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ivory_tower_defenders  There are two phrases that I use often:

The Luxury of Conscience.

The End of the Month comes before the End of the world.

They are my way of arriving at the same point: just from two wholly different ends of the social, strategic and storytelling spectrum.

The point I am usually making? That the narrative that will transform desire, reframe sustainability and re-imagine prosperity is potentially being shaped and moulded by the wrong people.

So what constitutes ‘wrong’ you might ask. And I would venture ‘those who might struggle to empathise with their audience – the 85%+ –  through a lack of real everyday insight and socio-cultural understanding into their lives, needs and desires: that of the ‘lived it been there’ kind.

The Luxury of Conscience is a phrase that I sometimes use when describing such a person – someone who has ability to sit back and engage in the bigger conversations around climate, environment and more sustainable lifestyles, their minds uncluttered by making ends meet, either spiritually or financially.

The ability to exercise and expend their energies and passions on designing a higher order human existence predicated on sustainability is indeed luxurious – proof that they exist in the upper tiers of Maslow’s Hierarchy.

They have the luxury of a ‘comfortable security’ – financial, educational, social and cultural – to see beyond the scrabble for immediate provision; for themselves and their families – of the tyranny of bills, eking out the money until the end of the month comes, trying to avoid the pay day loan light bulb in a head clouded by debt.

It is for this reason that those with the Luxury Of Conscience should never be the people who shape the final vernaculars and narrative for a populist movement towards a more sustainable life.

It is indeed a luxury to live in what seems (to the average bank worker or electrician at least) a rather pompous dislocated 6th Form debating society world, extrapolating concepts and frameworks of improved human existence more akin in discourse to the letters of Hitchens’ and the treatise of Popper and Stuart Mill than the average pub banter.

There needs to be a real understanding in there somewhere of the everyday insights, idioms, influences and irrationalities that really connect with everyday people. It is exactly these subtleties that might tip the balance on whether that new narrative flies or fails. And they seem to be desperately lacking here.

Much as the Old Etonian politician who kisses the cheek of the docker’s baby has absolutely no idea what living their life entails (and should therefore be barred from influencing or creating policy that affects their lives in any substantive way), so it goes for the CEOs, the NGOs and the Activist Academics who populate the world of Sustainability. They are amazing. But they are dislocated from the truths of people’s everyday lives to such extremity, that they should be dissuaded from taking to the soap-box or typing the manifesto on behalf of those people they have such little real understanding of.

The people living in the mode of making ends meet are those most likely to be buying products and maintaining lifestyles that offend every statute in the sustainability rule-book – and doing it at scale.

They rarely do this maliciously. The concept and detailed understanding of whether a 3-blade razor or food product threatens the ecosystem of the planet, a precious resource or a community is the furthest thing from their mind – and therefore not something they are wilfully disregarding.

Saying that, equally, they do react badly when someone steps up into their eye-line with a message that seems to expect everything of them with little immediate benefit.

Breaking the line of sight between them and the end of the month with a fairly long-termist do-less/reduce/recycle/reuse message does not go down well.

Many people – the majority bloc of the 85%+ who are currently disengaged in this conversation – are living in a bi-polar world: a world whose greater potential for immediate gratification is bluntly counterpointed by an equally great potential for immediate disappointment or failure.

And we have to respect this – and shape and present narratives and solutions that are meaningful and positive in light of the world they live in: that enlighten them and enable them to make a considered and fully informed decision for themselves and the lifestyle they the choose to adopt.

We must also remember that the idea of a diminished or diminishing lifestyle fundamentally goes against the evolutionary gene pool imperative of acquire, appropriate and accrue that most of us are compelled by. It is hard to dismiss and de-list that which you have yet to have the pleasure and experience of.

It is far less onerous task to flick off or set aside the tyranny of the gene pool imperative when you come from the elite tier – as someone that already enjoys the benefits of being at the top of the socio-cultural ladder of humanity.

Having been liberated from the striving and surviving mode, you are free to discard that which others are still struggling to acquire.

You are free to discard the clutter of beliefs, attitudes, behaviours and material things that you or those generations before you have spent so much time collecting and curating.

The populist agenda and narrative can never solely mapped by people in rare places and cocooned in a bubble of otherness, set apart from the everyday lives of everyday people. They might try and inspire it, prod it, provoke it or record it: most certainly provide the substantial sustainability truths that underwrite it – but the Great British Story Book of Enduring Human Prosperity is being written in the pub, not the library.

Laws of similarity are what work in our highly tribal stratified social world.

There are many anecdotal instances where people from marginalised and degraded tribes, cultures and communities rued and resented the day that (predominantly) white middle class liberals started having anything to do with any form of their social development or increasing well being – devoid as they are of any of the cultural background or deeper understandings of what makes these people who they are.

So one might ask the question: what in any god’s name are we thinking when we task a bunch of PHD+ super rational and highly intellectual predominantly upper middle class people to construct an emotional and compelling argument or story to inspire and convince the 85% + people out there from a C2DE background of anything: the Laws of Dissimilarity seem heavily at work here.

It is no surprise that the majority of NGO activists are seen by the average working class kid as a bunch of bleeding heart liberals without the faintest idea of what living and surviving in the real world actually might entail. Unfair? Possibly. But in the real material terms of security, environment and financial status; quite correct.

So I think we need to do a little bit of filing, framing and a whole lot of question asking – and they need to be the right questions of the right people.

To look at what the right kind of questions might mean we should perhaps look at the context and culture of the different tribes involved in this dash for the answer.

We already know that some 7-15% of people (depending on which and whose sliding scale of insight data we use) have adopted and embraced to a greater degree the idea of changing their lifestyle to some substantial degree to do their part for a more harmonious positive human existence. So focusing a new narrative on them would, to be fair, be a waste of our energy.

Them aside, the top percentiles fall in to 3 categories – there are the corporates and high net worth individuals and of course Brands

Corporates – we have all seen them; the enlightened ones – setting some form of agenda – especially those delivering the props of prosperity up into the god light of the all seeing consumer eye – the multinational FMCG, retail, Food & Beverage, tech and fashion brands. They are hamstrung to some degree by their investor relations but as Unilever has already proven, these relationship can be tested and reshaped – and their consumer perceptions changed – but they need the right narrative.

High net worth individuals – this group are either shaping mass consumption trends through shaping their own business (Kerring leaps to mind) or they are in a position to trade massive blocks of shares in such a way as to heavily influence the people running the companies on which their gaze might fall. They have a filter for seeking exceptional financial performance screwed into their psyche – but they can be the most vocal on the positive impact on Long term profitability and growth from more sustainable and inspired operations.

And we are clear about how the brands that stitch themselves into the fabric of people’s everyday lives can start to shade and shape what they do to deliver a more enduring aspiration without passing on the cost. M&S is exceptional in its ability to respect its place in the fabric of the great British way of life by repaying the society in which it thrives with a smarter lighter and kinder business offering stand out solutions without making the customer foot the bill for Plan A sensibilities in product premiums.

If we look at these super players in the luxury of conscience stratosphere – we can separate them out as demanding a particular shade of micro or ‘shadow’ narrative – linked to the whole yet very particularly tuned to the closed room conversations that fuel their world. The narrative and the ask for the top end is very specific.

If we separate them out (along with the 7-15% who are already playing nice) it enables us to get a clearer view of what I like to call the ‘End Of The Monthers’ – those whom engage their conscience on a strictly Planet Me basis – my family my tribe my community my world.

How do we bring ‘End of The Monthers’ onside?  They do not have the luxury of just turning everything in their life on its head. So how do we facilitate and enable them

Partially that should come in the form of some simple playful tools that help them  and partially in a mode of educating them in such a way as to add value to their lives.

The inspiration for one tool idea came from a UK Dream Workshop. It was a piece of language that came out of one of the workshops around the lighter brighter approach to cleaning up ones slightly dustier lifestyle and consumption habits.

Someone told the story of a Window Cleaner who explained that he had to give something away to get it all back – and to convert a street, he used to do one person’s windows randomly for free. The reason: because until you’ve had your eye’s opened to the before and after you can easily just not bother. So one bit of tasty squeegee work And they became his Word of Mouth campaign.

So we thought that perhaps to inspire a smarter lighter brighter life in a way that was helpful and easy, we could create an app or site experience where people could populate the info on things in their life – finance/insurance – food shopping – car purchase – travel etc, and then ask the site to ‘squeegee that’ – at which point the site would use an aggregated information programme to review the information put in and see whether by post code region profile etc the costs of their lifestyle could be reduced – and their consumption ‘cleaned up’. We could call it, prosaically, #Squeegeemylife.

And perhaps the next wave of apprenticeships that we develop in the UK should include internships at major brands and businesses for young people from underprivileged backgrounds – those without the Luxury of Conscience – expressly to allow them the luxury of learning the benefits of shaping and securing a lighter life: individually, communally, regionally and eventually nationally. And in such a way as to ensure that when they take their ‘stories’ back into the pub, they resonate and have meaning and integrity.

If we don’t engage the man and woman in the pub meaningfully and authentically we are wilfully passing over the clay for the new model of our more resilient and enduring prosperity to the likes of Mr Farage.

Blimey.

 

 

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