I am thrilled to be able to publish another contribution by Jon Twigge, an ardent Spiral Dynamics Integral enthusiast and supporter of the Centre of Human Emergence – UK. Jon wrote the piece for his own blog and has graciously consented to it being published here as well.
Unusually for me this post contains a little bit of my personal history…
What exactly does it mean to be British?
Well, for most of my life I lived without really knowing what it meant at all. At least, not consciously.
I have been brought up in a rather sterile environment from the point of race and the world. I lived most of my young life until I was 18 in a small village in rural Derbyshire in England. The local village school, that I attended until I was 11, was a Church of England school, nominally at least, and I don’t particularly remember any overt racial, cultural or religious content to my first years at school.
I have to admit to having a terrible memory for facts but I don’t recall a single non-white face from my years at infant and junior school. Perhaps that is not too surprising as the population of the whole village was only around 300 people and the school had a total of about 50 children covering the ages of 5 to 11 years.
My next brave step in the world was to attend a senior school at the age of 11, a giant step which involved a coach trip every day of over 3 miles each way and attending a school of over 1,000 people. A big, and indeed unnerving, step for a hugely shy and quiet young boy. But, still I didn’t get to see a lot of non-white faces. I vaguely remember there may have been one or two in the school over the years but they were certainly not common.
Race was simply not an issue for me at an early age. I suppose the only exposure to different ethnic groups during these early years was via the great number of TV channels available in Britain at the time (there were 3!). TV almost certainly did have coloured people on the screen. (Please forgive me if I use the wrong labels, it is people that matter to me, not what colour they are and I am almost certainly not up to date with the latest politically correct names for people of non white origins). But, if you are familiar with British TV from 25 and more years ago, race was not often talked about.
So, there I was with very little knowledge of race and ethnicity right up until the age of 18. And yet funnily enough, or perhaps not so, depending on how you look at it, I was, I suppose, against racism. I do wonder if perhaps this started when my mother commented one day how terrible it was that 2 people of 2 different colours, black and white, were going to get married. I was quite surprised by this statement not having heard anything quite like it before. My immediate reaction was that I thought the best way forward would be that as many people as possible should have mixed marriages so that people would get used to it and so that the cultures should be mixed up so that it would stop mattering any more.
To this day, I can’t see a reason why I should change my beliefs on mixed marriages; but, of course, I should add that i would certainly not be in favour of any compulsion or coercion for mixed marriages but rather that there should be no deliberate obstacles to it. With my much more recent knowledge of how human values are generally derived from life circumstances and how people behave to protect their individuality and social groups, I would of, course, understand why so many people are racist or uncomfortable with the idea of mixed marriages but that does not mean that I approve or support racism.
A lack of identity
But, anyway, other than to illustrate how little awareness of race I had as a child, I have rather wandered off the topic of this post. What I wanted to do is show how I personally didn’t really have an idea of ‘Britishness’ because i simply had almost no knowledge of other countries or race to define Britishness against. Culturally, I was of, course; very British with a healthy appetite for fish & chips as well as steak & kidney pies; but that is another story that I will almost certainly save for another day sometime in the distant future.
Being a rather introverted child, I suppose i must have spent a lot of time thinking. Various life circumstances must have conspired to leave me without any particular reason to think of myself as British. And so, and I really cannot recall how or why it might have happened, I came to the conclusion that I would quite like to be a member of the global human race rather than being British. It’s not like this was a huge passion or anything; but some years ago I did go so far as to register with one of the groups around the world as a world citizen. I even got a little card back proclaiming my world citizenship. It was not the most professional certificate in the world and I would not like to have tried getting through immigration with it; but it was something that I identified with.
Perhaps contributing to my personal lack of awareness of Britishness was that both my parents, for differing reasons, did not speak much of the past. And also, I had only one remaining grandmother when I was born and she died when I was, I think, about 10 years old. Perhaps all of these circumstances conspired to hide memories of a Great British history of empire and war from me as well. All in all I had a very limited exposure to the past.
A common state of affairs
And I woudn’t like to imply that everyone in Britain was so globally minded as I was thinking myself to be. It was simply that I had hardly anything to hang a sense of Britishness on. Perhaps my case was somewhat extreme but i think the circumstances that I encountered in my early years must have, in parts, been experienced by others and that, to some extent or other, that they too must have been somewhat lacking in an upbringing into British identity.
I am not alone. I suspect that many people perhaps under 50 and definitely under 40 share this lack of historical Britishness. Perhaps Britain collectively avoided discussion of its past of empire and greatness unless you deliberately sought it out in history lessons.
So, my argument is that we have a great number of British citizens alive today who don’t have much sense of a British identity. If we attempt to define Britishness we will immediately run into this, for many people but certainly not all, a vacuum of historical identity.
So what is Britishness?
What we do find if we look for Britishness is something rather limited to what we find in many other countries. What many people, of the younger generations at least, might define as their Britishness is a cultural identity with British values but without a historical and geographical belongingness.
If I was to try to list a few words that might give an indication of Britishness, I might use a collection of words something like ‘proud’, ‘strong’, ‘eccentric’, ‘open’, ‘honest’, ‘hard working’, ‘ethical’, ‘judicial’, ‘fair’, ‘successful’, ‘enterprising’ and ‘free’. I am sure you could add a few words for me as well and please do if you want to comment.
So, for me, I guess that my British identity rests on my being British-like rather than being British geographically. But, as I have said, that identity has not been very overtly conscious for me. And that makes me wonder, if many others might agree with my analysis, that that may be why we British have traditionally been so accepting of other cultures, so long as they play fair of course, both in the historical empire and subsequent commonwealth, and in terms of immigration.
So, to lay it out in simple terms, I suspect that Britishness is no longer so dependent on a nationalistic geographic identity with this land but on the values that we British hold dear.
A worrying trend
But, at this point, I want to note what is a relatively recent and rather worrying trend. Britain is a leading exponent of human rights and equality for everyone. So far, so good. Our fairness and sense of justice has been combined with a modern global political correctness that means that everyone is equal and has equal rights.
The trouble is, and I better say this rather quietly in case anyone with too strong a sense of justice is listening, this modern PC equality is becoming dominant to the point that it is applied so that everyone is given rights regardless of whether they exhibit modern traditional Britishness. We are effectively rejecting our own culture and values and inviting in others to replace it. I would very quickly remind you, before I get into trouble, that I mean Britishness in terms of being fair and upstanding rather than having the right colour skin.
Losing a Sense of British values
What this means, all rather frighteningly now I think about it like this, is that British culture is now gradually losing its sense of British values on top of already having lost its geographic identity. And that does not leave much apart from a politically correct idea of equalness for all.
Now I am getting worried. We are deliberately giving up our sense of identity and we are creating a new wave of British citizens, both born here and through immigration, who lack a thorough sense of, and identification with, Britishness. This leaves us somewhat open to minority groups and views of other cultures or disaffected groups to provide stronger senses of identity than we have natively. These new power bases of identity probably don’t see a strong native Britain to hold them at bay and there is a sense of an ever widening open door to our country.
Maybe that last part sounds suspiciously racist. It really wasn’t meant to. I see a need for a once again strong British identity so that we, Britain, can be a strong member of an ever more global world in the years to come. The alternative may well be a fractious British community with growing tensions and problems.
An inspiring talk
Early last year I attended a talk by Don Beck, who co-authored the early definitive book on Spiral Dynamics, in which he suggested that Britain may well stand closer to a great change, towards a new kind of society, than anywhere else in the world. The basis of this claim is that change happens, in individuals and societies, when their life circumstances change and develop causing new problems in their lives that their current value systems are not good at dealing with.
I left that talk with a new sense of being British. And of the importance of being British for both Britain and the world.
A new way
I would politely suggest, in my best English manner, that the decline in identification with traditional British values brought about by an overly politically correct society is indeed bringing about the circumstances and need for a new kind of change right here in Britain. And I would suggest that the change that is required is the rise of a new kind of British values that respects and upholds a strong combination of, and respect for, individual expression, social structure and responsibilty, opportunity to succeed and equal rights for all rather than a continual struggle between them.
It is time that we once again become proud to live on this island and to uphold a (new and updated) British way of life so that we can once again stand tall in the world and lead by example.