The newspaper is like a weather report. Since the lockdown I’ve found the time to read one, occasionally, in the sunshine, as Lorinda listens to the Today program on Radio 4 inside. These become our little windows into the world. Like taking a helicopter ride over the social landscape – perhaps especially given these times we’re living in, we see the arriving warm fronts and depressions, storms and cyclones which are animating us all presently.
Whilst different forms of media: TV news and social media, also provide these little windows into the world, it is something about newspapers or indeed radio programs that offer a degree more depth and analysis – the same stories but with more context, more recognition of the history of the story, and associations between different stories. Headlines such as ‘How Asian preparation beat UK’s fatalism’ and ‘Founding fathers of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy crusade arrested’ indicate the strategic or ideological depths which connect individual events and indeed affect the lives of all of us.
I struggle with feelings of impotency – I have my views on how things ought to be, but very little power to effect change. On the TV news members of the public are sought out for vox pop interviews. An older man from a seaside town confidently declares that lockdown should continue as long as is necessary to contain the virus. But then he appears to catch his own counter-argument: reflecting that his community desperately need the tourism; that jobs and livelihoods depend on it. He concludes with the air of impotency that I myself feel, “so it’s really difficult”. In just twelve seconds or so he manages to reproduce in his own mind the debates that are raging on the meta-level – like an individual barometer taking a reading of pressure fronts moving across the land.
These debates of course reverberate through our local contexts. It is possible that for the individual, we might seek to re-embody these same ideals within the families, communities and organisations within which we have some leadership. A prime example right now is over schools – should our children return to school on 1st June, as is the policy of our government, or should we be part of a mass rebellion against the policy? Parents and teachers are now weighing up these questions sincerely and responsibly. This is more than just having intelligent opinions around the coffee table or on the Twitter feed.
A farmer needs to know about the weather to plan their activities in their own microcosm, how and when they will work on their own plot of land, and when they will drive their cattle to market. We alight upon these currents of society, just as sailors alight upon wind currents in order to propel them across the ocean. It is within that wider fabric of society that we find our vocation, that we buy a home to live in, and that our children will be educated within. As the tide rises so do all the individual boats which are alighted upon it. Thus the success of one’s self and one’s family may rise or fall in keeping with the success or failures of the wider fabric of society.
Which of the currents of society do we align with? Which of the oppositional strands of society do we identify with and how do we model these in this place? How much do I lead by example in terms of practising virus control – keeping a 2m distance from others, frequent washing of hands etc. Is my decision to head out physically to work – perhaps manifesting the thrust towards liberty and life going on - or is it to insist on remaining home – aligning with the social project of eliminating the virus altogether? How much do other priorities – thinking about our elders, or of young and single people, and their need for human closeness and contact - mean some compromise on these principles?
I suggest then that the power and influence we individuals and we families do have is essentially bound up in acts of alignment. Although we may not be in positions of leadership we may nonetheless lead by example. Listen out then across the media for the underlying patterns and motions (usually in some form of opposition) that connect the stories. Take your positions consciously, lucidly, and realise your own subtle influence.