A conversation at a rather fashionable party at the RSA involves two residents from the formerly run-down, but now achingly trendy, London neighbourhood of Dalston teasing me for living in the self-satisfied middle class, four wheel drive, enclave of Clapham Common
Someone sends me a link to research showing that organisations and teams which are more diverse in make-up tend both to perform better, but also to report lower levels of well-being, than more uniform outfits
In Suffolk as part of an inquiry the RSA is running with the County Council on raising standards, I am asked whether the relatively poor attainment levels in some parts of the county are because the areas are 'too comfortable and homogeneous'.
Assuming things can't stay as they are, two views of our future are in contrast. The first suggests a change of values, reconciling ourselves to slow growth, shifting from possessive individualism to a more rounded emphasis on quality of life and the good society. The second - the default view of most in politics, business and the media - argues that we need to accept an intensification of pressure, working harder for longer and probably for individual and social wages which are stagnant at best.
The obvious weakness of the latter view is it's bleakness, of the former its lack of realism - if you are in the slow lane of a fast moving race you fall ever further behind.
The reality of social inequality is that most people have little choice about the circumstances in which they strive, while the well-off get the best of both worlds (Dalston in the week and Suffolk cottage for weekends and holidays).
I remember talking to an RSA Fellow who lived in a pretty market town in Cumbria. 'We have a dynamism deficit' he said 'anyone with talent leaves here at nineteen and doesn't come back until they have family. We have no one in their hungry twenties' .
Wouldn't it be great, for all of them, if the kids from a comprehensive in the less gentrified parts of Dalston swapped lives for two weeks with kids from a coastal town in Suffolk.
Sometimes as I travel round in this little country I feel this: it's all here, the edginess, the beauty, the urban melting pot, the unchanging landscape, the family trees, the new settlers, the unceasing ambition, the sigh of contentment - a million different lives in a thousand different communities. And despite the economic crisis and the biting austerity the question is simply; why can't we make more of it, for all of us, for this, our one and only life.
Al Mathers Anthony Painter
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