Should we be more idle?

Bar with sign saying 'Idle Hour'

This week saw the launch of the re-imagined Institute for Community Studies, by the Young Foundation as a strong signal of the need for communities to have voice and influence in a fractured world.  The Bethnal Green venue symbolically hosting a political, cultural, geographical, ethnic and age mix of supporters. To tease out the enthusiasm in purpose and contradictions in our thinking about how to tackle these deep-rooted issues. This is a paradigm shift we’re part of.  As with the communities we inhabit, we need to be open to the opportunities and limitations of the systems we are in that form our thinking, behaviours and collective action.

On the train back to Norfolk the following afternoon, I reflected on the launch event, time with my fellow Community Advisory Board members, and the lunchtime talk by Nir Eyal I’d just attended at the RSA.

Communities have commonalities that bind them together and enable them to act.  However, communities also overlap and need to co-exist and co-evolve.  Prof Mike Savage’s primary community research that discovered the ‘missing middle’ stayed with me.  We know there are great relational models of ‘social’ enterprises and services out there.   Yet it has become counter to our cultural norms and our structural conditions for the much needed growth of community mediators.  That might help us bridge the divisiveness we see in community and familial fault lines right now.

So what can we do?  This is where the notion of being intentionally idle might be worth a meander.  Surely communities that are idle have time to listen, to observe, and reflect.  They value the in-between that is unplanned and open to what might emerge.  In complexity language the ‘space of possibilities’.  Earlier I had clashed with Nir Eyal’s uber-scheduled lifestyle, with intent on productivity, as, perhaps unintentionally, squeezing out time that is open to difference with others.

Idleness might also help with two of the key challenges I observed in the Institute’s mission.  In giving voice to the multiplicity of contextualised community issues, whilst avoiding the reductionism of many research instruments.  How do we ignite the attention of uber-busy strategic political and corporate players?   Looking internally, at developing new governance mechanisms, how do we organise those in ways which build the trust and bridges that enable us to step into a new power paradigm?

Intentional idleness could help communities, politicians, and the new Institute itself all step together into a different mode.   The power to listen, to observe and reflect on the opportunities and limitations of what we’re doing.  The power to create the new metrics, culture and conditions that value and support self-organised community power.  Idleness that helps us move.