Wetherspoons: a moral dilemma or opportunity to tackle UnSocial Capital?

After lockdown are you going for a drink at a Wetherspoons pub?

I’m in a dilemma.

On the one hand I recognise it offers perhaps the best choice of beers, ciders and food on the High Street at great prices.

The comments made by Wetherspoons’ founder Tim Martin, at the first Lockdown, however, really angered me. I read how he considered not paying suppliers, nor seemingly not caring about his staff. As a point of principle I was going to boycott Wetherspoons pubs.

Despite this, I will be going into Wetherspoons for a very important reason.

It offers one of the best cocktails available – not of drink, but of a sea of humanity. If you want to mix with a wider range of people I know of no better place than a Wetherspoons.

We are witnessing a world of increasing distrust, division and tribalism. A society that doesn’t talk to each other, tolerate one another, nor collaborate cannot tackle the big challenges it faces, whether that’s the climate crisis through to how do we get out of the disruption caused by pandemic.

Yet we are witnessing a Tsunami of ‘UnSocial Capital’ – anything that stops or undermines the ability of people to connect with one another, do shared activity together, or engage with their wider community.

Stuff that generates an atomized an insular society. A ‘Me’ rather than ‘We’ approach.

The age of social media has accentuated the trend to mix with PLUs – ‘people like us’ – and less with those unlike us, creating a vicious circle of decreasing tolerance for non-PLUs as we love in our bubbles, our echo chambers of confirmatory evidence.

There are three key drivers behind the torrent of increasing UnSocial Capital.

Convenience, things that make life easier, more comfortable, or more self-indulgent. Often these come at a cost, to the environment but also a cost on community relationships and wider common good.

Secondly, is how we’re becoming less tolerant of ambiguity, driven by an innate desire for consistency in our thinking and actions. Everything has to be right, match our prescriptive view of the world, where we align all we do with our world view. All leading to a line of logic that if I disagree with the founder of Wetherspoons I do not go to his pubs.

This is not saying you shouldn’t have principles or align what you think or do or live by them. It’s where the third dimension to the growth of UnSocial Capital kicks in: the need for all of us to live life with bigger dashboards.

We need to factor into our judgments the need to invest in, nurture and grow social cohesion – the stuff that holds us all together. The glue, without which we fall apart, diminished, fractured an unable to reach higher for the universal betterment of our society.

And we need a bigger dashboard that registers wider dimensions, factors in social cohesion, as well as greater sensitivity to nuance, shades of a grey and other tones, in a non-binary, non-Black/White world.

And this is where we need to be more comfortable with what I call the ‘Meatloaf Syndrome’.

We need to learn to be comfortable about being uncomfortable. Which means doing things where a pragmatic judgment has to be made. It’s not about being hypocritical, or abandoning principles, yet investing your decision-making and choices with a reference to social cohesion and being open to understanding.

We need to do things that don’t necessarily add up to everything being aligned, everything conforming to what we believe it ought to be. And that we need to mix with a wider circle of people who are different to PLU.

So, yes, I will go to Wetherspoons, despite vehemently disagreeing with its founder.

First, we all need to recognise that UnSocial Capital exists and every micro decision we take can add to its growth.

Second, by living more purposeful lives we can create a more tolerant, caring society.

But sometimes you need to do things, like drinking in a Wetherspoons, that doesn’t add up to the perfect score, yet helps feed a greater good, a world of greater social cohesion.

As Meatloaf would say, ‘Two out of three ain’t bad’.

This blog is part of a week-long series of activities celebrating ‘Social Capital Week’, you can find out more here.

Andy Green is a leading expert in brand storytelling, creative capacity building in communities or teams, and PR strategy. Andy is also a director of the social enterprise, Grow Social Capital.

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