Leigh Matthews’ new podcast series on “Doing Good” gets off to a great start with Karen Flanagan, whose fascinating life-story is a worthwhile listen in its own right.
She does of course endorse the premise behind these podcats powerfully and with passion.
That premise is “to do good you must first learn how to do good.” Doing good is not a God-given talent, at least not for most of us. Good intentions are simply not enough. Great efforts and money are too easily squandered. Things can even go badly wrong as Leigh, Karen and I can all testify when talking about the scourge of “Orphanage Tourism” that has swept the world.
Let me therefore declare we are kindred spirits. The challenge we face is to take our messages to the rest of the population. These podcasts will help as will the recent book Leigh and Karen as contributors talk about in this conversation – “Modern Day Slavery and Orphanage Tourism”. They explain the drawbacks of "#voluntourism" more studiously than in my website.
Now this podcast is quite a long listen but please set aside the time. It is well-worth it. Karen comes out with some pearls of wisdom and some excellent tips. Two of her stories strike resonance with me.
Leigh invited me many years ago to do a guest blog for her. It was about “Care-in-the-Community” an argument against institutionalised places like orphanages. I started it with some Glasgow graffiti that Karen might say could come from the Falls Road in Belfast. ”If I am working class and I have a problem I get a social worker. If I am middle-class and I have a problem, I become a social worker”. You will hear how relevant this is beyond the wit. Karen explains why motivation must be correct for everyone to be able do good and to be wary of your own experiences. They can be impediments.
Later on in the talk, when asked about what great social problem currently afflicts society, Karen refers to today’s easy access to pornography. Literally a few hours earlier today I tweeted about this in Cambodia and the hypocrisy. People aren’t supposed to talk about sex but many download and watch pornography. Even worse is many young children are doing this. Even poor ones these days have smart-phones. Great harm can only ensue.
Karen refers to motivation a lot. Perhaps wisely she did not refer to vocation or a “sense of vocation” yet that sums up precisely what the best people in every profession have in abundance. Social workers need it more than most. A vocational commitment may not be compulsory “to do good” but it definitely helps as does great resilience as she recounts. Often the trouble with many people who want “to do good” – I have in mind “voluntourists” here – their timeframes are far too short; their expectations too high, and they and their “beneficiaries” end up disappointed or worse.
When I said that it was wise to avoid “vocation” it was because this word is used in “Residential Vocational Centres”. They have been part of the problem in Cambodia. For a long time they were regarded as the right way to deal with disabled people, herding them away from home, to undertake training in just a few pre-arranged skills. The folly of residential care did not begin with orphanages to cater for tourists wanting something else to do once they were bored with the wonders of Angkor Wat. Yet both forms of institutionalised care have been funded by official foreign aid and private donations by well-meaning folks. Australians have been among the most generous and therefore the most misguided. Let’s hope these podcasts wise them up.
Let me end this piece by one more of Karen’s pearls of wisdom. We often refer to “discipline” when talking about a job and even as guidance in personal lives. Karen implores you to “Steer in a disciplined way”. That’s a pretty good tip for “doing good” in any walk-of-life.
My personal website is: https://www.johnlowrie.uk
"Steering is a disciplined way" goes aptly with my old "Good Governance" Teaching poster.