On December 29th 2019, in that odd time between Christmas and New Year, one of my longtime and closest friends, Graham Maule, died after a short illness. Graham was one of the most passionate and creative people I have ever known and I really miss him. His funeral was on Friday 10th Jan and you can see the tribute here.
We met over 40 years ago at a youth conference in Langbank and were friends from the word go: talking long into the night, sitting on the stairs in the centre we were meeting in, about everything – the world as it was and could be and what we might do to make it happen. Graham was a wee bit older than me – 20 to my 17 years – already into a brand of radical politics, faith and social action, which I was to learn a great deal from. By 1980 we were sharing flat in Ruchill in Glasgow as part of Ruchill Youth Outreach project; living in and doing detached youth work in what was then one of the poorest areas of the city. Much of what we did wasn’t running clubs and programmes; it was mostly hanging around street corners and in living rooms and in stair closes just listening to those who had found themselves on the edge of life and only then asking: ‘what do you want to do now?’
Moving as a somewhat naive and sheltered 18 year old to live and work in Ruchill was an utterly transformational experience for me, and Graham was a huge part of why it was so. One of many things he did was introduce me to E F Schumacher’s book ‘Small is Beautiful’. Written in 1973, it is a book I would now describe as prophetic. Graham, along with our other flat-mate Bungie, introduced me to vegetarianism, to recycling, to cooking as a pleasure as well as a utility, to small collaborative action as the basis of big change and the importance of authentic relationships as the basis of youth work. Or, in truth, any kind of work.
Graham and Bungie introduced me to the idea of ethical consumerism. We decided to only drink a foul-tasting brew called Campaign coffee, the forerunner to fairtade coffee. It was disgusting but it was the only was the only way we could have coffee, which treated the growers fairly. Coffee is worth $20 billion in trade and $100 billion as an industry but the vast majority of its growers are still amongst the poorest in the world. And Ethiopia, coffee’s native country along with Sudan; remains amongst the 10% poorest countries in the world. It was Graham who helped me see these kinds of in justices even in the coffee I drank; teaching me that every action has a consequence, ever decision an impact, every choice an effect on others whom we may never know but not knowing them is no excuse for ignoring them.
In Graham’s honour I have re-read ‘Small is Beautiful’. Schumacher’s call for human-sized systems; his questioning of why all of politics is about a narrow view of economics that sidelines human wellbeing – the idea that we can separate the individual costs of a given process from the world about it as a definition of ‘efficiency’ and ‘value’ whilst ignoring the impact on the earth and the people who suffer as a consequence as ‘poisonous for us all’ – and so much more, are as relevant for today as they were when I first read them. And re-reading the book has been a very helpful way of holding Graham’s memory and reminding me of how I can stay in a relationship with him, even after his death.
Here are just a few quotes giving a flavour of Schumacher’s ideas;
“An attitude to life which seeks fulfilment in the single-minded pursuit of wealth – in short, materialism – does not fit into this world, because it contains within itself no limiting principle, while the environment in which it is placed is strictly limited.”
Schumacher was most concerned with the disconnect between the limited resources of the world and the obsession with economic growth, which requires the ignoring of the limitations of the earth, but is portrayed as the sole provider of human flourishing;
“How could we explain the almost universal refusal on the part of the rulers of the rich societies–where organized along private enterprise or collective enterprise lines–to work towards the humanisation of work? It is only necessary to assert that something would reduce the ‘standard of living’ and every debate is instantly closed. That soul-destroying, meaningless, mechanical, monotonous, moronic work is an insult to human nature which must necessarily and inevitably produce either escapism or aggression, and that no amount of ‘bread and circuses’ can compensate for the damage done–these are facts which are neither denied nor acknowledged but are met with an unbreakable conspiracy of silence–because to deny them would be too obviously absurd and to acknowledge them would condemn the central preoccupation of modern society as a crime against humanity”
Which is why he goes on to argue;
Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex… It takes a touch of genius and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.
And to say;
“Wisdom demands a new orientation of science and technology toward the organic, the gentle, the elegant and beautiful.”
And also something, which as I reread it I thought was so relevant for Cyrenians;
“An ounce of practice is generally worth more than a ton of theory”
It has been a gift, despite my tears, in thinking about Graham’s death to be reminded of what really matters in life. He had a huge impact on me, not just on how I saw the world but how I would try to live in it. His influence on me is one of the reasons my core value, the one which drives me more than anything else, is to build human relationships which bring flourishing to others and, in doing so, to me; by loving not just my neighbour and the stranger but also those who choose to see me as their enemy. And the heart of that is building a world, one relationship at a time, where what matters is the quality of human relationships we share in, and nurturing our capacity to take care of others and the earth in everything we do, even when we cannot see the impact ourselves.