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In 2004 Norman Drummond’s ‘The Spirit of Success’ was published. It was a powerful critique of the emptiness of much of contemporary life, a life-style guide, an optimistic but ethical alternative to the shallow culture of the early 21st century. Along with his inspiring work as the founder of Columba 1400, a social enterprise seeking to develop the untapped potential of young people living in challenging realities, ‘The Spirit of Success’ gave Norman Drummond an increasingly high profile in Scotland’s educational world and in wider settings.
It was never difficult, when reading that book or hearing him speak (and he is even more powerful as a speaker than as a writer) to recognise him as a committed Christian. He is indeed an ordained minister of the Church of Scotland. Yet he wore his Christianity lightly, avoiding proselytising, conscious that his message was for an audience wider than his particular religious constituency. ‘The Spirit of Success’ had some three or four passing references which identified the author’s affiliations and two pages advocating prayer as a resource for human endeavour. Beyond that its ethical appeal transcended any narrow confessional band.
Norman Drummond’s new book, ‘The Power of Three’ (Hodder & Stoughton, £12.99) also offers harsh judgements on the competitive, consumerist and bureaucratic world in which we live. He ruthlessly condemns a health and safety culture which has taken on the mantle of Big Brother and become the source of endless killjoy orders and abhors a mindset which values targets so much that it has forgotten to target values.
He quotes the celebrated Welsh rugby internationalist, Cliff Morgan. ‘The problem with society today is the lack of inspirational leadership. And that problem is twofold: first of all it is greed and secondly it is mediocrity.’ Drummond then notes the Paul Moore story. Moore worked for HBOS and had warned the bank of the potential impact of its reckless lending. Having been fired by HBOS chief executive, Sir James Crosby, Moore sued for unfair dismissal and was given a settlement of over half a million pounds but with a non-disclosure condition. He could not live with himself, returned the money and submitted his experience as evidence to the Treasury Select Committee. As a result, Crosby, by then deputy chair of the Financial Services Agency, resigned.
In an unprincipled age, Drummond plumps for wisdom before knowledge, the discovery of what is valuable and the development of trust in our own judgements. He approves heartily of the Oxford professor’s advice to his students that their studies will teach them nothing of subsequent value except, perhaps, with hard work, the ability ‘to detect when a person is talking rot’.
Norman Drummond peppers ‘The Power of Three’ with such narrative gems. Part of his communicative strength is his recognition of the power of the story. Nelson Mandela, Abraham Lincoln, his own father, all have their cameo parts, illustrations of the boundless potential of the human spirit. That is part of his appeal, an optimism rooted in the assertion that the small actions of individual human beings can have wide, unintended impacts, that the world can be improved and that the start of such improvement is in individual integrity and authentic relationships.
‘The Power of Three’ however is a different book from ‘The Spirit of Success’. It starts by declaring its intention of offering ‘a calm and rational résumé of the compelling inner strength of Jesus of Nazareth’. The light touch has gone and with it much of the clarity. Beside the narrative illustrations from modern life, ‘The Power of Three’ is dominated by recurring scriptural references. In seeking to define human purpose, it returns consistently to God’s purpose. Yet Norman Drummond is too generous a man to produce dogmatic assertions of Christian superiority. Although he claims that wisdom is ‘inextricably linked with a deep, inner connection to God’, he accepts, a few pages later, that this ‘does not mean that atheists cannot be wise’.
Unsurprisingly, the final section, outlining the three qualities essential to a full life, considers faith, hope and love. Again his intrinsic generosity of spirit makes him shy away, almost subconsciously, from dogmatism. He states that faith is not exclusively religious but a quality of spirit which marks all those who believe in themselves and others.
Norman Drummond’s willingness to concede that non-Christians, atheists even, can reach similar conclusions and aspire to similar virtues, will make the work hard to swallow for many of his fellow Christians. He has felt a compelling urge to return to the Christian wells which have watered his secular life. In this case the Christian apologetics have diluted and confused the secular message.
Hugh MacDiarmid once stated that the contribution a man makes to human history will depend on his sincerity, clearness and integrity. It is hard ever to doubt the sincerity or integrity of Norman Drummond. On the evidence of ‘The Power of Three’, past clarity has been clouded.
The above article was first published in Scottish Review on 19 August 2010:

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