Niel: Nikon D3S

Niel: Nikon D3S

We were together. I forget the rest.

(Walt Whitman)

We need to feel that we belong.

We also need to celebrate diversity, welcome others and host generously.

Peter Block says that, “The essential challenge is to transform the isolation and self-interest within our communities into connectedness and caring for the whole.”

Today, it feels that we are failing the challenge.

I made this picture of my friend and colleague, Niel, in an almost empty house. A shipping team had taken everything that wouldn’t fit into a few suitcases. Niel had been ordered to ‘leave the UK’ after a minor bank statement issue. He ran a thriving consulting practice, generated his share of VAT, paid his rent and council taxes in advance and had savings in the bank. He was a valuable, contributing citizen doing good work.

None of which made any difference when he attempted to renew his visa. Niel, his wife and young daughter had their passports taken from them and were deported, excluded, they don’t belong here anymore.

I know I’m not very good with exclusion. It bring images from my childhood. Sit on the naughty step. Stand in the corner with your face to the wall. You’re not in our gang. You’re not on our team. That shame can still rattle through me now, and I see it in our efforts to build walls, whether administrative or physical, to stand between our communities.

We are in. They are out.

Or vice versa.

I’ve come to believe that whenever we fragment and separate, we deny our greater potential. As we categorise or label others as ‘not us’ we move towards a world of silos and division which limit our ability to envision the positive, generative futures that are increasingly essential to our survival.

Ironically, Niel’s recent consultancy work is about bringing inclusion, security and empowerment to excluded communities in developing countries. He has the rare capacity to meld the safety of belonging with the potential of difference and diversity.

It’s work that we sorely need.

Whichever side of the wall we stand.


You will find Niel in Pretoria, South Africa via Sensibus Consulting or @NielStander on Twitter.

Take a look at ‘Community; the structure of belonging’ by Peter Block.

It used to be that astronauts would claim that political borders couldn’t seen from space. Sadly, it now it seems, our fences are easily visible.

Steve MarshallComment