Wellbeing for all starts with
wellbeing for the individual
Following this year’s Leading Wellbeing Research Festival in Ambleside, I was honoured to be asked by Network of Wellbeing to write this article. Anything which promotes and develops dialogues and understandings about and around wellbeing is a worthy cause with the potential to create positive change in our world.
The event was interesting and, whilst there were individuals and organisations with ideas and perspectives, clearly keen to contribute to a building a better world, there were the usual self-serving agendas, egos, seemingly ignorant soundbites and casual perpetuations of a system and attitudes which we recognise do not serve us well as a species—too many out-dated and divisive paradigms.
We are at a point where it is undeniable that the systems and priorities we have placed precedence on in society do not, and have not, served us inclusively as societies, communities, or individuals
It highlighted, perhaps, some of the traps of how we consider and discuss wellbeing and the inescapable well-washing that is occurring, as a dialogue with merit becomes the next marketing campaign for something totally divorced from its root inspiration and devoid of the value the manifestation of its concepts offers. We have become all too familiar with the green-washing, pink-washing and white washing that have leapt upon the wagons of worthy causes. Now we should be mindful that working towards wellbeing should not be commandeered by those seeking to profit by association with the word, but rather by those willing to work towards a world in which wellbeing is of priority and available to all.
As the trucklers board the wagon, it becomes more and more imperative that people are prepared to question the motives behind the language used in policy-making, decisions and investment; soundbites which can so casually and insidiously undermine the very topic they propose to advance. Some of these difficult questions need to be asked publicly, for without bringing awareness and accountability to tailor these things into relevance, we’re resigning ourselves to a system which can not align with our needs, in this instance, our ability to be well. There is a reason wellbeing is currently a sexy topic, and that’s because we are at a point where it is undeniable that the systems and priorities we have placed precedence on in society do not, and have not, served us inclusively as societies, communities, or individuals. Let’s hope that the hangers-on will become unwitting ambassadors for a thoroughly deserving endeavour.
Perceived differences dissolve and our sheer human diversity and variety of approach / perspective / attitude becomes a unifying aspect without becoming homogenised or restricted
So, wellbeing, in its broadest definition, is an ability to be well. Whilst this is experienced and judged subjectively, there are commonalities to our human needs, health, desires and responses within societies. Our current trend of undervaluing individuals who make up our societies and our species becomes extraneous when we start to establish an understanding of our commonalities and shared affecting variables. Those perceived differences dissolve and our sheer human diversity and variety of approach/perspective/attitude becomes a unifying aspect without becoming homogenised or restricted.
The current refugee crisis has highlighted the limited way in which we consider wellbeing and judge certain individuals more deserving or worthy of wellbeing. How then do we decide the value of each individual, based on the geographical area in which they were born, the people they know, their physical ability, their capacity for intelligence, or empathy, their religion, their culture, their skin colour, their sexual preference, their gender identity, their political alliances, the socio-economic context they are born into, the decisions they made as a teenager, the decisions their parents made as a child, their level of education, or the cost of their education, their diagnosis, their financial means, how they are dressed, what car they drive, or maybe their preferred radio station, ad infinitum.
The capacity and potential for humans will never be embodied by a narrow cohort of persons, but rather in the celebration of our distinct and subtle differences in our entirety
Once we start to consider more the value of those nuanced and idiosyncratic qualities, which every single person possesses, the wealth of diversity each individual’s perspective and skills can contribute to society as a whole becomes apparent and undeniable. Until we start valuing each and every individual and challenging those soundbites which easily segregate you from another, or another from you, as a means to justify the right to, or lack of right to, wellbeing, very little will change. We will find ourselves repeating the same us/them paradigm, which, whilst obviating our responsibility or need to care inclusively for our species, becomes the justification of hierarchies and tiers of entitlement within society. A foundation of inequality and a proven path to diminishing wellbeing and developing disadvantage.
Our tendency to use isolating language and limited and limiting terms of reference has been integral to the gaps that have developed between members of our communities, gaps that feed our inability to be well by blocking our ability to consider ourselves part of our own species. Are you one of those? Or one of those? If you are that, then you cannot be this. Terms which isolate, segregate and are implicit value judgements. Language by which individuals can easily be swayed and radicalised within a volatile and unequal society, one that banters in popularity and soundbites rather than promoting integrity and robust dialogue.
We can live and let live and better yet, thrive and let thrive
We have talked and defined ourselves in exclusions, manifesting these through our use of language and the manifestation of our systems. Our desire to label individuals according to situation, circumstance, diagnosis and opportunity has ostracised us from recognising the potential in one person’s life, becoming the natural extension of the potential to our own lives. So as we see another human being having their wellbeing limited—due to age, skin-colour, location, ability, networks and financial means—without speaking out or doing something to challenge this existing status quo, we maintain a system in which inequality and lack of wellbeing are par for the course. Similarly, when we allow a select few to develop their own wellbeing on the backs of those who have less—through extending an unbalanced entitlement to them—we create a tiered system in which, by default, certain individuals are deemed of less value. Each approach ends in the relegation of one human from another through divisive language and subsequent action and the perpetuation of the un-wellbeing model. The capacity and potential for humans will never be embodied by a narrow cohort of persons, but rather in the celebration of our distinct and subtle differences in our entirety.
By considering all humans as worthy—as nuanced individuals who can contribute to the species, our contexts and understanding, as the specific individuals they are—we can start to embrace our sheer potential and capacity for development. Without valuing each and every individual, we limit the ways in which humans can contribute and be considered a part of our communities, limiting potential and wellbeing. Limiting society’s wellbeing in turn.
In advancing our understandings of intellectual and resource investment in, human wellbeing, we have some difficult dialogues ahead of us. We need to be prepared to question and to engage in these dialogues, as everyone has something to contribute. We can live and let live and better yet, thrive and let thrive.
We are in the process of a shift—a shift of perspective, a shift of priority and a shift of paradigm. A necessary shift away from the polarities, dualisms, exclusions, profit-precedence and lack of dialogue which have materialised our distinct and immediate need to prioritise wellbeing for all.
While this article considers wellbeing from the perspective of the worth of the individual human within society, the next article will consider the contextual issues which affect our ability to develop a sense of worth for every human through our systems and infrastructure. A third article will introduce you to Creative Wellbeing—a needs and asset-based social enterprise model—developed to address issues of wellbeing.