I want to tell you a joke. It isn’t very good and you’ve almost certainly heard it before, but I’m going to tell it anyway. ‘I wanted to start an apathy club, but no one was interested.’
Regular blogger The Naturist Philosopher has tackled the thorny problem of apathy within naturism (21st Mar 2014). I agree with much that was written and the solution proposed is something I would have suggested not so long ago, and yet I believe the argument is flawed. The article suggested that apathy is the predominant issue when trying to build a community, any community, not just within naturism and defined it as the opposite of enthusiasm. I disagree. On an individual basis, many naturists are enthusiastic about naturism; they are just not bothered about joining other naturists to form a community or society and promote the interests of all naturists.
In a short article for the Manchester Evening News, Jennifer Williams wrote (13th Feb 2014), ‘if apathy were a political party, nobody else would stand a chance in [the by-election for Wythenshawe and Sale East] – or virtually anywhere else in the region.’ People were just not bothered to vote. That does not mean people are not exercised by the actions of local or national politicians, it is just that in the ‘fight’ for the middle ground, politics in the UK has become too similar, and unable to decide, the voters failed to vote. What arises from this is, was it apathy on the part of the voter, or by the political party for not being distinctive enough?
A report commissioned by the European Youth Forum and International Institution for Democracy and Electoral Assistance said students didn’t vote in EU elections because the politicians ignore them. Evaluating the manifestos of the main political parties for the 2009 elections across five countries, the report found that only half refer to young people and then only in broad terms. Few had anything that addressed the European youth directly. (The Guardian, Abby and Libby Blog, 20th Feb 2014) The blogger Journal of Interest, also wrote about social apathy in 2012 (21st Dec) and said ‘A lot of people feel disenfranchised. People tend to feel that they are powerless, and so it feels natural to become disinterested in a system that is disinterested in them.’ So it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, a vicious circle were matters get worse, not better.
You might be asking by now, what has this to do with naturism?
Currently political and business leaders alike are speaking of engagement as the answer to many things, including ‘apathy’. Social engagement, community engagement, customer engagement, employee engagement, every kind of engagement under the sun and I believe this is what is missing from naturism. While any type of engagement will have its own definition, essentially is it is about a person, or an organisation, building a lasting relationship with another person or organisation, or a multiple of people and/or organisations. It is not just about issuing a magazine or launching a website with a forum, the aims behind it is far more sophisticated than that. Did you think the supermarkets were giving you discounts and points out of the kindness of their hearts? They are developing a community of shoppers by engaging with you, learning your shopping habits, so you will remain loyal to them and them alone.
The peculiar thing about naturism is that for most of the 110 years or so since the publication of Nakedness by Richard Ungewitter, society has poorly understood naturism. To most outsiders, social nudity was an act carried out by deviants, so early naturists kept their lifestyle a secret, forming private clubs or keeping to the remoter parts of Europe and America. Now, it is hard to talk about something when it is so ingrained not to. There are always exceptions to the rule of course, but this is why I think The Naturist Philosopher’s idea to get people to talk about their naturism, even to family and friends in the first instance, is a non-starter. The pressure for the individual to conform, even when they are not a part of a social group like a club, is strong and difficult to break.
Only since the Second World War when travel became more popular and the public/private places become commonly known, has the idea of nude recreation slowly taken hold of people’s imagination. But society is lagging behind the law in many places and those people who choose to be naked in their ordinary lives (and away from the protest) are seen by those who do not, as a threat – real or imagined – to their safety and well-being.
If naturism is to break the ‘apathy’ that troubles it so then it must do something about it. The national organisations and clubs are the bedrock of this “something” by developing their internal engagement strategies beyond the confines of their walls and out into their local communities (e.g. local chamber of commerce). It would be churlish of me not to mention that this is far easier for me to write than it will be for you to carry out, but you will not be alone. There are lots of clubs and voluntary-based organisations trying to do the same thing you will be doing and both the National Association for Voluntary and Community Action and National Council for Voluntary Organisations offers good advice about different aspects of running a voluntary organisation, including setting up your own community engagement strategy. You can download, the NAVCA booklet “Developing Your Comprehensive Community Engagement Strategy” from the NAG website to give you a taster of what could be involved and, more importantly, achieved. Unfortunately, for the moment there is nothing out there specifically for naturist organisations and groups, but the two websites already mentioned and others you will find on the Internet will offer plenty for you to think about in the meantime.