Higher expectations

Diarmaid‘We were brought up to believe that the next generation will be better off than the last. We now need to lower expectations. The next generation will not be better off and they need to learn to manage this’.

This is a quote from a seminar I attended recently. Perhaps it is true. Maybe there is an awful pragmatism in its succinctness. Is there no alternative to a future of reduced opportunity and means? Do we have to get used to just making do?

I was brought up to believe that the most important thing to achieve was a good education. I was brought up to believe that if I worked hard I would get on. I was told that my parents and their parents went without to give their children the resources to get an education, so we could have a better life. I did what I was told. I worked hard, I worked late. So did others. Not everyone achieved.

There is a song by the Go-Betweens called ‘Born to a family’. It is about a boy who grows up aware that the path he is choosing for his life is different to his family. They were a family of honest workers. He chose a different path, a creative path. What could he do, but be faithful to who he was?

I like the song because I can identify with it. My own family have craft, care and engineering skill. I am a talker, a writer, a designer. I choose a different path. Despite the difference between our worlds, my family supported what I did, and believed that I would have a good future. They weren’t sure what it would look like but gave me the chance to find out. I did.

Part of getting to where you want to be is believing that something is possible. Sometimes, in some situations people feel stuck. The conversation goes round and round, and gets no where. There is no obvious way out. Sometimes, we just have to believe that a different future is possible.

At the seminar, the man who talked about lowering ambitions spoke with passion about the landscape and seascape that we were looking out upon. It was spectacular, and filled the imagination with thoughts of ‘what if?’ The area is poor, measured in the standard ways of deprivation, but it is rich in potential, and in passion. As the man spoke about the possibility of re-thinking the ecology of the area, making spaces for people to grow things, to express themselves, to build differently I thought that this was not the narrative of a lowered set of expectations. It was the narrative of desire, of a want, a hunger, an anger, and a frustration about the barriers in the way of achieving the imagined.

I do not believe we should lower expectations. No one wants to collaborate to make things worse. Raise the bar for thinking differently, and raise the stakes to hold people accountable to achieving it. I have a son and a daughter. They are full of the same potential in people as the landscapes and seascapes we looked at from the window of a hotel in a poor area. I want the best for them, in a future I don’t yet know and don’t yet understand.

In the 1960’s Juhani Pallasmaa and people like Buckminster Fuller imagined a new future that we as people could imagine and create. It was based on an idea of design as a rational process which understood the connection and consequences of the use of resources, society and environment. It is a set of insights that give me hope, faith in the power of people to think and build a better future for everyone. It is my expectation that we will deliver on it.


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