A Beach Walk
Walking the beach each morning I often stop to chat with a Croation-Australian, line in hand, looking for a salmon. Lately he has been bemoaning the state of the world - heat, fires, floods, wars, trumpisms. What the f… is going on, he ponders. All we need is a feed, a place to lay our head, and a nice beach to walk. Do any of the world leaders, including our own, know what the f…. they are doing or why they are doing it?
Not an unreasonable couple of questions. Layered on my friend’s pondering I have been thinking about the reason Stan Grant decided to withdraw from active journalism at the ABC, and accept a professorial appointment with Denmark’ Constructive Journalism Institute at its Pacific base in Monash University, Melbourne. Stan says there is no bad blood with the ABC, his decision arose from growing awareness that journalism imbibes the character of the subject matter it investigates – conflict. Journalism’s primary investigative focus is the way in which we human beings try, and fail, to organize ourselves – politics. Taken to its extreme, conflict is manifest in open warfare and violence, but more immediately, we have come to accept that conflict is the seemingly unavoidable path of the democratic process. Are we to assume human negotiation is inevitably conflict driven? We don’t need examples to prove the validity of the question, but if we need one, just look at the state of debate leading to October’s referendum. Who is responsible for the unpleasantness of the debate? The proponents of the Voice – First Nations people, or those who convey what they think the proposal means and the consequences they believe it carries?
So, at what point does the good ship governance leave the rails. Must we conclude the democratic process is itself fundamentally flawed because we human beings are only open to communication that sets ideas or people in combative, binary, opposition to one another? Don’t we like the idea of appeasement? Stan has decided to cease his journalistic activism and end the conflict that has caused him so much personal pain; plain for all to see in the aftermath of the ABC commentary that preceded the coronation. Many articles have been written in recent times about the business model adopted by the Murdoch press – namely that more of their papers are sold if they feed and legitimize the gripes of individuals (mostly white) who maintain someone, or something, or some conspiracy, is to blame for the disadvantaged position they believe they have inherited.
In the interesting dinnertime conversation Annabel Crabb recently conducted with Peter Dutton, Mr Dutton admitted he saw things in black and white terms. Is that how life is to be understood. People are either good or evil? Ideas are either right or wrong? Is there no such entity as society, only individuals? Binary ways of thinking, let alone binary judgements, in and of themselves are inherently wrong and run contrary to the wisdom of the ages.
So, coming back to my Croation/Australian friend’s pondering, is the reason why politicians appear constantly involved in verbal conflict and not to have a clue what they are doing or why they are doing it, because they lack wisdom? Well, yes, that is not hard to assert, but what is wisdom and from whence can it be sought?
Leaving aside that which should not be ignored, the philosophical school of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, I want to proffer what is hardly a new idea, namely, that western thought, having emerged out of a Judeo-Christian mindset, has long since left aside the spiritual wisdom upon which its formulations are founded. This has left western thought and western governance to spiral along without being harnessed to the very wisdom that should be its safeguard.
My understanding of Judeo-Christian wisdom is that it is founded on three propositions, namely:
In the Christian tradition wisdom has taken human form. The wisdom outlined above is thoroughly knowable. Jesus is both the wisdom of God and the word of God. According to the Hebrew scripture, echoed in John’s Gospel, wisdom or word is the first born of all creation. There is an order to things, which if embraced is life giving, if ignored is inevitably conflict driven.
This wisdom implies every part of creation is connected to every other part of creation. Nothing happens in isolation. To seek advantage for one part of life’s family at the expense of another is ultimately to diminish all. The value of material wealth lies in its capacity to serve social wellbeing. Few if any are happy because they have acquired assets, happiness resides in community, in relationships that are mutually fulfilling. The ultimate community is the whole created order. Understanding and serving, its relatedness (ecology) requires humility - one of wisdom’s characteristics. Knowing that energy (economy) inherent in the whole created order is the source of all human economies clearly escapes the sagacious capacity of most exploiters, developers, bankers, and economists. We don’t create anything, we tap into, exhaust what is.
This wisdom assumes inclusivity. Inclusivity implies hospitality. Hospitality is the principle of creating space for everyone and everything at the table. In Australia it is a shameful reality that First Nations people have been denied a place at the table of national life. It is also increasingly clear we have been driving non-human life from a place at the table with terrible consequences. The ultimate result of our foolishness will be no table at all.
Wisdom broods like a mother bird over brokenness. There is much brokenness in the lives of First Nations people. How can we not want a path which might lead to healing. What kind of people are we who take punitive action over misdemeanors arising from brokenness, rather than seeking to heal the brokenness which is its cause. Conflict adds layers of brokenness.
Do world leaders possess wisdom as they confront the challenges facing us all? Wisdom is not obscure, it is around us, it is visible in the created order, and in that it has a divine origin it chases us down the winding and often narrow streets of life.
May wisdom rather than self-interest be our desired treasure, then shall be added all that is needful as well.