Beyond the ‘culture wars’
My observations about the power of people coming together started early: I grew up in diverse, fast-paced, internationalist and deeply unequal Camden, which Akala has called ‘a petri dish for examining race, class and culture in Britain’; while summer holidays were spent with family in slower rural northeast Lincolnshire — a place of rooted community where the only thing that seemed to change was the addition of a new headstone in the local churchyard from time to time.
It was those experiences, as well as the lessons that my grandparents taught me about respecting people because of their different vantage points and not despite them, that led me to create The Cares Family — a group of communities of millennials and baby boomers building connection in a disconnected age. In the decade since I founded the organisation, 26,000 older and younger people with different backgrounds, life experiences and attitudes have shared beautiful, meaningful bonds through group activities and one-to-one friendships across the ages. Most have felt happier, a deeper sense of belonging, and ‘part of something bigger’ as a result.
Those communities are a closer reflection of the Britain we can build together than the vision put forward by those who stoke so-called culture wars. Indeed, evidence shows that those battles are being waged by a tiny minority, predominantly on the internet. And yet the fact that these skirmishes can so deeply affect our public discourse does illustrate a dual cultural challenge: that while 72% of UK adults think that knowing their neighbours is important, 73% do not know their neighbours themselves; and that these separations are being widened by small numbers with loud voices intent on owning the public square for their own political purposes.
The answer, of course, is for civil society to reclaim that public square. We need more local connecting institutions to bring people together to build listening, trusting, mutual relationships across difference. We need businesses to open their premises for that type of connection. And we need moderates who believe in the power of human empathy and togetherness to continually make the case that investing in that sense of shared belonging will ultimately heal a fragmented nation. In other words, as others have said better than I can: ‘our job is to seek not to win the culture wars, but to end them’ — by proactively bringing people together to share time, space, experience and, ultimately, solidarity.
This mini-essay was written for the programme of the Re-stitch Social Fabric Summit hosted by Onward and Create Streets. You can watch what I said in the session ‘Beyond the Culture Wars’ in the video below: