Saturday, August 20, 2016

From first to last

'Thinking Anew' column in today's The Irish Times.

Michael Commane

It's mesmerising to observe how no two people are the same. Walk down any street and notice all the different faces.

Each one of us is unique.

But our uniqueness never makes us better than others.

Far too often in history too much damage has been done in the name of superiority.

Tomorrow's Gospel gives us a timely warning: 

'Yes, there are those now last who will be first, and those now first who will be last." (Luke 13:30).

It comes naturally for people to think that they come from the best country in the world, that their team is the best team. When that sort of thinking is carried to extremes then we are in dangerous waters. 

The Psalmist comes to mind: "Ordinary men are only a puff of wind,/important men delusion;/put both in the scales and up they go,/lighter than a puff of wind. (Ps 62: 9)

All forms of fanaticism are scary. There is a mindset about  that inclines us to believe that we need a 'strong person' to make us 'strong again'.

In spite of people often doing it, the adjective 'unique' can never be qualified. It can never be 'truly unique'. It is an unusual adjective. We are all unique but none of us is 'truly unique'. Interesting.

Yes, the Irish are great and special people but so too are the people of the United Kingdom, citizens of Vietnam. There are great Christians, great Muslims, great Buddhists, great agnostics. We are all great and special in our own unique way. Some people are better than others. Some  are strong, others are weak.

In a mysterious and marvellous way the world and its inhabitants is made up of an almost infinite variety of characteristics. Our environment, accident, tradition, luck, all play a role in making us who we are. But to talk about one group of people being by their nature better than another ends up in catastrophe. It's jingoism to talk about 'great countries' or making 'us great again'. History tells us the evil and nonsense of such thinking.

These days one seldom hears the expressions 'the one true faith' or 'outside the Catholic Church there is no salvation'. Am I a 'heretic' if I venture to say, thank God, we no longer hear such expressions? 

Surely that sort of thinking cannot be helpful and how can it fit in to the thinking of tomorrow's Gospel reading?

Right now the world seems badly in need of a new type of thinking that looks around corners and recognises that life is nuanced. There are no simple answers. Our uniqueness has to be nurtured and cherished. It is only right that we should be questioning the wealth and the privileges of the 'elite classes' but it has become a sort of a catch-cry to throw it at all in sundry. 

Anyone we don't like we can attack them by calling them the 'elite'. It has become a dirty word. We all need to strive to be good people, to do things well, realising that we are all in this together. It should never be a world of 'them versus us'. Instead,  we should strive for a world of unique people, working for the good of all. As Christians, we believe that each one of us in her/his own particular way has something unique to give to the world.

It's not being better that makes us good. If we think by putting people down we go up, then we have got it all so wrong. The way to go up and do better is to bring others with us. We all need to see the good in others. There's so much to see and admire.

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The editorial in the current issue of Kerry's Eye.