It is somewhat surprising that this hasn’t been a more prominent question in the current atmosphere of political dissatisfaction and social media spewing. One reason for this might be our reactionary posture to life.
We seem as a country, as a society, to inhabit the space of dealing with life as emergencies which are continually urgent and important. It feels like we are so obsessed with constitutional wranglings in politics, so determined to scroll through and preen our profiles on social media, to portray and curate our egos in a certain way, that we are so terribly busy being entertained, this question of our flourishing is never posed – or perhaps the question just gets drowned out or ignored.
Whether it’s responding to the coronavirus, or getting our oar in for political one-upmanship, or dealing with the terrible weather, or living life in reaction to some heinous act done against us, we forge forward in haste.
But life doesn’t turn out well when lived in this zone, when life is made up of relentless rejoinders at breakneck speed. We need to pause and ask – what will lead to our flourishing? No, it’s not all about me or you; lived life is about us.
How could we replace our frenzied existence with something else? Where could we find such an alternative that is real and which brings a richness to life that the current freneticism is quickly supplanted? How can we ever stop?
Some of us have been on this rapid travelator for so long, with all its associated dopamine hits, that it never occurs to us to question where we have gotten to, nor reflect upon whether it’s been worth it.
In fact, there’s barely any reflection being done at all. Simply activity. Sensing that the cultural moment is bereft of a way forward and that politics itself (regardless of its stripe) is now hopeless is a perception deeply felt across the nation.
I believe that our country needs a vision that ignites the desire to be on the front foot, not fighting fires, so we can live lives that flourish.
Setting out what a vision is for is paramount to growth and momentum. It’s got to be a picture that wins people over. A vision that addresses human flourishing foresees vast areas of fertile land that both freshen the heart but which also yields all we as humans need for sustenance without its exploitation.
Those who are weak are helped to find strength to live full lives. Ill people find inexplicable healing. Notorious neighbourhoods begin a reversal, such that they become attractive and wholesome places for families. Routes of travel are renewed to become clean pathways and byways that evoke smiling and laughter rather than polluted, industrial queues of frustration.
In such a vision, which is markedly unusual, our society would be a place where personalities and neighbours prefer the needs of one another over selfishness and harbouring.
As Alain de Botton says: “In a world obsessed with freedom, there are few voices left that ever dare to exhort us to act well.” It is a way of living that blends ethics and metaphysics without neglecting the vitality of community, formative education and useful institutions.
How could such a seemingly romantic vision of a realm, of a society, ever become real? It would be in the retrieval of a way of life which began in Scotland around the year 397 AD and has, in the last half -century, become something of a secret that’s almost disappeared from living memory.
We need to rediscover it, ask for such an ancient pathway, and seek it out with all we can muster. It starts as a germinated seed but it can spread. It may yet re-emerge… and, as this time of the year can remind us, we must wait until it ‘opens at the close’ as our first sign of re-emergence.
Stuart Weir, national director of CARE for Scotland.