I write this as someone with a heart to change the way I live, someone who does not have this sorted (not nearly), but who is wrestling with how to go about this. How to become the hands and feet of a better way forward – wanting to live out a life which, if replicated, would make the world a better place.
As a society we champion giving to charity – we may not all do it, let alone do it regularly – but we praise those who do, and we like to let people know what we think is worth giving to. We run races, climb mountains, cross the seas, but is this what it’s all about.
I’ve never run a marathon, nor done a sponsored swim. I’m not attacking those who do – it’s incredible selfless dedication and self-discipline for the benefit of others who are less fortunate than ourselves. The amount of sickness, poverty and marginalisation that has been alleviated because of these efforts is vast. But, is there a greater challenge at hand? Even greater that the many we have seen done before?
It is said by some that community – that is, authentic relationships and care for others beyond closest friends and family – can only take place where their is deep empathy with each others circumstances and active sharing of each other’s burdens. It is argued that this can only take place where each other’s burdens are equally shared, or each have experience or an extensive ability to relate to the other’s situation (be that wealth or poverty, strength or sickness, familial trouble or loneliness).
Are we able or willing to go beyond the vehicle of charities and organisations and to get alongside those we see in need all around us?
Are we scared to mix with those far ‘worse off’ than ourselves because we recognise that to meet them, with the intention to get to know them and build community with them, means that we burden ourselves with the responsibility of community, to alleviate each other’s burdens as best we can?
Can community ever occur between people of largely different incomes, privileges or circumstance, or does the prevalence of these differences destroy the possibility of community formation?
What do we teach the next generation if we praise apps which make donating to charity even more convenient (to clarify, this is something brilliant!) but fail to even mention that talking to the homeless, building rapport with that troubled family on your street or not judging the poorer children in their school, is where the values are built which lead us to make further positive change in the world. Do we only love the poor from afar, because we fear that getting any closer would inflict sacrifice and obligation upon ourselves which we do not want to have to acknowledge?
Cultural change cannot be made in laboratories, offices or through justgiving.com, alone. It takes a change in the way we live our lives, a change in the behaviours that reflect our truest priorities.
Can we truly show love to the vulnerable and isolated, unless we are willing for our lives to be changed by their stories; our bank balances changed because of their lacking; our diaries amended because of their needs; and our hearts soften in spite of our comfort and accumulations?
We all know the hate and division which seems to characterise the times we live in, and it will take active consideration to overcome it’s relentless messages and influence. Now is not the time to love from afar, but to get up close and personal with the struggles and stories of those who are closer to us than we may have even noticed.