For the good of whom?

katiecollins's picture

Every time I see the phrase social good I take a breath and prepare to give the benefit of the doubt. Doubt? Yes. Because all too often, the ‘social good’ seems to be invoked by people who live comfortable lives free from oppression or discrimination, as a reason why those who don’t have such an easy time ought to change something about themselves; their behaviour, their emotions. 

I read a blog post this morning, written by a social worker in a UK city, one that has very high rates of deprivation. She was in despair and rage following an announcement by a prominent ‘think tank’ of a conference to answer some ‘new’ questions about a topic that she and her colleagues had been dealing with for 20 years. She listed 10 publications from the last 5 years alone that had addressed some or all of the ‘new’ questions this prestigious think tank had come up with, for the social good, of course. But in their no doubt well-intentioned desire to explore this issue, they’d made 20 years of research, lived experience and activism disappear, as if it had never meant anything.

So what is social good, to my mind? It ought to be a conversation (metaphorical or literal) between people who see one another as complex, worthwhile human beings. Not an ‘outcome’ or a question of ‘what works’ that seeks a single, scalable answer. Those things are just another tyranny. It is about looking to ourselves first, examining our own biases and misunderstandings before we turn to those further away. It is about humility.