The Common Good: a first few thoughts

The Common Good: a first few thoughts

A first few thoughts on the theme for Greenbelt 2017 from Creative Director, Paul Northup

The word “good” became a strong idea for us during the course of last year. Especially – without wanting to sound arrogant – the idea that Greenbelt might do someone a power of good.

And then came Brexit and a nation so searingly divided. Keeping hold of that word “good”, we found ourselves reaching back to an old idea, one that maybe even has its roots in the Acts of the Apostles (and the idea of the early church having “everything in common”). An idea that enshrines the well-being and value of each individual at the same time as hinting at what people can achieve and change when they act collectively. So, we settled our theme for 2017. It would be The Common Good.

Two such ordinary words – “common” and “good”. But just as things we once thought common aren’t that common any more – from courtesy to land – so too is good a virtue in seemingly short supply. Our hope is that we might unearth some fresh meaning and energy in these words. That they might come alive for us. And that, in splicing them together, we might birth a momentum and will that will roll way beyond our August Bank Holiday weekend together at Boughton House.

The common good will allow us to ask lots of questions: about the market and the state; about civil society and the church; about the individual and the community; about participation and disenfranchisement; about the way we safeguard the future of the planet, our common home; about the fact that no-one is to be left behind. It reminds us again that if we want to go far, we must go together.

Among the sorts of tensions the theme throws up are: the public and the private; the person and the group; cooperation and competition; nation states and global citizenship; mutuality and autonomy; borders and free movement; ownership and rights. The common good also challenges notions of what we deem ‘useful’ – especially in an educative, experiential and economic sense – and the erosion of the valuing of the arts as being central to our wellbeing and understanding as individuals and as a communities.

All of which feeds into our ongoing concerns for and concentration on issues such as migration, climate change and Israel-Palestine (with such crucial anniversaries in 2017). But in addition, the theme opens for us a more intentional domestic focus, too – as we turn the dial up on injustice and inequality in the UK, here on our own doorstep, at next year’s festival.

But we don’t want to just float lots of ideas at the festival. We want to encourage participation, engagement, response and action. We’ll be increasing the “how to?” dynamic at the festival and more consciously thinking about what our “takeaway” from Greenbelt will be.

As we have begun to immerse ourselves in the theme, we have been delighted to discover the  Together for the Common Good network of faith thinkers and activists. And we have been reminded that Jim Walls has been writing about the common good, too. It feels like we’re in good company; that this is a theme whose time is ripe and which will prove fruitful.

As usual in a blog about the Greenbelt theme, this is just to scratch the surface. There is much, much more the theme for 2017 will give us a springboard into thinking and exploring. We’ll try to blog about those further ideas as the year unfolds. Watch this space.

And don’t be worried if all this sounds too worthy and dull for festival fayre. There will be more dancing and fun at our 2017 festival than there has ever been before at Greenbelt before. Promise. It’s for our common good.