Here's to having an opinion
There is an old adage: “opinions are like arseholes - everybody has one, and they all stink”. I posit that it is impossible to be involved in the charity sector/social sector/civil society and not develop distinctly non-stinky opinions based on our experiences of working with those people who have been most let down by the system. But what do we do with these opinions?
The opinions of those working in the charity and social sectors are often neutered by the fear of having one. Whether it be the fear of the reaction of one’s employer, fear of reprisals from funders or fear of attack from the media our opinions are tempered, or we feel the need to internalise them. Our fear makes us think that our opinions are only to be shared with our closest, most trusted allies. And yet, those of us working in the social sector see first-hand the injustices in society, the way the system oppresses those most in need and protects the few in the establishment at the cost of the many.
Oops! Did I just voice an opinion?
But this is important: in our sector we see the systemic inadequacies first hand but often only feel able to react to the specific issue in front of us when we really should be shouting, “THIS IS UNFAIR”. It could be argued that, in this way, charities and the social sector are used to maintain the status quo; suppressing annoyance with the system by making individual lives a bit better and in turn placing those of us working in the social sector in a virtuous bubble where we can feel better that we are ‘doing good’.
Barriers to holding an opinion are sometimes enshrined in law, with the Charity Lobbying Act placing restrictions on charities’ ability to campaign for change and generating an environment of fear and unease. Organisations working to help the most oppressed in society worry they will fall foul of the government machine for trying to change the system to better help those for whom it is failing.
Some organisations strive to be ‘politically neutral’ which leads to their services acting as sticking plasters to societal problems rather than being a cure for the things that create inequality, inequity and oppression.
In these strange and terrible times, we all need to voice our opinions; to challenge injustice, shine a light on the flaws in the system and, to coin a slightly hackneyed phrase, “speak truth to power”. Be strong and have the courage to form an opinion based on what you experience. As many great thinkers from Paulo Freire to Desmond Tutu have said, “in times of oppression, being neutral is to side with the oppressor”. Or, more directly, as the counter-culture rock band MC5 said, “if you’re not part of the solution you’re part of the problem”.
Be part of the solution: have an opinion, share it and act on it as your conscience requires.
If you'd like to talk about any of the opinions in this blog, feel free to get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org.