Two Mules 2004



This is a classic cotton tea towel with a message.  This tea towel visually depicts the Fable of Two Mules; all fables have a moral and the moral of this story is ‘Co-operation is better than conflict’.  This fable is used by the Quakers as a Fable for Nations. The Peace Education Network uses this fable as a teaching method for children learning how to work out ‘win-win’ situations, and not get into conflict situations.

The basic visual concept is that two mules are tied together and each has a bush/bale of hay to feed from.  However, the halter is not long enough for both to eat at the same time; they struggle and pull, trying to break the rope in order that they can both eat at the same time but with no success.  The two mules sit down to try and come up with a solution.  They decide that if they both moved to one bush they could share that; when they finished one bush, they moved together to the other bush and ate that.  At the end they were both satisfied.  You can see why the Quakers, whose philosophy is about peace and peaceful solutions, promote the Fable of Two Mules as an approach to working internationally, a pacifist approach.  Unfortunately, not many nations take up this approach!

I bought this tea towel at a conference for voluntary sector organisations and charities which was promoting the development of co-operatives as an organisational structure.  For me, this tea towel sums up why I moved from working in the statutory sector, as a social worker, to being part of the voluntary sector.  The voluntary sector has always been about working together, not in competition with each other.  The voluntary sector is about each organisation recognising its own specialism and the specialisms of others.  It is about mutual respect.  The tea towel shows how if voluntary sector organisations work together they will get farther than if they are in competition with each other.

However, the world has changed in the field of social care, thanks to both Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair.  Margaret Thatcher introduced the NHS and Community Care Act 1990 where the voluntary and private sector were given a greater role in the provision of services.  It was about opening the ‘market place’; she felt competition would give better value for money.  On reflection, of course, this was about providing cheaper and cheaper services; if it’s cheap you can’t guarantee quality.  Tony Blair took all this a step further with another load of rhetoric; he introduced Personalisation.  The theory was that people needing social care services would have much greater choice; choice is an important move forward for people needing services but not at cheap prices.  They both felt that competitve tendering for the provision of services would produce better services.  All this has challenged the voluntary sector.  Organisations have had to compete against each other in the tendering process; organisations are also having to compete against the private sector.  This has inevitably lead voluntary organisations to compete against each other.  The reality is that it will not be long before the whole of the voluntary sector will have changed beyond recognition and the lessons from the Fable of Two Mules will have been forgotten.  It is a sad state of affairs.  Social care is not about competitive business; it is a people-centred service and should not be determined by the lowest cost.

Using this tea towel will always remind me of the values which I have believed in with regard to social care services and the disappointment, and anger, that I feel about the way successive governments have tried to reduce the costs of essential social care services while ploughing money into HS2, military hardware, payrises for MPs……………It gives me food for thought!!

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