Caroline O’Connor
CEO, Migrant Help

What makes a society ‘civilised’ is the behaviour of its members. Within any society, there tends to be generally expected behaviours and the prevalence of those behaviours is the determinant of ‘civilised’. Unsurprisingly, my approach, as the CEO of a charity, is informed by being part of a values-driven organisation. The following are four critical values-driven behaviours that are required to make for a civilised society.

The first is caring for others; I’ll stop short of calling it ‘selflessness’ but there must be an absolute recognition that each person bears some responsibility for the well-being of others. This enables the upbringing of children, caring for the infirm, taxation, education, lawfulness and morality. This influences both small and large behaviours. We can’t drive through a red light or grab a handful of groceries and walk out of a shop without paying. We also need to ensure that there are social care structures, to care for the homeless, to protect children, and more.

The second is conscientiousness – in this context, meaning each individual accepts that they have a duty to perform their specific roles for the good of society and that they also have a desire to perform those duties to a good standard. Modern roles cover a vast spectrum of identities and each of us holds a number of different roles (parent, bus driver, teacher, carer, leader, nurse, cleaner), but the effective functioning of society is reliant upon collective effort and the ability to trust that other functions will operate efficiently.

The third is adaptability; the environment is changing rapidly, and both individuals and communities need to adapt quickly to maintain safety and relevance. This relates to climate, technology, health and all other aspects of the environment. The necessary adaptation still needs to fit within the other behaviours; adaptation can’t equate to the wholesale abandonment of compassion and societal structure, but failure to adapt is a genuine threat to continued existence.

The fourth is expressiveness, which involves the ability to communicate thoughts, ideas, feelings and messages. Within this we find language, cultural expression, cuisine and the arts. There is an aspect of humanity beyond animal existence, which requires a more expansive definition than basic communication. This binds us within our shared communities while elevating our experiences through and beyond our senses.

The lack of each of these behaviours is precisely what imperils civilised society. Negligence, intransigence, egocentricity and indiscernibility are just some of the ways that, when seen on a wide scale, society begins to break down.

As I said at the start, I am influenced by my experience within the charitable sector. My approach steers away from the governmental, political and economic aspects of civilised society. In my view, they come about in their best form when those critical values-driven behaviours are in place and they fall in their absence.

Caroline O’Connor – CEO, Migrant Help