Great Minds Thought Aloud
February 27th, 2015 by Dan Branigan.
The stage was set figuratively by a quotation by the poet Muhammad Iqbal that was emblazoned on the wall in the centre of the National Theatre’s Temporary Theatre:
‘Nations are born in the hearts of poets, they prosper and die in the hands of politicians.’
The layers of meaning are manifold because subtext is nuanced and complex, just like the hearts of the poets and people who constitute a nation. The challenge Great Minds proposed was that each of us is a poet whose hands should help better shape social policy.
Great Minds marked the eponymous launch of a new programme that proposes to engage people, who often find themselves in conflict, in a process of dialogue that priorities diversity and promotes social cohesion through empathy and increased understanding. By finding new ways of listening and talking to each other the aim is to generate better and relevant policy recommendations out of people’s real life experiences.
The stage was then set literally by a poet, Anthony Anaxagorou, who exhorted that not all poetry is metaphor and rarefication, that it should be action and change. After a brief introduction to the day by our Executive Director, Charlotte Weinberg, our friends Playing ON took to the stage in the shape of two actors performing an excerpt from ‘Hearing Things’. The play featured a character, Sam, a patient at the Maudsley Psychiatric Hospital with multiple and complex needs. The subsequent ‘hot seating’ of the plays characters in a Q&A session involving the audience, showed that all of us are multiple and complex.
After a short break Great Minds happened. A diverse and distinguished panel assembled, containing some ex-prisoners, some still serving a sentence and others working in a variety of aspects within the criminal justice sector. Led by Charlotte and Dr. Renos Papadopulous they formed a circle with the audience and so began a discussion about how to make social policy in a better way. The conversation full of divergent opinion and perspective yet was guided to unfold in a non-adversarial manner. As the dialogue opened out to the audience every participant employed the discipline to hear and value difference, and focussed on recognising a commonality of purpose and desired outcome.
Great Minds ultimately is about action, and after another short break, the room returned to an exercise, where in small groups, people would decide what was the most significant point of conflict for them and what policies could be employed as a way to resolve issues in one of the four allocated areas: domestically, locally, nationally and internationally. Problems ranged from toothpaste being squeezed from the middle of the tube to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but the consensus of the room seemed to be that the solution to the plethora of challenges faced daily resided in doing things differently on a local even domestic level. We often work in siloes but often the needs of the people we work with intersect with what other organisation provide. A way forward is to find a way to embed this intersectionality into the ways we see, think and do things.
Did Great Minds think differently? Below are some responses to that question. We may have started something.
“It made me more aware of the sheer divide in language, approach, and mentality between those who set policy around prison and those who are interned (and their families and those who work with them)”
“It inspired me to consider that social policy doesn’t just have to be about the political agenda. With sufficient groundswell, a tipping point may be realised that forces politicians to take notice – particularly those new in office in May, perhaps!”
“Yes! The activity which got groups thinking about domestic, local, national and international policy was a genius way of making the connections between those different levels. It made social policy feel more human and more doable.”