After five years in this house it is time to start redecorating. I have painted the hall and staircase and some of the woodwork and I really enjoyed it. My father was a painter and decorator by trade, though he worked most of his life as a coal miner. When I paint I remember him and try to follow the techniques I learnt from him.
In my study I am also about to replace two large bookcases with some small shelves, having reduced the number of books I am keeping. I know my competencies and my limitations in do-it-yourself. There are things I would never do, like electrical wiring or roofing work. But I am happy to climb a ladder, put up shelves and saw wood as well as decorate.
How long I shall be able to go on doing DIY I do not know. But it has made me reflect on when it is appropriate to do it yourself and when it is wiser and better to do it with others or even have someone else do it all. I am now thinking not just of work in the home but of life in community, politics, and economics.
Although we often feel as though there is very little we can do to influence world politics, or the global economy, or the earth’s future, there are things that we can and should do. Some DIY is essential, like recycling, using less energy, and avoiding transport that uses excessive fossil fuel, like flying, or driving cars. Of course the effect we have will be much greater if we act with others, and that may mean encouraging others to act in ways that they may not find convenient. It most certainly means contacting our political representatives about proposals about fracking, building on Green Belt land, encouraging renewable energy sources and so on. It probably ought to mean investing any funds we have ethically and giving some of our time voluntarily or in paid employment to work that will benefit the environment and the health of other species. What each person is capable of doing will vary of course. Some are more competent and more confident, others less able and less sure. But pooling our experience and skills will make a more effective contribution to a greener and fairer world.
When it comes to areas that require specialist knowledge or expertise then we have to rely on others. I have recently come to appreciate more what our politicians do in the difficult and even dangerous world of government. They need our support and encouragement but they are the ones with the power to make policies and create change. They are also accountable and we ask them to act according to their conscience with integrity. The same is true of those who have economic power, in commerce, banking, and manufacturing.
I wonder if we always have responsibility whether we do it ourselves, with others or authorise others to do it on our behalf. We cannot pass the buck, or say it is not up to us. Nor will false optimism let us off the hook. “It will all work out for the best.” may be a pious hope but it does not absolve us from our responsibility.
I read some time ago that this kind of talk makes some people depressed. They wonder what happens to joy and fun and laughter. All I can say is that the experience of working creatively is very satisfying, whether growing vegetables on the allotment or painting the walls of my house. Working with others can be inspiring, wonderful and fun too. When a team works well it is a real pleasure to be part of it. And seeing how those who are much more capable than I am change the world for the better gives me hope and fills me with a deep sense of joy.
Life is not all DIY, but some of it is. Life is not all to be left to others, but some things need to be. Life is a community effort, and we all have a part to play.