Finding our Social Purpose

social purpose

I have been troubled by bad dreams since I heard of the death of Jo Cox, I did not know here , I did not know of her, her life and mine were never likely to have crossed paths. It is not for Jo Cox or her family or her friends that I am troubled but for something else.

I sense this disquiet in many others, perhaps a sense of guilt. I felt it particularly when her sister’s speech finished “she was perfect”. I am quite sure that Jo Cox was not perfect but to her sister and to many of us, Jo now represents an abstract idea of someone who we can aspire to as having found her social purpose.

Most of us, Jo Cox’s sister included, do not live our lives quite as publicly as Jo Cox did. She met her end at the hands of someone who was detached from society as Jo was involved. They represented two extremes of social engagement.

For most of us, finding the balance between the dark introspection of the loner and the social self-confidence of Jo Smith is part of our sense of self and self-worth. Some of us define ourselves in terms of possessions, others in terms of our popularity and a few people define themselves in terms of their obligations to others.

Obligations to others

I come from a family where public service is very important. My father was for many years a councillor and for a time a prospective parliamentary councillor, he was leader of his county’s council. My mother to this day , is a taxi-driver for her peer group who are becoming less socially mobile, she has been a public servant in a private way throughout her adult life.

I have the good fortune to have had these strong and public-spirited people as role models and I fear I haven’t always lived up to the example they have set me. Part of my trouble with Jo Cox is self-chastisement, could I not have done more of what that woman was doing.


A fit society

I mean”fit” both in the sense of “being fit” to live in and being competitive, a society proud in its purpose.  Britain isn’t a society that boasts its superiority but we are self-confidant, I would not live elsewhere for I fit here and feel this country is fit to compete in a global economy.

But the death of Jo Cox, calls that into question. For the man who killed her claimed to speak for Britain and had lived his life alone. He believed himself idealistic but his terms of reference were far removed from our society’s. And yet he lived among us and was a part of a community.

There will be many saying openly or privately that man “had a point”. He did have a point, but that point has no place in a fit society – as far as I’m concerned.

I feel on weak ground here, I am very priviledged in terms of education and have become part of Britain’s mass affluent. But I know that society in this country has changed and that the views of that man were stuck firmly in a worldview that is passed. The Britain that we have today is a mixed society where my sense of Britishness is refreshed by my daily interactions with a diverse range of people.

Indeed I talk with people on social media without care of whether they live in Britain, Sweden, America or India, only 40% of my Linked In connections are British.

A cosmopolitan and diverse world

Jo Cox’s world knew no boundaries. Her most famous campaigning was over the plight of the Syrian refugees. Her work was famous enough for the President of the United States to recognise her and give comfort to her husband.

Hers was and ours remains a complex cosmopolitan world that includes the influences of many other nations and societies.

Finding our place in that world is quite easy, we simply need to reach out. How much harder if you live in a country that does not have our advantages (like Syria). We have both personally and as a society, an obligation to help others and that does not mean putting ourselves first.

Making sense of guilt

Try as I might, I cannot but feel some responsibility for Jo Cox’s death. I wake with fears that if not the cause, I was negligent in preventing it. I feel guilty when I hear and see racism and realise that – by being a part of the conversation, I am condoning it.

Yesterday, I was with a group of cricketers aged 15-18. One mentioned an act of racism in the school and I was pleased to hear others telling him to stop the conversation. There was to be no discussion of racism and it was quite clear that it had no place – even in their banter.

For these young men, their world is defined by rules of their making. My son was one of them, I was proud that he was enforcing these rules by the way he behaved.

Guilt is either a negative emotion that makes cowards of us, or it is a positive emotion that spurs us to better things. I am strongly of a mind that managing the guilt I feel for being a part of a society that killed Jo Cox can be turned to good.

I wrote that Jo Cox should not have died for nothing and I have asked that we all vote- if eligible – to define our place in or out of the EU.

But to move forward and to purge this guilt I feel, I know I must fulfil my sense of purpose, work harder to get the things done, that I talk of in this blog.

Talking is not enough.







About henry tapper

Founder of the Pension PlayPen,, partner of Stella, father of Olly . I am the Pension Plowman
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4 Responses to Finding our Social Purpose

  1. John Mather says:

    Some time ago (1989) I had an issue and went to see my oldest client for advice. After patiently listening he told me never ever tell people of your troubles. His experience was that 85% didn’t care and 15% were glad.

    Harsh and hopefully not true but clearly you can only help those that you touch unless you take a position, like Jo, where you can leverage your influence.

    In a world where £70M for one years work is within the rules or where after liquidating assets and paying out £400M the fatally wounded asset is sold for £1 is applauded with a knighthood while the public pick up the liability

    Clearly our values are off track

    The challenge is how to get responsibility and statesmanship back on the agenda without becoming the target of a sociopath

    It starts with the people i touch until someone smarter than me finds a solution I can adopt

  2. David C says:

    John that is a great post.

    Society has some problems, but looking through glasses tinted with the fear, guilt, confusion, anger and upset that fills many people after Jo’s killing, will only risk tinting subsequent thoughts, commentary and actions with those emotions.

    I’m unsure of all the details surrounding Jo’s killing, as I’m sure almost every commentator is at this point and will be for some time.

    I think if someone wants to do something for Jo, it’ll be to give her loss some time and to grieve for her before they act upon their emotions in haste.

    I was interested when Henry mentioned his son’s social group choosing to not discuss racism that they’d witnessed.
    Was that seen as a positive attribute for a social group to have?
    To simply turn off to topics that may cause some upset or offense if discussed?
    Do people really have such thin skin that they can’t discuss such topics any more, and walk away happy that we may turn out to share different views?
    To walk away and find ourselves moderating or altering our viewpoint having shared our feelings and views with others in our social group?

    Lets not forget that these social groups are the very same that form society, and the very same that form the society in which Jo’s killer existed.
    Social groups that are unwilling to share their feelings on certain subjects because society deems it inappropriate.
    A society in which our views can become warped and skewed in isolation.
    A society in which mental illness can thrive in similar isolation.

    Our willingness to isolate topics as unsavoury and unspeakable creates an environment in which those very things will survive in their worst forms, gestating within the confines of people’s minds, without the openly and reasonably shared views of others to moderate them.

    Henry I’m voting out from the EU.

    I’d love to discuss why you want to stay in, if you can tolerate more discussion on the subject that is.

  3. henry tapper says:

    I think the reason they didn’t want to discuss it, was that they weren’t wanting to pillory the person who’d been caught out. I really don’t want to discuss my reasons for remaining for the same reasons, I don’t want to get dragged into a non-productive discussion.

  4. DaveC says:

    That sounds reasonable to me on both counts Henry.

    I would argue though that viewing a discussion as potentially non-productive before it’s even commenced is overlooking the potential of the discussion to be a valuable experience.

    I’m quite sad if you’ve already decided that my contribution in a discussion would be non-productive.

    Let us all hope that we have more time for each other in future, because my view is that such insulated viewpoints without a desire to talk about alternative ones, an exhibit of human tribalism, is what leads us to the type of conflict we currently see in our society.

    People seem terribly unprepared to even accept others have a different view of the world, and even worse, less prepared to tolerate those people in day to day life because of it.

    Thankfully I have skin thicker than tissue paper so I’ll be back for more.

    I just hope you’re not too delicate a flower to be able to cope with a contrarian view point, trying to keep your perspective, well, in perspective… as much as the experience serves to do the same for me!

    Keep up the good work Henry, as always your blogs are almost always read as soon as they drop in my mailbox!

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