Margaret Cook looks at recent events with hope
I was lucky. Born, towards the end of the war, into a working-class family in a working-class railway town, I was not only exposed to strong political and social values from my parents (Labour Party, Scouting, Methodism) but, despite failing the 11+ and working at sixteen as a shorthand typist, I subsequently benefited from education as a mature student. My adult life has been characterised both by political activism and, predominantly, a search for meaning. This has led me to a lifestyle where I find myself gladly surrounded by intelligent, questioning, compassionate, liberal people – such as Quakers; people who have had opportunities themselves to develop and grow from what you might call a more ‘tribal’ way of seeing into a more globalised sense of the world.
I had clearly become a heady optimist. I think I vaguely assumed everyone could be on this same journey. Recent political events both in the UK and in the USA are a sudden and stark reminder to me that there are great swathes of the Western population who live lives much more akin to the poverty and bleakness of my grandparents – and often worse because my grandparents mostly had basic, if limited, food to eat in addition to lifelong paid work. I haven’t forgotten these people out of disregard. I don’t deny their existence because it’s unpleasant to think about them or because I generally no longer walk their streets or because I feel superior. I think I have forgotten the sheer grind, misery or even chaos of their lives because my own experience has enabled me and my siblings to escape that grimness and I have made the assumption that that journey is available to everyone.
Theoretically, it may be.
But we have now heard loud and clear the voices of people who feel forgotten and left behind, whose lives are predominantly lives of deprivation – whether materially, socially or emotionally – people for whom politicians, professionals, journalists, commentators, technologists are intrinsically not to be either comprehended or trusted; people who have simpler enemies closer to home – immigrants who take their jobs, foreigners who take their houses, those of different racial origins who infiltrate their towns.
Both my grandfathers were active in the trades union movement in the early decades of the twentieth century and, as a direct consequence, my life is unrecognisably different from theirs. This is because of the possibility of a journey initiated by my grandfathers’ generation. How can we as a society best help our disillusioned, depressed or defeated fellow members who, as in Abraham Maslow’s ‘hierarchy of needs’, can seem stuck at the fundamental levels of need for safety, security and belonging? How can we as a society help them to embark on a similar journey, to regain sufficient hope (or anger), even to believe such a journey is possible, rather than taking the easier option of simply blaming and rejecting the outsider?
Of course, I’ve left out the most important bit. How can we all best help each other look for (and find) ‘that of God’ in ourselves and in others, to remind ourselves there is not just debt, poverty and alienation in life but that there can even be hope, wonder and goodness?
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