Balance. That is what we all need in life. I was listening to Nicky Badi standing in for Vanessa Feltz this morning and there was a very illuminating call. It wasn't illuminating because it was interesting, quite the opposite. It was illuminating because it exemplified the mistake many of make when they approach life. We assume because we think and behave in a certain way, everyone else should think and behave in the same way. In an article in the Guardian a few days ago, George Monbiot recounted a chance conversation with a "traveller" in an A&E department. They struck up a conversation and as they talked, Mr Monbiot realised that the said individual was the same person who, with his brother, had terrorised an environmental protest camp some years before. How do you deal with such a situation? What do you say to someone who you have a deep seated and long standing loathing of? I was struck by Mr Monbiot admitting all of his middle class prejudice had come to the fore and won out over his liberal streak.
So the conversation is "at what point is it OK to stop being tolerant of other peoples lifestyle?" In Friern Barnet, we've had a very interesting situation. The occupation of Friern Library by the Occupy movement has forced many people into a rethink of some deeply held views. Many of us got our view of squatters from publications such as the Daily Mail, where coverage highlights extreme stories of unreasonable behaviour. When a group of squatters ride in to the rescue of a well loved local library and bring energy and hope to a local community, preconceptions are challenged. As we approach the new year, maybe we should all reappraise the way we approach life and our views of the way people live it.
Let me give you and example. We allow our prejudices to prevent us from doing things we really want to do. My 15 year old daughter was with me at Morrisons on Christmas Eve. I said "It's christmas, you can have any chocolate bar you like". She wondered around and looked longingly at the Pick and Mix counter. I said "You can have pick and mix if you prefer". She looked and then said "Pick and mix are for kids". She then went and got a rather sophisticatedly packaged bar of chocolate. Now of course I'm not psychic, maybe she really wanted the choccy bar, but I don't think so. I believe she realised I had noticed her yearning for the pick and mix, and it was a reaction to my perception of her having an immature taste in sweeties.
In some ways, I am convinced we see the same process regularly in all walks of life. The Friern Barnet library case is rather like my daughter and the pick and mix. It is clear to anyone who isn't a complete imbecile that the Friern Peoples library is a hugely popular local resource. In times of great economic hardship, it offers many lessons for preservation of a library system. The reuse of space, lessons, music are all things which could be built on and developed. Donation of books is also a great idea. It is also clear that volunteers will play a bigger role in library provision until public finances improve. I believe all libraries need properly trained librarians, but we also need to keep the libraries open.
It is completely ridiculous that Barnet Libraries chief, Councillor Robert Rams has not visited the library, to see if any lessons can be learned. He is like my daughter in foolishly denying the existence of something which may actually be just what is needed. No one could possible deny that there is a demand for the services supplied by the peoples library. All that is needed is a way forward so that everyone benefits.
It strikes me that if we have a cabinet member who refuses to listen and refuses to learn, then maybe what we need is a different cabinet member.