A horizon beyond our own.

I read recently that both because of the cost-of-living crisis but significantly because of the severe environmental changes which we have witnessed across Europe this year that the way in which people spend their holidays is likely to change. The argument stated was that it is likely that fewer people will chose to go abroad and spend time outside their own country. This has long been an issue for citizens of the United States where only 37% of people hold a passport and an even smaller proportion of that have left their country but it is not something we have witnessed in Scotland or in the UK as a whole. The journalist who was reporting these factors questioned whether or not the lack of people going abroad from Britain would result in a change of attitude and behaviour towards other countries. He opined about whether or not people would become more insular and perhaps dismissive of the perspectives, views, and attitudes of others. Is there a risk we will lose an internationalist perspective?

Internationalism is at the heart of the Scottish character. It is that conviction that we become better, we mature and grow as individuals and as a nation, when we look beyond the horizons of our own knowledge, experience and world to explore elsewhere, include all and to learn from others. It has been a characteristic of Scottish identity from the earliest of times and has enriched our nation and communities.

As many of you will be aware my own organisation Scottish Care together with the National Care Forum will be hosting the Global Ageing Conference to be held in Glasgow from 6-8 September. A lot of work has gone into creating an event which will bring some amazing international voices to Scotland to reflect, share and inspire on issues relating to the care and support of older adults in the years to come. You can find details and sign-up opportunities on the website at Global Ageing Conference 2023 (globalageing2023.com).

As one of those involved in the planning and delivery of an international event, I have been spending some time reflecting on the nature of internationalism not just in general but for the world of social care in specific and I want briefly in this week’s blog to reflect on a few issues and themes that have arisen about working internationally and the diverse perspectives that come to bear when being involved in such an experience.

I have already stated above that in wider society in the United Kingdom there seems to be a growing trend in part because of circumstance but also because of changing attitude away from internationalism and international approaches. Some of the comments I hear in relation to social care go along similar lines. I have heard the statement that ‘everyone is different, so I am not sure that the perspectives of others in other countries have much to teach me and the way I work or deliver support and care.’ Undeniably it is true that every community and society works and acts differently, equally true it is one of the principles of social care that we should always have at the centre of all our work and relationships the peculiar and particular needs of the individual (person-centerdness) but it is I think naivety in the extreme to suppose or imagine that circumstances both in terms of an individual person or a community are so unique and distinctive that there are not lessons to be learnt, perspectives garnered and insights to be explored from contexts and communities very different from our own. Indeed, the last couple of years has taught me personally that in Scotland we have an astonishing amount to learn about a whole host of areas from perspectives and communities very different from our own, whether it be insights on community engagement and person-led approaches to care from Singapore, innovative approaches to dementia from India, or the empowering and skilling of the care workforce in Africa. The loss of a sense of internationalism whether in social care or society in general is a real risk because it impoverishes and risks the development in its place of narrow parochialism and negative nationalism.

A second point I sometimes hear is that when there are times of very real challenge then one should concentrate and focus on the issues to hand and not invest in either the future or in exploring new approaches, ideas, and models wherever they may come from. The risk of such a perspective is once again that a community or a person becomes insular, narrows the vision of the possible to that which is known, and creates a future solely from inside their own mind or experience. It shrinks the world to their own backyard. It means that we are not open to be inspired by others, prepared to accept that what or the way we do things might not be the best or end point, and that there could well be insights and imaginations from elsewhere that could literally change our world. Of course, there are very real challenges in investing resource into exploring new approaches and possibilities, but it strikes me that to draw the horizon of the future so close to your own experience, risks a very limited perception of what is possible in our living.

One last observation I have about what I fear is a loss of internationalism is that faced with so many challenges that as organisations, communities, and individuals we need to expend our energies on those challenges alone and not to seek to take on new work or activity. Concentrate on the now and leave the bigger issues or threats to others. Personally I consider that such a turning your back on the questions and answers of another is very risky. It is a perspective that believes it is possible to confront global or shared threats alone. The very opposite is the case. Whether it is the challenge of environmental and climate threat, the shared challenge of safety and defence, or in my world the shared challenges of how do your recruit and retain a workforce in social care; what approaches and models of care and support will people want in their older age in 10, 15, 20 years’ time; how do we meet the threats to our society brought about by dementia, delirium or any other condition – then all of these yes could be challenged and addressed on their own, within Scotland – or far better they can and should be addressed by a shared international collectivism.

There is, I believe, an importance if not an imperative in being challenged and unsettled out of our own situation and context by people who do things differently, whose insights are not ours and whose discoveries may not be those of our priority. There is a strength to be gained by the solidarity which comes from an internationalist perspective, an energy created by the inspiration and imaginations of others, and an adventure to be discovered when we move beyond the horizons of our own knowledge.

In a few weeks’ time I hope (and know) when the Global Ageing conference and its week of events comes to a close I will as will all those who have taken part, have been inspired, moved, enriched and challenged by the people I will have met (from at this stage 40 countries around the globe), and the conversations I will hold, and the experience of realising that my world and perspectives are not the only ones when we face global issues and shared concerns.

Any international event changes you for the best and I really hope that as a society in Scotland, never mind the world of social care, that we will not go down the path of withdrawing from others in the belief we can be or are best alone. One of the very earliest poems I heard and explored as a child at school is printed below. It is one whose insights I keep learning. I will be renewing my passport when it comes time to do so next year!

‘No Man is an Island’

No man is an island entire of itself; every man

is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;

if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe

is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as

well as any manner of thy friends or of thine

own were; any man’s death diminishes me,

because I am involved in mankind.

And therefore never send to know for whom

the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.


MEDITATION XVII, Devotions upon Emergent Occasions by John Donne

Photo by Anthony Cantin on Unsplash

Donald Macaskill

Last Updated on 5th August 2023 by donald.macaskill