what you get here

This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Monday, April 17, 2017

Why Role Conflict is Good for You

I was born and raised in a West of Scotland shipbuilding town, the son of a Presbyterian Minister (or “son of the manse” as we were known) and received my education in a state school which still then possessed the positive features of Scotland’s Democratic Tradition……now, sadly, much traduced. It would have been easier for my parents to send me to the secondary school just a few blocks from our house but, as this was in a mansion (owned by the Church of Scotland) in the exclusive “West End”, the school was fee-paying and my parents – although no radicals – just never contemplated taking a step which would have created a barrier with my father’s congregation who were stalwarts of the town’s lower middle classes with their more modest houses and apartments in the centre and east of the town.

Thus began my familiarization with the nuances of the class system – and with the experience of straddling boundaries which was to become such a feature of my life. Whether the boundaries are those of class, party, professional group intellectual discipline or nation, they are well protected if not fortified…..
And trying to straddle such borders makes everyone uncomfortable and lonely as I was to discover when I became an active member of the Labour party in my final years at school - at the same time as I was playing rugby for a highly Conservative club.

When I became a young councillor in 1968, I found myself similarly torn – as I tried to describe in the post a few days ago about political roles. I developed loyalties to the local community activists but found myself in conflict with my (older) political colleagues and officials. And I felt this particularly strongly when I was elevated to the ranks of magistrate and required to deal with the miscreants who confronted us as lay judges every Monday morning – up from the prison cells where they had spent the weekend for drunkenness and wife-beating……..
The collusion between the police and my legal adviser was clear but my role was to adjudicate “beyond reasonable doubt” and the weak police testimonials often gave me reason to doubt….I dare say I was too lenient and I certainly got such a reputation – meaning that I was rarely disturbed to sign search warrants!

And, on being elevated a few years later to one of the leading positions in a giant new Region, I soon had to establish relations with - and adjudicate between the budgetary and policy bids of - senior professionals heading specialized Departments with massive budgets and manpower.     
Yet I was to learn that, if you are able to sustain the discomfort, being exposed to conflicting loyalties can reap great dividends in insight – if not moral strength. That extended to the boundaries between academic disciplines – I started at my College as an economist but moved to political sociology. And the inter-disciplinary nature of my writings was not to my colleagues’ liking…

When, in the 1980s, I was able to develop European networks and then, in the 1990s, to work in a dozen countries of central Euro[e and Central Asia, I became aware of my (North) western European heritage - and to question things I had previously taken for granted…..
Changing my role from academic to politician…then consultant – and then straddling the West-East divide gave me incredibly rich experience which I wouldn’t have missed for the world…

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