This morning I was out looking sheep. The morning was very still, overcast, not particularly cold, not particularly warm. There was a hint of rag about the dew on the grass and Sal, who was running about exploring everything in her efficient Border Collie way was having a good morning.
I saw the barn owl a fair way off, with that lazy flight they have, and it was quietly working the hedgerow and the rushes.
Once it dropped out of sight but rose up and it didn’t appear to have caught anything because it kept working. It then started drifting along behind Sal. It was so quiet she was oblivious to it, as it flew six feet above her and slightly behind. Whether it was trying to work out whether it could cope with fifteen kilos of dog, or merely using her as a beater so see if she flushed anything out, I don’t know. Eventually it drifted off and sat on a fence post, ostentatiously not looking at us.
And it struck me that a lot of people would be envious of this way to start a day. Indeed I’ve had people tell me they’d swap. Strangely I never hear these offers made on the mornings when the rain sweeps across horizontally and even the dog looks askance at you as you step outside.
Because we don’t really understand where other people come from, and we don’t really understand how other people live. And to put it brutally we don’t really want to understand the consequences of our own actions.
I was party to a discussion about the incident where the Air France Directors were attacked and had their shirts torn off them.
Air France has been losing money for a number of years. The directors are taking steps to stop this. They’re reducing costs so that the airline can compete.
But who is really at fault? Is it the directors, or is it all those people who fly easyjet or ryanair because they’re so much cheaper?
And as another person said, Air France is a rubbish airline to fly with anyway. So whose fault is that? Yes the management can be bad and your co-workers can be bad, but while you’re there, as you desperately seek a job with a decent employer, how do you act?
But this runs all the way through. We’re now supposed to be competitive with the Chinese workers. A lot of their factories have anti-suicide netting! I suppose you could say that this is a step up; previously they didn’t bother fitting the netting. But people are perfectly happy to buy electronic goods, or clothing or shoes, as cheap as can be, made by workers whose conditions are so appalling that they tend to throw themselves out of the windows. But they appear to be shocked at the conditions that exist to allow the goods to be made at a price they want to pay.
Someone used the phrase ‘cognitive dissonance’ as this point in the discussion. I think that is right.
We have a society where for many people, it’s not what you do or how you live that’s important. It’s the gesture you make.
A petty example for you. If our churchyard, grass control is handled by some sheep, and there are two buckets with water in for them on one of the graves. It’s under a tree (because it’s shady) and leaves will fall in the buckets. Somebody had obviously decided it was disgusting that sheep should have to drink water with leaves and bits of stick in it, because they had emptied the buckets onto the grave and set the buckets back up again, but empty. (So it wasn’t just the sheep had knocked them over.)
But by the grave there’s a plastic drum with water in it. The church also has a tap outside so people can put water on their flowers. Whoever emptied the buckets didn’t then fill the buckets up so that the sheep could drink. They’d made their gesture; they’d got their warm glow of smug self-satisfaction. They didn’t apparently care about the consequences of their action.
This ability to score a cheap hit of smugness isn’t just a result of commercialism, or consumerism or even Frisbeetarianism. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote; “Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession…Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.” It seems to be part of the human condition, a setting we default to.
But then as another chap once said, a fair while ago now; “He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone.”