Sunday, 13 June 2010

Between-group and within-group comparisons

Reflections on a very British day

Today I was reminded of the great truism about more variation within groups than between them. I went to the annual Airshow at RAF Cosford.


(Great site, by the way, including naff video of last year's memorable event).

Very British
  • Union Jacks everywhere, with hardly a sight of the Cross of St George which is otherwise ubiquitous this week
  • Laconic, understated commentaryChaps (and chapesses – there's a woman pilot in the Red Arrows now)
  • Bags of Erks, they never change
  • Atrocious weather conditions, ten-tenths cloud by mid-afternoon, ever-lowering cloud-base and, by 1630 hours, torrential downpour (though a plentiful supply of songs like 'Singing I the rain' and 'Raining in my heart' to play over the Tannoy – that's foresightful planning)
  • Relatively few modern front-line combat aircraft – these are mostly in combat at the front
  • Therefore a powerful emphasis on history and heritage
  • Awful catering – dreadful food and enthusiastic but slap-happy service – another constant
  • And an Air Training Corps band that marched in step (well, not all of them of course, there's tradition to keep up here. too).)
Disappointing that the proposed Battle of Britain 70th Anniversary Pageant had to be rained off. There would have been contributions from Winston Churchill and, to ensure proper balance, Adolf Hitler to state the position of the Third Reich in all this. A pity that they did not have live TV debated in those days – they would have been so much more vigorous than what we have nowadays.

A conundrum

No matter, more that fifty-thousand people had a mega-picnic and nostalgia-wallow and, apart from acts of God and Her Majesty's enemies, and the food, the whole highly complex operation was carried out with enormous ease and effectiveness and without apparent ill-feeling. The punters were soaked and frozen (this even though it is nearly mid-summer's day) but they were clearly expecting no less – you can see why enthusiasts in the UK are called 'anoraks': they usually have one handy.

Events run by the service, that is the armed services, are always like this. Cheerful, courteous, appreciated, make-and-mend despite the shortages, predictable, quaint, and yet demonstrating the most remarkable levels of skill and competence.

Why, one has to ask, are some of the other of the country's services, especially those concerned with disabled children and adults, and their families so often rather less than this?

It is all to easy in a small and internationalised field like Conductive Education to make international comparisons.'Britain is like this' , the US is like that', Germany does this'; 'Australia does that' etc. In terms of central tendencies, there may or may not be some truth in such statements. But in fact, within any single country there is enormous variation in the competence available. If only, I found myself fantasising this afternoon, some of the facilitative organisation ,discipline and pride apparent here could rub off on to some of our civilian services. And it altogether too easy to suggest that some countries' metier might tend more towards the arts of war whilst others lean more towards humane pursuits. Think of Israel.

The only thing that I can grab hold of is to try to avoid inter group (here international) comparisons and look instead to within-group ones. We all have all sorts of people in all our societies. Perhaps in those where services for the disabled have gone so awfully wrong we should look to the sort of sub-cultures that have been allowed to develop in these social backwaters, and the sort of people that such organisational cultures permit to rise to authority within them.

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