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'Building community can be done, even when the circumstances seem so divisive and impossible.' Francis Campbell - 27/06/16

Thought for the Day

Good morning,

The question about our role in the world and whether we want to be in the EU or not, has thrown up an internal question about the cohesiveness of our own society. The divisions run deep and are quite emotional, compounded by geographic, national, economic, social and cultural differences. Representative democracy also seems pitted against direct democracy. None of these divisions will be easily resolved or in haste.

Having represented the UK as a diplomat for nearly twenty years, I have seen similar situations in other countries and reported back to London on crises and upheavals. In my view, when faced with times of tension, uncertainty and unease, diplomacy is always preferable to dogmatic or dictatorial behaviour, even if there is a part of the human mind that craves certainty. Rash judgements or loud voices rarely capture the complexity of the challenge, bring healing or solve the problem.

Our risk in this fast moving scenario is that we act before we think and find ourselves sleep-walking into an even more divisive society which future generations will struggle to overcome.

So how do we pause amidst the pressure of the quick and the instant and a pace of development that seems to change by the hour? A good starting point is the question which the lawyer posed to Jesus, ‘who is my neighbour?’

That question resonates with us particularly today as we ask it within the UK and within our continent and world. Jesus’ response to the lawyer was to tell him the parable of the Good Samaritan who helped the stranger while two others simply walked past on the other side. The lawyer acknowledged that the man who showed mercy and compassion to the stranger was the good neighbour. Jesus then instructed him to do the same.

So who are we in this parable? The victim? Those who walked past? Or the one who stopped and helped? The answer is critical because the story shows us how we can overcome divisions and re-build a cohesive society.

If you think that it’s all too difficult, it isn’t. Thirty years ago in Northern Ireland, amidst a highly divided and violent society, one MP, John Hume, bravely reached out taking huge risks to speak with those who then believed in pursuing violence to achieve political ends. In doing so, he persuaded them to abandon violence and to embrace democratic means alone. It is one of the best examples of peace-making and bridge-building in our lifetime.

Building community can be done, even when the circumstances seem so divisive and impossible. It just requires Good Samaritans and more people like John Hume to stop, to think and then act.

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3 minutes