Reader Writes, October 2017

'Heavens, that's a big stump!' I said to myself, exploring a remote corner of a Herefordshire wood.  Approaching, I found myself in what might have once been a garden; and the “stump” turned out to be an ivy covered chimney breast, all that was left of a long-abandoned cottage, once full of life and hope clinging precariously to the edge of the common. Today we mostly associate the “commons” with that episode in history when landlords enclosed them for their livestock, and common ground for the landless to gather furze and tether a cow shrank and shrank. Today we treasure access to common ground for walking and recreation, and in my case exploration by bicycle.

But have we perhaps become complacent about the commons? When the enclosures pushed the marginalized off the land, there was often desperate resistance; it was all they had. With Hurricane Irma wrecking Florida as I write, the shock of seeing familiar suburban landscapes turned upside down should give us pause to consider the “climate commons”. After all, it is our vital shared home, and it is being changed catastrophically. We could add the oceans, fresh water, rainfall, clean air and top-soil; they are all a global commons shared and essential to us all.

How on earth do we find, summon, the collective will to protect global commons that are in such serious danger and pose a catastrophic threat to our grand-children's future? We all know that climate-change statistics leave most of us entirely unmoved. We need pathos, as the old philosophers knew. We need a story that tells us the danger ahead and the courageous wisdom of turning back. For my first witness I want to call up our human capacity for empathy and compassion; doesn't living in a small community show you every day that our natural instinct is to care for our neighbour, to help the person who needs something? It's obvious, so why not steer our lifestyles in a direction that also helps distant islanders whose homes will be submerged by rising seas? Empathy is tough without imagination.

My second witness is the human – or divine?- instinct for gratitude. But oddly, just when we need it, it seems to be in short supply. So I think I shall call it a divine quality and therefore it is bound to be a tough call for the spiritually anaemic and those who have lost hope. It can be life-changing and even dangerous, but I strongly advocate the habit of being thankful. Smile in a way that says Thank you. Pick some of those yellow-red lustrous nasturtiums and put them in a glass on the windowsill and say Thank you. As a novice bee-keeper I say gently from the heart 'Thank you bees', and I haven't been stung yet but that's bound to change. Harvest festivals coming up; time to say thank you for the fruit of the soil, for farmers and gardeners, for our vital global commons.

The psalmist wrote “Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving; make melody to our God on the lyre!..... he makes grass to grow on the hills.” The point is this; being thankful is very motivating, from gratitude for each other to gratitude for our global commons. If life is shot through with hope and the joy of thankfulness, we can walk together and change together.

Robert MacCurrach

Rob MacCurrach Comment