Is the Big Society wrongly branded?

With the current debate around David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ initiative with its quest to redefine the boundaries of how we do things for our communal good in our society – I wonder whether he has missed a fundamental trick in his branding?

And are their lessons to be learnt from the arrival of a small white West Highland Terrier in my life?

Instead of ‘Big Society’ should it have been branded ‘Big Citizen’?

One of my core beliefs is that people need to live their lives in a bigger context, supporting a bigger goal than themselves, rather than what I see as a selfish, self-centred existence.

I hate the behaviour of people who adopt a ‘Me-Me’Me’ attitude in how they conduct themselves.

The arrival of a small, white West Highland Terrier in my life convinced me of my theory that people need a bigger goal in life in order to fulfil their potential, and to give meaning to their very existence on this planet.

Let me explain.

My wife is a great dog lover. I am not.

It is a long story, but while I was in the Accident and Emergency Department of Norwich Hospital thinking I was going to die, I told my wife she can go ahead and have a dog.

So enters ‘Dylan’ in our life. (A great bit of branding by my daughter Charlotte.)

Dylan is a very cute, adorable fluffy West Highland Terrier. There was just one problem – as I had predicted in the previous years of debate on the subject – everyone was out during the day at work or school. Thus, leaving the puppy unattended during the day.

With the reality belatedly hitting my family, they recognised something had to be done. They knew it was not fair leaving the puppy alone.

The solution emerged some 230 miles away at the home of the grandparents in beautiful Barry. Both retired, they had the time to be proper guardians for Dylan.

Yet, it was not just Dylan’s life that was transformed: the lives of my in-laws were transformed too.

Previously, they had a lifestyle of my father-in-law watching Sky Sports in the front room and my mother-in-law watching non-sports in the back room.

Dylan however, changed all that.

Instead, my in-laws went out together, taking Dylan for walks, meeting other dog owners, and a whole new avenue of interests from, ‘Has he had a poo today?’ to the different qualities and characteristics of different breeds of West Highland Terriers permeated their lives.

The lesson for me was clear: you need to have something bigger than you in life to stretch, extend and give deeper resonance to your day-today existence.

Going back to the Big Society issue, it seems to have suffered from what I call a top-down branding.

Yes, the collective end goal is to create a society where people do more to help themselves and others, to ultimately create a ‘Big Society’; but it starts with people acting bigger than their immediate self interest.

The starting and ending point is that by being a ‘Big Citizen’ – whether it is picking up a piece of litter or being part of a community initiative – you act the bigger part; you think bigger, extend your horizons to a bigger place, you obtain bigger responsibilities because it is unquestionably the right thing to do.

By individuals acting as ‘Big Citizens’ it collectively then creates the ‘Big Society’.

Using the term ‘Big Society’ upfront exposes it to accusations of being a ‘smoke-screen’ for public service cuts, a way of undermining trade union power, a way of just looking for the cheap in public service provision, or whatever criticism is hurled at it form those with an interest in maintaining a status quo.

Sadly, the ‘Big Society’ has the potential to show there is an alternative to providing communal services and doing communal good.  It could provide, in different situations, a more effective, bottom-up, sustainable and personal way of addressing our society’s communal needs, rather than the default mode of setting up organizations with the subsequent danger of creating self-serving bureaucracies, rather than agents of public good.

The first step in the ‘Big Society’ is the ‘Big Citizen’. Maybe that’s what it should have been called.

At the very least the campaigners for the ‘Big Society’ agenda should start shouting out louder about the importance of the ‘Big Citizen’.

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