Sunday, October 6, 2013

Journal of a Soul 35

As if People Mattered

People who matter: Teachers and Students in my School
In the Comment and Analysis section of today's Sunday Business Post the prophetic economist, commentator and author David McWilliams maintains that "(W)here the nuns and priests led, Irish business should follow." He argues that the trends in the poorest parts of the world are strikingly positive and that "Africa is going to be a major economic growth region in the very near future." (p. n19) These words evoked the following thoughts:


We definitely lost our way as a nation during the years of the Celtic Tiger.  Greed became the chief deadly sin of which most Irish people became both consciously and unconsciously perpetrators. A friend of mine says that this greed was, in part, an unconscious reaction to the sufferings and many losses we underwent as a people during the Great Famine era.  Poor Paddy was no longer depicted as an ape-like creature who was either inevitably drunk or wielding a shillelagh to knock the brains out of the next person to cross his path, but rather a world-recognized entrepreneur with vision, power and newly gained wealth.  

Many years ago I read, as all idealist young people did at the time, that wonderful little classic Small is Beautiful (1973) by by the British economist E.F. Schumacher.  The title "Small Is Beautiful" became a catch-cry for idealists and romantics rather than for entrepreneurs who always subscribed to words like "maximum", "big", "huge" and "great," especially when coupled with the noun "profit."  The catch-cry "Small is beautiful" is often used to champion small, appropriate technologies that are believed to empower people more, in contrast with phrases such as "bigger is better".  The subtitle appealed further to the humanitarian and Romantic in me:  "A study of Economics as if People mattered."  The "as if" has always stuck in my mind as an idealist who saw that entrepreneurs and those in power invariable did not put people first; that they didn't really believe that people mattered despite their many loud declarations that they did; they merely acted "as if."

As a teacher of secondary pupils who are on the Autistic Spectrum and as a Learning Support Teacher for the less intellectually able student, I see the effects of the recent cutbacks on my students.  Not alone are students not getting adequate supports, but many simply cannot afford to pay for their books.  As we now are monitored so closely by the troika of EU, IMF and ECB and are asked to cut ever more meat more from the "national joint" despite the fact that we are practically down to bare bone." "Economics as if people mattered" indeed.  Why, indeed, are we not convinced that year after year of further austerity will work.  You don't have to be a mathematician to see that the figures will never add up.  So who's fooling whom?  Why play such an obviously disingenuous game? Why even believe all these obvious lies we are told?


Old Black and White pictures from the "Old Days" - Tradition
Tradition is something vibrant and living.  It is never stagnant.  It is not something that we solely inherit from some isolated period in the past.  Rather it is something which advances and grows naturally and organically.  For sure, the nuns and priests who went out to Africa and other far-flung missionary territories were imbued with Christian fervour and a desire to help the less fortunate.  Modern missionaries are more attuned to the cultures among whom they work and realize the importance both of inculturation and of working collaboratively with other Christian and non-Christian religions.  The old concern with converting the multitudes is long since dead and gone.  Now the emphasis is on working collaboratively to create a better world under the Christian vision.  I remember, in a recent televised documentary, one wonderful religious sister in the heart of some African country insisting that even if God did not exist she could not leave the work she was doing as she felt she had a duty to help others.  So religious motivation can also be human motivation.  And in the words of the Angelic Doctor St Thomas Aquinas, "grace builds on nature."  Even though I'm quoting this medieval theologian, I am going to take my own meaning out of his words. Now, I do realize that I am reading a meaning into his words which he could never agree with way back in the thirteenth century.  What I am getting at is that deep down our ordinary human experience can lead onward or deeper into religious experience, that in that sense "grace builds on nature."  And yet, if one loses one's belief in this or that idea of what or who God may be, you might fall back on the common denominator, i.e., that humanity in its essence and in its existential manifestation really matters and that it confers its own dignity upon itself from within, not from without.  In other words, in a world of many and various systems of belief and indeed of none, the human being matters, really matters, and is its own conferral of meaning. 

We in Ireland have a wonderful spiritual tradition based on the twin principles of (i) hospitality and (ii) welcome.  A visitor who came to the door was always to be seen as an "alter Christus" or "another Christ."  The Celtic Christian, therefore, welcomed the stranger into his/her house and shared whatever little they had with them.  Both hospitality and welcome are still cherished widely among the Irish.  No wonder Ireland is also known as "Ireland of the Welcomes." 

David McWilliams article is good and the editor has illustrated it with a wonderfully large coloured picture of planet Earth, of great Gaia herself.  The picture speaks of wonder, hope, beauty, truth, stillness, purity, lack of pollution and defilement, of a fitting home for humans and indeed of animal life of all kinds.  It presents a fitting contrast to the underlying greed of economics hinted at in the main article.

Maybe someday, as children of Mother Gaia, we can muster the courage to promote an economics as if people and animals and the earth really did matter.

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