Ideas and Action

An account of how I learned to be a helping professional – not an instruction manual, but a prompt for you to explore your own story .

‘ideas are well enough until you are twenty; afterwards only words are bearable – a new idea, what can be more insipid – fit for Members of Parliament’ (Huysman)

I loved ‘ideas’ in my student years. What stirring excitement there was to encounter the articulateness of Marxism in 1960s student life? ‘Political thought’ became one of my favourite options within my degree course. I attended lectures on Marxist political thought with a real sense of thrill, just as I loved Dostoevsky’s grand inquisitor’s arguments, these intellectualisms seeming to bring me close to truths about the world I was just getting to know. Yet, whilst I love this taste of intellectual life, I felt it was not good enough – it was important to do something practical in the world.

There is no doubt then that I am an ‘intellectual’, more at ease with ideas and reflection than in the muddles and ‘noise’ of social groups, or in physical or practical activity. Ideas have always been very seductive.

Being brought up as the ‘son of the manse’, with a father for whom intellectual pursuits had been the route of escape from a background of poverty and from the limited options in a mining and railway town in the north of England,  pointed me to a love of, but also a scepticism about ideas. What was wonderful as an undergraduate was to discover attempts to reconcile this love and scepticism – whether in D H Lawrence’s Paul Morel, or in Karl Marx’s ideas of the ‘man in the world’, of ‘praxis’ etc.

The struggle between these two sides of our nature was as evident in family life. My father, the oldest of nine children, and the only one to reach university, was hugely respected by but separated from the home based warmth and intimacy of his brothers and sisters. As a minister of religion, he could be a teacher in a Sunday morning sermon – quite academic in style – but on another day be a part of a church community in a youth club, or with the men of the church ‘rolling his sleeves up’ and being a practical manager, or again being a pastoral carer for the sick and lonely.  He carried both an academic and a down to earth ‘social’ persona, but they seemed to me like two separate buttresses on a bridge without a connecting arch. Both these presentations of himself were public – there seemed to be no private presentation that I was aware of. I never recall seeing him upset or depressed in a way I could recognise. I knew nothing of what he thought about his life though he was a thinker, and I saw no clue of an internal emotional world though he was warm and often fun. Thoughts were about external objective things; emotions were wordless – they just were.


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