"The penalty good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men." attributed to Plato

"Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing." attributed to Edmund Burke

Let's between us make the world a better place.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Community - Fear and Happiness in the 21st Century

I came in from the garden the other morning in time to hear the last few intriguing minutes of a discussion on BBC Radio 4's Woman's Hour. Host Jenni Murray and her guests were talking about gated roads and the importance of belonging to community and the current fear culture that seems so prevalent in our neighbourhoods.

On following up the programme on the Radio 4 website I found one of the guests to be Anna Minton, and discovered that she has written a book around this theme, Ground Control: Fear and happiness in the twenty-first-century city (Paperback Penguin Books - 25 Jun 2009)

This attracted my attention as a subject dear to my own heart.

If we sense that our boundaries are being threatened, it is a natural human reaction to feel insecure or suspicious. We are afraid that our identities may be lost. Fear can breed violence and aggression, which then becomes a real obstacle to any attempts at community building. And this applies as much to the inclusive faith group or the national culture as it does on the faceless and impersonal track housing or housing estate we have created, or in the inner cities.

When barriers are in any way dissolved, it is important to ensure that individual and group identities continue to be preserved and respected in their overall unity. The one great melting pot that we dreamed of in the “swinging sixties” where all differences would be watered down and identities lost will never work. And why should we want to bring all colors and cultures and faiths and backgrounds into one homogeneous mush anyway? We have to learn to celebrate all our differences of faith and creed and culture in a spirit of respect and understanding and indeed joy. Judaism has a set of principles known as Darkhei Shalom, meaning “how to live graciously with people whose beliefs and way of life are incompatible (with the Jewish faith). Despite profound differences, we must engage in common citizenship, contributing to the welfare of other communities as well as our own,” writes Jonathan Sacks in To Heal a Fractured World.

This needs real community. It needs community at all levels, local, national and international, if we are all to learn to live together in perfect harmony. “Beware above all of everything that isolates, that refuses to accept and that divides,” Pierre Teilhard de Chardin warns. “Each along your own line, let your thought and action be ‘universal’ which is to say ‘total’. And tomorrow may be you will find to your surprise that all opposition has disappeared and you can love one another.” (Activation of Energy 1970 p.95)

We should perhaps remember that most of the war and conflict in the world today is defensive rather than aggressive. Much of the violence and pain we see around us has been interpreted in the context of Teilhard’s theories, as being the result of our failures to adapt and evolve alongside the move we have so rapidly made towards global convergence. This suffering has been likened to the pathological birth pangs of a new world order, a world in need of healing. Man has to learn, he says, not to give up security, which is psychologically impossible, but to trade in the old security of fences, boundaries, guns and bombs, for the new security of openness and trust in bonds of relationship, mutual support, brotherhood and love. And that means real community.

Of course the worth or otherwise of a visionary’s words can only be tested by the passage of time, but Teilhard’s visions seem to be attracting ever more followers as we struggle to understand our seemingly precarious future in this twenty first century.

Bonds of mutual support, brotherhood and love seem far removed from the gated private roads, the houses surrounded by overtly secure and impenetrable security gates, the intercom devices to gain entry. Such exclusiveness continues to isolate and divide. I believe strongly that it is misguided and harmful to achieving any real community. It removes us from being a part of the spirit and soul of a place.

We have the first responsibility to make change in our societies and communities. Governments with their laws and regulations can only provide the supportive framework within which we make these changes. Governments can fight the injustices of low minimum wages, non-existent healthcare for so many, lack of security in sickness and retirement, and the huge divide between the richest and the poorest of our society. They can make the tax codes which support the status of marriage and family, that either help parents stay at home with children or force them back into the workplace.

But most of all I believe we need spiritual politicians who are compassionate, indeed empathic to the needs of the populace. In fact we need spirituality, compassion, empathy, and good old-fashioned moral responsibility all round. And we need changes of heart and mind in us all.

And the picture? It is of the Chestnut Festival in the Nun's Valley in Madeira - during a tremendous rain storm which threatened to totally close down the event. But community spirit and neighbourliness prevailed against all the odds!

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