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‘This is how it’s always been’

Daniel Dipper questions tradition for tradition's sake.

‘This is how its always been’ is a much-repeated phrase, but is one we seriously need to reflect on if we are to make progress as a society. Just sticking with the status quo means we continue to make the same mistakes as in the past and ultimately stilts society from further developing in a productive way. It doesn’t mean you are doing anything right or great if everyone else has done it the same way – its only by asking the difficult questions and thinking in new ways that we can truly unleash the everybody’s potential.

A good example of this is to reflect on how Oxbridge have branded themselves in the past – as being so good they didn’t need to do any work to attract candidates. Instead of trying to draw talent from all parts of the UK, there was a sense that everyone must know what they were about so if they were the ‘right’ sort of people they would apply. ‘This is how it’s always been’ you could say, and they continue to be seen as two of the best universities in the world.

In recent years the University of Oxford have launched new schemes including Opportunity Oxford which I personally benefited from. The whole aim of Opportunity Oxford is to smooth the transition from sixth form to university, ensuring those who come from the most disadvantaged schools have as good an opportunity to thrive in their degree as a student from any other schooling background. This is just one example of questioning the status quo, increasing social inclusion and preparedness while trying to level the educational playing field as students enter the University. It is by no means a perfect scheme.  It continues to be fine tuned year by year but certainly shows how we should push to think differently and to innovate.

No longer does the University rely on its sheer weight of prestige. It now runs hundreds of school workshops across the country to try to encourage the best students to apply regardless of background. There are still students who no doubt would thrive in this environment who haven’t been given the opportunity to simply because they haven’t seen anyone like them go and do it. There’s still much to do in the University itself to ensure all students feel included. However, progress is being made and comes from asking difficult questions about how to assess potential and the moral duty that universities have to inspire those in their surrounding areas.

Thinking the status quo cannot be changed and not daring to imagine a better future are some of the biggest barriers that hold us back from revolutionising many aspects of everyday life. Precedent is not always best – let’s hear out people’s different perspectives and ultimately if they have a convincing case things should change. 

Things shouldn’t just change for the sake of it and certainly decisions are sometimes made based on solid evidence as to why they were the right ones previously. But if we allow ourselves to be constrained by the status quo, we hold back so much creativity and innovation. I don’t want to bring in a long list of historical examples, but many of the most important steps towards Britain becoming a democracy took place because difficult questions were asked as to why things were as they were. By bringing different perspectives to the table we engage with points of view or interpretations and that is the power of thinking beyond the today. 

I want to reflect briefly on disability policy, something I’m passionate about as someone with fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia is a condition that means I am unable to write due to nerve pains, means I suffer crippling pain across my body, and means at points my mobility is very variable. When someone schedules a meeting up multiple flights of stairs, it is not owing to malicious intent, it is simply because it is not a perspective they may have engaged with in the past. We need to be mindful of others, but ultimately the difference between a good leader and a bad one is that a good leader acknowledges the limits of their knowledge and learns for the future. The burden shouldn’t fall on disabled people to constantly have to advocate for themselves and certainly goes against the spirit of the Equality Act 2010 which encourages minimal barriers to engagement for disabled people. Having perspectives like this at the decision-making table is hugely important as they may bring a life experience nobody else has had, making individuals feel more welcome.

Certainly, try to understand as many perspectives as possible but be open to change in all forms. Just because it has worked in the past does not mean it is the way forward for the future and inertia is the enemy of change. Society makes progress by knocking those barriers down one by one, asking one difficult question at a time, and daring to think beyond just what we know. Change can feel uncomfortable but we need to embrace it if we are to become a more inclusive society. ‘This Is How Its Always Been’ is one of the easiest ways to block good ideas, fresh ideas, and to block societal change that is badly needed for everyone to feel included. So, the next time you hear the phrase question if there genuinely is a case for things to stay as they always have been, or if it’s time to think differently.

Image: CC2:0// Via Wikimedia Commons

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