Thought for the Day - 02/08/2014 - Brian Draper
I’ve spoken to several people who feel very weighed down with all the painful news footage from recent days. One asked me, quite poignantly, isn’t it selfish to want to be happy, when the rest of the world seems in so much pain?
Well, a bit of help arrived this week from Pope Francis, who, in brighter news, offered ten tips for happiness to an Argentinian magazine. They’re not the new ten commandments, but they do remind us that happiness, far from being selfish, arrives most powerfully when we look beyond our selves.
In fact, one of his suggestions was: “Be giving of yourself to others... If you withdraw into yourself,” he explained, “you run the risk of becoming egocentric. And stagnant water becomes putrid.”
“Work for peace” was another tip. As was, “proceed calmly in life” - an encouragement to those of us who get stressed and anxious, particularly within consumer culture. "Have a healthy sense of leisure” was a further idea, to include eating together as families, and turning off the TV at mealtimes.
But the most newsworthy and - I think helpful - tip of all was this: “Don’t proselytise; respect one another’s beliefs.” Mindful of his Catholic audience, he couched it in terms of the church, which, he said “grows by attraction”, not persuasion - but what he’s saying can apply to every single one of us.
The danger when we just talk forcefully - whether that’s from a pulpit or at dinner parties or down the pub - about what we believe is right and wrong, is that we seek exclusively to convert others to our own way of thinking. And we define ourselves in opposition to everyone else. Yet neither way brings hope, let alone happiness. What the Pope’s saying is: provide the positive alternative yourself. Live it, beautifully, attractively. So that others might also live.
This reminds me of the word “gospel”, which doesn’t mean, “I’m right, you’re not”, as it’s so often been misused - but instead means: “good news”. And I think that’s part of the secret, here.
Instead of me trying to persuade you to believe what I do, I can, instead, seek your good from the way I live my life. And hopefully, it begins to work both ways.
These last few weeks make it feel like nothing seems to change in this oppositional world, which is a sad thought - but if we can be good news to those around us, by - say - agreeing sometimes to disagree, or being hospitable to our neighbours, or saying a unilateral “sorry” for things we’ve done in the past, or counting to ten in the face of provocation ... then don’t we all - happily - have something to offer within the sorrow?