I’m searching for the right analogy. I not sure I’m there yet, but let’s try camper vans…
We’re all on the camper van. The camper van is parked at the top of a hill, next to lots of other camper vans. Life hasn’t been perfect. In fact, sometimes the hill top has felt a little bit crowded and we’ve had to work through a few disputes like where everyone can position their windbreak, and what is a reasonable time of night for certain camper van occupants to stop talking loudly? However, most people have been able to see the benefits of everyone working together.
The camper vans have been at the top of the hill for quite a long time. At first, everyone loved the fresh air and the view, mindful of how it was an enormous improvement on where the camper vans used to be parked. But as the people in the camper vans became more friendly, there was more moving between camper vans. This was unsettling for some people.
A couple of years ago, some people in our camper van felt life would be better if we parked on another hill. They were certain about this, even though they had no evidence of it, or even a plan for how to get there. Just over half the people in our camper van voted to move on, even though they didn’t know where they were going or how to do it. The small group of people who made decisions about our camper van overwhelmingly supported staying put, but a few in this group passionately wanted to leave the hill top, which was strange, because they’d never been that passionate about it before. They wrote a very persuasive sign down one side of our camper van, which helped convince people that leaving was the best option. But some of us wondered if they really wanted to leave at all, or if they just wanted more say in leading.
After the vote, people in the other camper vans were surprised, but they shrugged sadly and said, “Ok, there’s a number of ways we can manoeuvre our camper vans to facilitate your departure, but you’ll have to work with us.”
For a period of time there was much discussion about what life would be like after our camper van left. Surprisingly, some of the people who wanted to leave thought life would be almost exactly the same (but a little better) even after we left. It took a while for them to realise that the help we got from people in the other camper vans wouldn’t be there anymore, because we wouldn’t be there anymore.
Discussions continued, until at last it became clear to (almost) everyone that life was going to be very different. The camper van had been slowly turned around to point away from the group, and down the side of the hill. The drive down now looks long and bumpy, and a little scary too. The hill is lumpy; no one can see all the way down to the bottom, and a there’s a lot of mist on the side of the next hill. That’s not to say there won’t be a beautiful view from the top, but it’s clearly going to be a struggle to get up there.
Two of the people who were very keen to lead the way down and had been sitting in the front seat with some maps and plans, have now suddenly decided this isn’t what they want at all. “This isn’t the only way off the hill,” they said. They have got out of the front seat, and now sit in the back with everyone else.
“That’s a relief,” some people said, “The drive down was looking a bit hairy, I’m glad there’s a better way. What do you suggest?”
“Not leaving this way,” they said.
“Yes, but do you actually have a plan?” they asked, but the two ex-leaders did not reply.
“Why don’t you lead then?” someone shouted from the corner, (near the gas hob) “I’m not sure our current driver really wants to drive anyway.”
One of them folded his arms and rolled his eyes. The other one played with his hair. Both said nothing.
No one was certain, but it appeared the tiny majority of people who wanted to leave might have changed to a majority who wanted to stay. It seemed many people had voted for a change they thought would be simple, straightforward and without cost; we’d move easily, and almost immediately from one hilltop to another.
The leader who had allowed the vote doesn’t seem to be around much, these days. Whenever someone sees him, he’s usually off in someone else’s camper van, talking about what’s happening in our camper van in return for a Pot Noodle.
The leader left in charge has done well to stick to a task she never wanted, but she has struggled to keep other leaders with her, or rather other leaders have struggled to come to terms with the realities of being a leader. It’s one thing to stand at the back of the camper van pointing vaguely into the distance proclaiming “We could go that way! I’m sure there’s a road over there!” It’s altogether different when you’re sitting in the front seat of the camper van facing down a rough hillside about to take the handbrake off.
And so we sit here, most of us in the back, with that same feeling you have when the roller coaster has reached the top and you’re not certain you’re adequately strapped in. But right now I’m thinking, “Hang on, this isn’t a roller coaster. There is no point of no return. This isn’t a decision we can’t change. Haven’t we got enough information to prove this isn’t a great idea? In fact, it’s a bloody stupid idea. So why don’t we tighten the handbrake, go back to the other camper vans humbly, and talk about how we can safely reverse?”