing a hunch on which experts to trust and with whom to collaborate, even though you can never be quite sure you’ve made the right choice. It’s trying to have new thoughts and to innovate whilst acknowledging that – outside science and technology - there are rarely any truly new ideas.
And on Sundays it’s my own version of the famous prayer:
God grant me the serenity to accept I can't read everything I want to read, the time to read the things I need to read, and the wisdom to know the difference.
Al Mathers, former RSA Director of Research and Learning, explores the importance of introducing reciprocity into the work of social change organisations like the RSA.
Tamsin Hanke Sash Scott
Super-nature was one of 10 commissions to feature in the 2022 global exploration research project, Collective Futures. Learn about the work and its outputs in this field note.