At the bottom of India, in the shallows off the seaside village of Kanyakumari, a nondescript flag marks the place where three of Earth’s largest bodies of water meet and blend their habitats – the Indian Ocean, the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal.
On 9 March 2020, at the end of a two-week stint in the country with The Salvation Army, I stood looking out in wonder over this natural confluence but couldn’t help feeling that a confluence shaped by human hands was about to unleash its pent-up waters over the nations, like 2020 was the year the world would change forever.
Blended with the impact of an unsettling ideological clash between modernity and postmodernity, and the threat of environmental calamity, covid-19 has proven to be a catalyst for us questioning and pushing back strongly against our pre-covid lives and lifestyles. It has been like the straw that broke the camel’s back or, as writer Arundhati Roy described covid in The Financial Times, ‘the wreckage of a train that’s been careening down the track for years’.
As far as humanity’s state of mind and spirit are concerned, the wreckage is in our face. It includes dissatisfaction with consumerism and individualism as a way of life, the demise of truth as a foundation for life and the conduct of our relationships, a lack of confidence in those who lead us, an inability to sustain the pace of our 21st century lives, the widespread experience of depression among us, and a felt loss of hope.
I don’t mean to sound apocalyptic, but the experience is global, like a worldwide coming of age in which the vast majority of humans on planet Earth right now are nervous about our future and looking and praying for answers.
TheGlobalEcomomy.com’s Political Stability Index gets to the heart of the reason for our anxiety. The index, a composite measure based on data supplied by the world bank and other related indexes, shows that in the past 25 years stability in the world has declined by 500 per cent.
I’m an optimist by nature, a disposition I value that has stood the test of time and, on occasions, helped me stare down bucket loads of pessimism. But faced with the current level of instability and restlessness in the world, I’ve noticed even optimists have put their optimism aside for a while to seriously question what has gone wrong with humanity and explore what our options might be for a safer, more secure and hopeful future.
It appears we are beginning to own the challenges, a sure sign in itself that we are coming of age.
While we now accept that remedial action to stop environmental decline and other threats to humankind is the responsibility of us all, our coming of age must also include us taking responsibility for improving the quality of our relationships at every level of human interaction – from governments to private citizens.
In other words, we just as urgently need remedial or curative action to reverse relationship decline among us. A good starting point for such action, at least in my view, will be naming the debilitating disconnect between us – an impasse involving a fundamental breakdown of trust and goodwill. From there, positive steps might just be possible.
There’s a verse in Christianity’s book of books the Bible that hits a raw nerve here for human beings. It’s part of a few stanzas that Christians know as ‘the love chapter’, often read at weddings. It goes like this, and I quote, ‘When we were children, we thought and reasoned as children do. But when we grew up we quit our childish ways’ (First Letter to the Corinthians, chapter 13, verse 11).
A few verses earlier, the author lists some of these childish ways. Among them are jealousy, boastfulness, pridefulness, rudeness, keeping a record of wrongs, being quick-tempered, truth-twisting, and hoping and scheming for ill to fall upon our contemporaries.
These are childish ways that have carried over into our so-called adulthood, the chapter is saying, and only serve to break down our relationships and fracture our community. The author contrasts them against the way of love which he says always supports, always hopes, always trusts; it focuses on unity and works towards the common good as opposed to giving way to suspicion and dysfunction.
This way of love is marked by us being compassionate and empathic towards one another, growing in our ability to walk in each other’s shoes and respect each other’s journeys and traditions. It’s about not expecting others to be like us but seeing through the eyes of diversity and embracing one another with all our differences.
Such love strives and acts for equity between peoples at all levels of our society – locally, nationally and globally – including equity in the distribution of resources.
It’s a big goal, but in the way of love, no one is left out nor left behind. There is give in our relationships. Greed gives way to generosity, exploitation to empowerment, and the words ‘too hard’ are not part of the reckoning. Even the weakest and poorest among us, whether they be nations, families or individuals, find restoration and new hope for their futures.
It’s one thing for humans everywhere to agree that we need to change the way we live. But can we take the next and bigger step in humanity’s coming of age, shed our parochial ways, and choose a life centered on loving our neighbour as the foundation of our new normal?
Working together to ensure all peoples can access the covid vaccines will surely be a powerful start. Thankfully, there are signs of hope on the horizon.
Peter McGuigan is a Salvation Army officer currently serving in Melbourne. The writer of several books and a substantive body of feature and opinion articles, Peter has served in senior communications roles in The Salvation Army and has held several editorships. He holds an MA (Writing) and is a former President of the Australasian Religious Press Association (2008-2011).