THE ROAD THAT LIES AHEAD OF US
An article for Kent’s newspaper readers at Christmas 2019
Britain is reaching for a new identity. Some of us are content with this; others are not. The wounds that have opened up will not be easily healed. But a people of hope should not be daunted by the size of the task.
For all our disagreements on the General Election, on Brexit, on the shape of Britain itself, the most important factor of all may be how we relate to one another in the debates that lie ahead.
But consider this fact, first up.
If all the data processed in a day by Google were written in books and these books piled on top of one another, they would reach more than halfway from here to the moon. Every day.
When we talk about sifting truth from lies, this shows the size of the challenge.
It is hard to locate the source of the things we read and decide if they are true or based in fact. No wonder our generation is so confused and fractious. There is less we share in common; we are coming at things from so many different places.
Too much of what we can pile from here to the moon in two days has the capacity to hurt or divide us. The language of Shakespeare and Austen, of the King James Bible and Charles Dickens, has been weaponised in ways we did not imagine. Words are being used to divide and demoralise us and we seem helpless to prevent their flow.
The thousands attending carol services this December across Kent will hear the transcendent opening to St John’s Gospel: In the beginning was the Word. If we had been in charge of the opening ceremony of creation, it’s likely that sentence would be longer and hyperbolic. But there is beauty in its simplicity. And this Word is full of grace and truth. Whether we are people of faith or not, there is something profound here. If only all our conversation, our communication, were rooted in truth and grace.
Not that this is easy. Truth used to be more public – more of us agreed on it. But it is being privatised: ‘it’s my truth’. We won’t agree on the truth all the time, that’s human nature. But if we abandon the search we become less than ourselves and less close. And we are more likely to give up the quest if we hurt people with our words when we disagree with their view.
That’s where grace comes in. For some of us, this describes a ballet dancer gliding across the stage. For others, it has a spiritual meaning: God’s loving favour to us in spite of our failings. But for all of us, grace should be the cushion, the shock-absorber, between us as we try to figure out our lives together. We won’t always agree, but we don’t have to demonise others to make our point.
The American authors, Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt, talk about two kinds of politics: common humanity and common enemy. Common enemy is where people believe that life is a battle between good people and bad people, where good people can never be bad and bad people never good. Common humanity was practiced by Martin Luther King, who appealed to that humanity in those who opposed racial equality and found grounds in shared values to help win them to the cause.
Common enemy politics encourages a winner takes all approach. Common humanity politics finds ways of taking opponents on the journey.
And it’s words shaped by grace and truth that will get us there.
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