(The Nationalist, 02 September 2005)
You may remember the case in Britain some years ago of the toddler Jamie Bolger who was killed by two boys, aged about nine and ten. Some people had seen them leading Jamie away from a shopping centre, thought it was odd, something not quite right about it, but did nothing. They said, ‘I keep myself to myself; I don’t interfere in other people’s affairs’. That’s OK, but is that all there is to it? Is there nothing more to be said? In this case, the boys battered the toddler to death with stones and then abandoned his body beside a railway line.
By contrast, think of the African proverb that says, ‘The neighbour who does not correct my child is a traitor’? Yet we know that, at the present time, if you did correct a neighbour’s child, you could find yourself in trouble. You might be told, ‘Mind your own business. Who are you to impose your values on someone else?’
Society has become individualistic, and we are experiencing a loss of community. Shared beliefs and standards helped create a sense of community. If we replace them with nothing more than “doing our own thing”, society loses. In recent decades, much of what we claimed as freedom we have come to experience as loss. One such loss is the freedom to walk the streets, especially at night, without fear of attack.
What holds us back from developing a more communitarian approach to living, and especially to the rearing of children? Is it fear of a quarrel with neighbours, or of being accused of wrongdoing, or of litigation? That often seems to be the case. We are afraid of each other, and that’s not a good way for humans to live.
To take one example, fear may result in a sense of helplessness in the face of local crime. People may simply feel that there’s nothing they can do about it, except cut their losses and put up with it. Sometimes we think the answer is to move to another area. But the problems don’t go away; they usually follow us. There aren’t any geographical solutions to human difficulties.
Law needs a foundation in morals. But morals need a foundation in faith if they are to have the power to motivate. The difficulty is not usually in knowing the right thing to do, but in being motivated to do it.
For those in a hurry: ‘Everywhere, no matter where you find yourself, you can erect an altar to God in your heart by means of prayer.’ (Saint John Chrysostom)