Friday, 15 June 2012

Poverty, responsibility and not hacking phones

I’ve been thinking this week about responsibility. When the news about phone hacking first broke I remember feeling really alarmed for the people caught up in that culture of journalism. It’s not that it’s not despicable to hack people’s phones, of course it is, but how easy is it to enter a culture like a work place and just tow the line? What everyone is telling you is normal and acceptable become normal. Now we are seeing these people, and their PAs and chauffeurs, facing jail sentences. It is right, they did the wrong thing, but the thought keeps ringing in my ears – how easy was it to end up there?
It’s all a matter of integrity, of course, and taking responsibility for your own choices. A couple of nights ago I was at a talk run by the aid and development charity Tearfund. It made me wonder if the dramatic inequality in the world that we accept as normal is comparable. As an entire nation have we been caught up in a culture where inequality has been accepted and our responsibility abdicated?
I don’t think of God as an angry disciplinarian hauling you up before a cosmic court for every wrong decision you make. That wasn’t the kind of God shown in the life of Jesus who forgave when others were ready to throw stones. But I am absolutely certain that God is justice itself, particularly when it comes to the cause of the weak and the poor.
So I tread a careful line, knowing full acceptance but remembering the standards of the one to whom I appeal. What does he make of our communal acceptance of starvation when we throw yet more food in the bin? Of polluting the earth and allowing the poor to pay for it when their harvests fail and villages flood? So that’s the situation, what of the answer? That’s where it gets tricky eh?
And this brings me back to personal responsibility. Were the people who hacked phones any less responsible because it wasn’t there idea in the first place? Or was the error in colluding with something that they knew, really, was wrong? Standing up against a dominant culture is hard, there is no doubt about it.
And when it comes to global poverty it is even harder. Rather than just NOT hacking a phone we don’t know what to do. We encounter so much suffering through the news or charity campaigns that the sheer volume of it becomes a barrier to acting. Trying to single handily deal with the crises of the world is, like the Tearfund rep last night said, ‘like turning up to an earthquake with a dustpan and brush.’ We can’t change the climate or get clean water to everyone in the world on our own.
My thoughts on this over the last few days can be summed up in the phrase - ‘circle of influence’. I can change everything but I can change what goes on in my ‘circle’. I know I can reduce my own impact on the earth. I can urge the decision makers to hear the voice of the poor. I can grapple with the issues of my day, think things through, seek out opportunities to act. Most of all I can question, is this right or have I just accepted 'normal'?
Rather than living with startled rabbit syndrome brought about by the vastness of the situation I’ve found that accepting that the only thing I can change is myself to be hugely empowering. And more successful. Rather than being startled into inaction, recognising personal responsibility liberates into action. Rather than waiting for the world to change, I change. So there it is, my little contribution to the debate. What’s your take?


  1. Splendid post, Nicola. Too busy for a reasoned comment, but you're right, we have to begin with ourselves and realise that everyone can do something, however small.