Happy New Year. Now that it’s here, 2012 suddenly feels very exciting. It was only when watching the fireworks as Big Ben struck midnight that I realised just how big a year 2012 is going to be for London. We’ve all had 2012 in the back of our minds since that Olympic announcement in Singapore back in 2005, but up until now it had always felt like the future. Now it’s the present, and with the Queen’s Jubilee too it’s going to be quite a year.
But is it really going to be that different to 2011? 2011 was the first full year of the coalition government in the UK, and many of us got into the habit of blaming them for everything that was wrong in the world. And for ‘them’ you can read any number of ‘big’ authority stand-ins. We blamed councils for cutting services, but no-one was volunteering to pay higher council taxes. We blamed the banks for bringing the western economies crashing down, but we all tucked into easy credit when it was offered. We howled at the newspapers caught prying into people’s personal lives, but we all bought the newspapers to read those same stories. We complained about supermarkets destroying the high street, yet we all shopped in them.
Of course, none of these institutions are blameless, but we’re not being entirely honest with ourselves if we believe we don’t have some personal responsibility too.
This is one of the big issues in the fight for greater sustainability. We talk about the growing consumption by ‘the Chinese’ or ‘India’ and our Western governments call on them to reduce their large and growing environmental impacts. Yet can we honestly look them in the eye and ask them to slow down in their charge towards our standard of living and levels of consumption, when so many of us find it difficult to use less energy? How many of us are prepared to travel less, shop less or take colder, shorter showers?
Is that the difference between those who are going to be competing in London 2012 and the rest of us? We’re going to hear a lot from them over the next seven months, about their hopes, their dedication, their personal stories. But I bet we don’t hear any athletes whingeing about ‘them’. They’ve got where they are by taking personal responsibility, and then making the most of facilities and resources provided by ‘them’. Usain Bolt doesn’t blame the Jamaican Olympic Committee or Nike or event organisers when things go wrong. He takes personal responsibility.
Maybe that’s what we’ll take from 2012: a greater sense of personal responsibility. It’s what the athletes in London will demonstrate, and it’s what the most positive moves in 2011 were built on. Individuals from Tunis to Tripoli, Cairo to Kuwait took it upon themselves to create and build on the Arab Spring. Less dramatically, the UK government’s trialling of personal budgets for health, education and social services points towards citizens taking more personal responsibility for choosing services traditionally selected by ‘them’.
Who knows what’s going to happen. But 2012 promises to be an interesting ride.