Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Searching for change (iii)

We need thought out statements promoting values. 
We need people living lives of compassion & passion sending ripples of goodness through the world.
This is my third and final ramble about finding a way ahead. Sorry if I've bored you, but its my blog so I can do what I like. :-)
1st. Value Statements
When I began as chaplain at St John Ambulance in Dunedin I noticed on the wall in the kitchen where everyone has lunch this set of statements...
This is a place where people care about each other as people.
We will.....

  • listen to each other non-judgementally.
  • let a person finish their comments without interrupting.
  • make positive rather than negative comments.
  • make everyone welcome so they feel part of our team.
  • share our good/bad times confidentially.
  • praise the work/achievements of others.
  • have fun in our daily lives.
I thought it wasn't a bad set of suggestions or directions for a workplace. When my brother was principal of Brockville Primary School here in Dunedin there was a similar set of statements that highlighted the values of the school. I was very impressed with them and wrote them down somewhere, but have since lost them. On the schools website it lists the values as;
  • Responsible
  • respectful
  • honest
  • kind
  • safe
  • caring.
We live in a very secular and pluralistic society. We have a range of religions and people with no religion. We have a range of ethnic groups. It struck me that maybe "somebody" should put forward a similar set of statements that could be accepted and promoted as "These are the New Zealand values or ideals. This is the sort of society we want to build in which these values are esteemed." Surely some sort of common statement could be drawn up that transcended politics, religions and ethnicities? It would allow the values to be taught openly, to be promoted and to become a part of Kiwi identity. 

Anyway, just thinking aloud. I share a couple of other statements that I think are worth lifting up. First a Maori proverb...
He aha te mea nui ote ao, he tangata, he tangata, he tangata. (What is the greatest gift in the world? The people, the people, the people.)
Another statement I like from President Obama when he was a senator..
"I believe there are many paths to the same place, and that is the belief that there is a higher power, a belief that we are connected as people, that there are values that transcend race or culture, that move us forward, and that there's an obligation for all of us individually as well as collectively to take responsibility to make those values lived."
Yet another statement is of course the Charter for Compassion...

The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves. Compassion impels us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to dethrone ourselves from the centre of our world and put another there, and to honour the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect. 

It is also necessary in both public and private life to r efrain consistently and empathically from inflicting pain. To act or speak violently out of spite, chauvinism, or self-interest, to impoverish, exploit or deny basic rights to anybody, and to incite hatred by denigrating others—even our enemies—is a denial of our common humanity. We acknowledge that we have failed to live compassionately and that some have even increased the sum of human misery in the name of religion.

We therefore call upon all men and women  ~ to restore compassion to the centre of morality and religion ~ to return to the ancient principle that any interpretation of scripture that breeds violence, hatred or disdain is illegitimate ~ to ensure that youth are given accurate and respectful information about other traditions, religions and cultures ~ to encourage a positive appreciation of cultural and religious diversity ~ to cultivate an informed empathy with the suffering of all human beings—even those regarded as enemies.

We urgently need to make compassion a clear, luminous and dynamic force in our polarized world. Rooted in a principled determination to transcend selfishness, compassion can break down political, dogmatic, ideological and religious boundaries. Born of our deep interdependence, compassion is essential to human relationships and to a fulfilled humanity. It is the path to enlightenment, and indispensable to the creation of a just economy and a peaceful global community.

I suggest these statements because I think we need to be promoting such issues. Without having such issues as values talked about and taught, we can drift into a society where the greatest value followed is for me to seize as much enjoyment for me as I can, with no thought or consideration for a wider circle. We can develop a very individualistic society with no sense of solidarity or connection with others. There may have been a time in western society when the Church had a major say in shaping society, but that no longer is true. One of the reasons I have stayed in the church and in ministry is that it at least attempts to grapple with and promote wider values. With a powerless Church or a life-negating religion, and in our pluralistic community, there needs to be secular base from which values can be presented and encouraged. Such statements encourage this.
2nd. Living messages of hope
As well as statements promoting high ideals and values, our communities need people and groups demonstrating high ideals by their very lifestyle. People need not just to hear words about alternative values, but see those values exercised and lived. This is why I was so keen to instigate Habitat for Humanity in Dunedin. I believed that as well as providing for the needs of poorer people, it set ripples of generosity, connectedness and compassion off within the community. It is why I like to facilitate our Christmas Dinner. It gives people, volunteers, guests and the wider community a picture or experience of another style of life than the me-centredness we often slide into. I try to reach out in compassion because I believe that compassion is like a flu bug, it can be infectious and a community can be changed when enough people try it. 

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