Jude Collins

Friday, 3 August 2012

Blood is thicker than water?

I had a family wedding  last weekend so my thoughts as I write are still with the impact of the personal. Any wedding carries an emotional wallop, and a family wedding carries a double wallop. Which makes me realize how for many people, life in its entirety is lived at the personal, family level. 

In fact, to do so was once held up as a badge of honour. When some poor unfortunate got killed during the Troubles, the horror of the event was often underscored by someone – the priest, a politician – pointing out that the departed had been a man (or woman) with no interest in politics, who lived only for his or her family. 

It’s an easy position to slot into. Those who are closest to us are naturally those we love most, and for whose welfare we’re most willing to work.  Not that we’ll  kick the beggar on the street or punch the people across the road because they’re not family, but they don’t really matter as much, do they? And anyway,  t the public level is a bit of a fraud. Politicians get far too long holidays and are only in it for what they can get out of it.  Right?

When I hear that kind of talk – or when I’m tempted to  talk that way myself – I try to remember that the view it reflects is not so much love for one’s family as don’t-give-a-damn beyond one’s family.  It’s boiled-down, core Thatcherism, in fact. You remember Attila the Hen’s famous dictum: ‘There is no such thing as society, only people and their families’.  

That’s mean and nasty talk, and mercifullyi t’s contradicted by the way we organize our society. We don’t have schools because they make money – we have them because they help children. We don’t have hospitals because there’s a financial killing to be made – we have them because we believe our fellow-citizens are entitled to the best care we can provide them with. In short, a healthy society is one that looks beyond the borders of family life and accepts the obligation to care for our fellow-man and woman. 

Bad politics is when we look after those men and women who are of our political persuasion and try to corner all the goodies for ourselves. Good politics is when we reach out and fight for everyone’s rights, including those with whom we may politically disagree. In other words, good politics allows us to break out of the prison of our own ego. 

But, you may protest, this talk about the primacy of the personal is so much garbage. Aren’t most people interested in politics? If they weren’t, there wouldn’t be as much coverage of politics on TV and in newspapers, would there? Well yes, most of us are interested in politics but only as a spectator sport. One very basic example: there was a time when we here in the north-east corner of Ireland were among the highest voter-turnouts anywhere in Europe. But in recent years this has been declining, as people figure it’s mission accomplished now that the violence has more or less stopped.

That’s why our education system – and our churches – need a radical overhaul, so that the responsibility of each person to be active in his or her concern for others in the community is put right at the top of the agenda. Schools, with the centrality of the dog-eat-dog examination system,  promote selfish thinking throughout young people’s formative years. Churches preach love of our fellow beings, but end up talking about sanctity as a personal matter, a single human being-to-God thing, with other people a distraction from that. 

So yes, I did kick up my heels and eat and drink too much  at the wedding last Saturday, among those I love most. But  I did try to keep in mind that personal happiness should be linked to personal fulfilment, which should in turn be linked to community and beyond. We are born and we die alone, but in between we owe it to ourselves to look beyond our garden gate.  Call it politics if you want to, roll your eyes and mutter that politics is a dirty business and politicians stink. But when done properly, good politics does what Christianity preaches.

Mind, nobody's saying weddings aren't fun...

1 comment:

  1. Perhaps you would enlarge some time on how you see the "radical overhaul" of the education system and the churches taking place.With your experience in education,it would be interesting to hear your views.