I had a revealing conversation with some good people this morning. From it I learnt that I’m not the only well meaning liberal concerned by a particularly Manx problem.
In a nutshell, an important local charity is concerned that people don’t get involved because much of the public (inaccurately) think it’s faith-led. This, in turn, is a further problem because after recent scandals many locals now (quite fairly) mistrust evangelicals.
I can’t identify the charity for various reasons, but I can say it’s a tragedy if they’re not trusted by the wider community as they do vital work. It is also a tragedy that the misunderstanding is not of their making. And the greatest tragedy is that this charity exists in order to banish prejudice and increase our understanding of the wider world.
It really matters that when their workers go into local schools to run voluntary activities the kids do not dismiss them as yet another bunch of grasping happy clappies. In fact, Manx kids must engage with such ideas if they are ever to be inspired to do something more productive than shift money round the world while destroying mineral rich (but politically bankrupt) countries in the developing world.
It doesn’t help that the Manx government still have a 19th century arrangement under which major church leaders have regular meetings with social services staff, and are automatically consulted whenever there’s a new initiative. That isn’t a statutory procedure, by the way, just a convention dating back to pre-welfare state days which nobody seems to have questioned.
The real problem may be that the island – effectively – moved straight from the days when charity was dispensed by “the parish” to “the deserving poor” into the Thatcherite dismantling of the welfare state, so never developed the UK system of highly evolved and professional local government. As a result, when Manx civil servants see a social issue looming they cover their ears until the outcry gets too loud to ignore, then throw some government cash at a priest and walk away.
It is also unhelpful that even public spirited Christians rarely have a social circle that goes much further than the churches, so their charitable model doesn’t go beyond religious duty. On the other hand, it is increasingly a problem that UK atheist organisations won’t think about charity or the public and third sectors at all – beyond how to get on a state gravy train where churches have been first class passengers for so long.
So, how do we break out of that circular logic on the Isle of Man whereby whenever someone says “charity” the listener unconsciously thinks “church” and most of us shut off?
One thing is clear. There is no point in saying “the government should do something about it”. As any Manx person with first hand understanding of either local or international issues already knows, our politicians and civil servants know far less than any member of the public who regularly reads a decent newspaper. And they are not interested in being educated.
No, we ordinary members of the public are going to have to grasp the nettle. If we want a decent society we are going to have to take it upon ourselves to reach over the fence, put aside our preconceptions……and start talking.
It’s only a small island. So how hard can that be?