WHY HOW WE HANDLE SUNDAYS IS A LITMUS TEST OF WHAT WE VALUE
Much more than New Year’s Eve, the re-boot of our lives in 2020 will produce some life-changing decisions. There has been time to reflect, which can be uncomfortable. Victor Frankl, psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, diagnosed Sunday neurosis, a condition where people, faced with the quietness of an old Sunday, felt deep existential ache.
In the UK, the legalisation of widespread Sunday trading in the 1990s changed the shape of this day, and the government made plans to extend Sunday trading hours coming out of the virus which have been shelved but remain to hand. The terms of the debate, however, have altered. Last century, the ruling Conservative Party was split between neo-liberals, for whom regulations got in the way of an efficient market, and traditionalists, for whom Sunday was worth conserving as a lasting mark of culture. Today, Sunday has a hybrid identity. The shops are open and people are more active, but the day still has a subtly different feel to it and people welcome the freedom from work, if they have it, to spend with families and friends.
Neo-liberals still argue for deregulation as the way to stimulate the economy, but they are up against a wider coalition of views than before. In recent years, life has palpably, uncomfortably quickened. Unable to set our own regulations in a tech revolution, we are always online and available. The lack of boundaries has chewed away at our mental health. People want space. The lockdown has been hard – for some horribly so – but there is also a sense that people do not want to go back to the pace of life they endured before.
Further moves to deregulate Sunday run into old arguments that have gained new strength. Shopworkers are at the sharp end of this, facing longer working hours and a change to their Sunday that rules out family and friends. But now they have a new dignity, afforded by their status as frontline workers. Are we to show our gratitude to them by asking them to work harder for our convenience?
Extending a working week over seven days has a big impact on the environment. This argument was used in the 80s and 90s but found depressingly little support, as if it belonged to some flaky anti-modern fringe. Now, it impresses on the imagination. Treating one day differently lessens the carbon footprint. It shows respect for creation and for future generations.
We need a new rhythm, one we can share. But this can only be delivered by a new vision for who we are together. What have we learned from this crisis that we want to change to make life better? Policy making is a complex business, but it has to start with a vision for society. But we face a legacy of objection to the idea of society and also of vision itself, as if only mad people have this.
The economy needs stimulation and people need jobs. But if the only goal we can summon is the tired idea of ever greater economic growth, we miss the call to a relational world. One where the economy services our relationships, helping to give them space and meaning. Everyone knows that buying stuff gives us a kick for a short time before it wears off, but that we can never get enough of the relationships that mean so much to us. Why then, is our world built the other way round?
This is a heartfelt plea for new vision. How we handle Sundays may seem small to some, but it is a litmus test of what we value. Flunking this would mean the generation now being born will never know what sabbath rhythm feels like. A badge for us to wear with shame, not pride.
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