Can being nice prevent violence?

ACT (Action Counters Terrorism) e-learning is a free short course for the general public on what to be aware of and how to look out for terrorist activity in public places.  A recurring theme in it is to be polite, to challenge people who are looking lost or suspicious, to ask if such people need assistance and offer to help such as taking them where they need to go.  Essentially saying excellent customer service has a side effect of countering criminality.

It is interesting that by being nice and polite to people it makes it hard for them to be violent and anti-social.

What impact would it have on those who want to harm our society if everyone they came across in our society was friendly, open, polite, helpful in a self-assured way?  Perhaps if we had such a society, there would be fewer people who wanted to harm our society in the first place.

Digital Human, novelty, boredom

Yesterday’s broadcast of the Digital Human on Radio 4 was about ‘Novelty’. If you have 30 minutes + thinking time to spare, you might find it interesting. It might have given me an idea.

They talked about how random interruptions / incidents / interactions through the day result in interest and creativity. They used academics from around the world to explain the related phenomena, so it’s not just people moaning about lockdown, it is proper consideration of the psychological effects of what is going on at the moment.

One of them was that a lack of interaction with others – simply chatting to random people about random things in the office kitchen – results in a reduction in creativity because there are no inspirational triggers occurring. It means you cannot clarify your thoughts as you are not regularly sharing them. It results in boredom.

I am currently struggling to write a particular document because of this. I am accustomed to answering “So, what are you working on?” many times a week and getting feedback, which really helps me crystallise my thoughts as I use it as an opportunity to check my arguments, logic and reasoning. Without that, my head is full of mush. My work – despite being a techie – is analytical and creative: understanding and then solving problems. Without others to test my thinking, I’m grinding to a halt. And one chat won’t fix that – it needs to be an occasional but ongoing activity. And I certainly do not mean the regular “Are you getting on with it? Will it be on time? Do not let me down” of a 1-to-1.

In my moaning, I am getting toward a solution, but I still haven’t put my finger on it. You have been right all along – those random conversations in visits to the kitchen and bumping into people in the corridor really do matter. The challenge is how to replace them in a convenient, non-judgemental and safe way – i.e. not just yet another explain-to-your-management-what-you’ve-done progress meeting, but random sharing with a loosely-connected colleague but at a time when you are both stepping away from the desk to have a 2 minute think.

The problem is, when we step away from the desk to think, we step away from our colleagues who are doing the same thing. We distance ourselves from others who in that moment are also subconsciously looking for someone to talk to.

A few decades ago, when the telecottage association was formed, it was in recognition that people who were working from home needed other people to talk to. So they created communities of people who were geographically co-located but had no employment relationship at all. Shared office space, basically. Interestingly, in the three days I have spent in Canary Wharf, I had some really interesting and useful chats with other non-GC Cabinet Office people who were in. Talking to people who have no preconceptions about one’s work and a different set of experiences creates energy and ideas while allowing non-judgemental validation of reasoning. That has stopped totally, of course, courtesy of lockdown – there is no way to interact with anyone at the moment in this way.

Sorry for the long ramble, and I have not got anywhere with it that you had not raised a long time back.

So, the problem becomes: when we get up to stretch our legs and have a think, where can we go to meet others doing the same that does not involve staring at the laptop screen? The best I can think of is some sort of app for the phone, but I don’t think it would work either.

A fairly large group chat where one can say “Anyone up for a chat?” is not great either as it results in constant interruptions. Perhaps a huge, department-wide chat lobby, where, as you connect, you are joined up with another one or two people and automatically put in a room together – that might work. It would need a lot of people to work well – probably the size of the Cabinet Office.

Dammit, the communal kitchen / camp fire / totem pole / bench / smoking area seems to be an essential component of human society, and lockdown denies us that. And I cannot see a technology solution that properly replaces it.

No wonder we use prison as punishment; I was kidding at the start when I called this ‘house arrest’, but that’s exactly what it is. And I’ve done my year and I want time off for good behaviour. It is doing my head in and seriously hindering my ability to work now.

Now is a good time to take up training in counselling – either mental or relationship – as there’ll be a good few years work to fix this mess.