Why did Nick Clegg ‘win’ last night’s prime ministerial debate? It may be an over-simplification to say it was because he sounded more human and believable than the other two, though that, I’m sure, was the essence of it. Of course, he had the easiest job as the outsider; and taking part in a heavily stage-managed public display of point-scoring seems to me like a generally rotten way of putting yourself forward to govern a country. But there is at least some comfort in the fact that the most apparently natural performer ‘won’.
As I struggled to remain engaged by the debate, my mind kept drifting away to a remarkable document that a friend sent me recently – a kind of personal manifesto by Jan Cameron who runs the Redhall Walled Garden in Edinburgh. This is a place where people with mental health problems can go to find peace and solace and, ultimately, recovery through the physical work of gardening and the close daily contact with nature that it brings.
It’s not a polished piece of writing. There’s no spin, it offers no sound bites. But as a declaration of what it means to lead a small, walled community – which, with all its inherent dysfunction, is surely a metaphor for society at large – it’s not only profound, but profoundly touching; still more so because gardening – or making things grow – is itself such a beautiful metaphor for leadership.
Here’s the final paragraph: ‘I feel privileged to work here. I love coming to work. Even the difficult parts when someone is telling me something awful that has happened to them, while stressful, it’s also a privilege that someone trusts me with that and I am always inspired by the courage that people show. I’m so glad Redhall is here for people to be able to share their experiences. I may need it someday and I want it to be here. The world feels safer to me knowing that there are places where people feel safe enough to open up and share and support each other and believe in a future for themselves.’
This is a voice that speaks simply, honestly, and is not afraid of emotion. It’s a voice that inspires through its very lack of artifice. I would follow a voice like that. If only our political and business leaders were able to speak in such a way… (I’m sure the gardening helps.)
Read more about the Redhall Walled Garden