Don't mention the war

09 November 2023

In the sixth of a series of eight articles, Jaco Marais reviews the 2020 Festival of Governance through the lens of responsibility and asks whether there is a scarcity of compassion in accepting the status quo.

We seem to have reached the point where criticising the status quo is at best controversial and antagonising and at worst can get you cancelled, fined or imprisoned.

But when systems are set up to ensure winners continually win more and losers lose more, rather than giving a fair and equal chance to all, when perverse incentives are given to people manufacturing weapons or using natural resources for capital gain, it seems crazy not to call for change.

Late-stage capitalism has concentrated wealth and decision-making powers in the hands of very few and the media and information bias, driven either by corrupted state funding or technocratically controlled algorithms, perpetuates the same narrow but repetitive thinking.

“Capitalism is the extraordinary belief that the nastiest men with the nastiest motives will somehow work for the benefit of all.” – JM Keynes

Back to the future

In 2020, we made a rather weak joke about hindsight and 20:20 vision as we created a Back to the Future-style Festival Review. We looked at four periods of disaster and great change and learned how we can empower ourselves to create a better future. Now, for the Festival of Governance 2023, we want to revisit this theme of time travel by considering our responsibility towards the future.

Designing a world for future generations is a core responsibility for all those board-level directors who work in third- and public-sector organisations concerned with democracy, economics, international relations, housing, food security, population health, and the facilities people want or need.

Harmony and understanding
Sympathy and trust abounding
No more falsehoods or derisions
Golden living dreams of visions
Mystic crystal revelation
And the mind's true liberation, Aquarius

Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In – by The 5th Dimension


The origin of the word compassion comes from the Latin word meaning ‘suffer with’.

One of the sections in our 2020 Review featured the late Princess Diana demolishing ingrained stigma perpetuated by the mainstream media in 1983, when, against all advice, she hugged a man who died from AIDS just a few days later. There is so much scarcity to focus on in the world right now, but I cannot help, writing this in November 2023, wondering how to bring more compassion to the continuing situation in Gaza.

When two people, strangers even, are fighting with each other, locked in battle, it is human instinct to try and pull them apart before either party is injured or killed in the conflict. To deny this is an abnegation of our own humanity, compassion and responsibility.

Preparations for this weekend’s Armistice Day event in London have been overshadowed by controversy around a pro-Palestine march scheduled to take place at the same time as the ceremony of remembrance at the Cenotaph. This Saturday, we suffer with everyone remembering loved ones killed in conflict while putting pressure on those who can call for an armistice in Gaza.

“Every one of us needs to show how much we care for each other and, in the process, care for ourselves.” Princess Diana

Goodbye England's rose
May you ever grow in our hearts
You were the grace that placed itself
Where lives were torn apart
You called out to our country
And you whispered to those in pain
Now you belong to heaven
And the stars spell out your name

Candle in the Wind (Princess Diana tribute) – by Elton John

What good looks like

Kindness, altruism and collaboration are at the heart of being a human being.

In a famous tale that may yet prove apocryphal, the US anthropologist Margaret Mead was asked what she considered to be the first sign of human civilisation. She said it was a healed broken femur found in an archaeological dig, suggesting that the person who broke their leg thousands of years previously had been cared for by their companions rather than being left to fend for themselves.

Compassion is built into the purpose of the organisations we work with. Those who work for public- and third-sector organisations are predisposed to looking after people in need. It’s the single most important characteristic holding society together and keeping us from turning into savages.

Rebuild on deeper foundations

Three years after the end of the Second World War, in a speech to Parliament, Winston Churchill paraphrased the Spanish philosopher George Santayana, who said “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

The pandemic was a crisis that made it hard to share our suffering. When we look back at the worst aspects of those difficult times, just as the UK Covid-19 Inquiry currently is, we’re reminded how difficult it was to have a sensible conversation about anything. Behind the façade of national unity, neighbour turned on neighbour and one misplaced word could ostracise an individual as either a right-wing Trump-supporting conspiracy theorist or one of the ‘sheeple’, blindly willing to surrender personal autonomy.

Now that the dust is settling on unused PPE, can we review the decisions that were made during a time of crisis and consider what was done well, what could have been done better, and what must never happen again?

“I don’t think anyone has suffered a tragedy that has gotten through it in some way will tell you ‘I needed to find deeper meaning in my life’. Once something has happened that is a tragic event, a loss, a death, or anything that is a setback, some people numb themselves. The tragedy is just too strong, too powerful for the mind to fathom…let’s be honest. So you have to go deeper than the mind and the place that’s deeper than the mind is love, faith, hope, meaning and purpose, and that’s what you have to cling to and hold onto for your dear life.” – Mulligan Brothers

In 2021, we wrote about the importance of purpose in any organisation – how it is the fundamental reason for their existence and the foundation for their success. We quoted a report produced by the Enacting Purpose Initiative that talked about the importance of defining and governing purpose in a meaningful way in the aftermath of Covid-19.

The report concluded: “This crisis presents an opportunity for organisations and their boards to rebuild on stronger foundations. As with the environmental movement, external catalysts can turn a steady and growing drumbeat into a dramatic ‘new norm’.”

We need to learn how to take such opportunities, with compassion in our hearts.
Now it ain't easy but I don't need no help
I've got a strong will to survive
And I've got a deeper love, a deeper love
A deeper love inside and I call it

A Deeper Love – Aretha Franklin C+C Radio Mix

We know it’s difficult to pay mind to every crisis. We’ve had to endure a climate crisis, an economic crisis, an energy crisis, a housing crisis and a cost-of-living crisis, a Covid pandemic, war after war, but now is exactly the time to review our response to various systemic failures in a bid to create a better, fairer world for future generations.

In 2020 we said good governance because it’s time to think again, in 2023 we say good governance because it’s time for a review.

“Carry out a random act of kindness, with no expectation of reward, safe in the knowledge that one day someone might do the same for you.” – Princess Diana

Can we find a way to do capitalism that meets everyone’s needs without destroying each other and the planet in the process?

Listen to the public good podcast as we explore eight societal themes depicted in past Festivals:

Meet the author: Jaco Marais

Director of Corporate Communications

Find out more

Prepared by GGI Development and Research LLP for the Good Governance Institute.

Enquire about this article

Here to help