We were driving to Dublin from Donegal a few weeks ago, and there, on the side of the road beside a field was a bed. It was a double divan bed, the base lying at one side, the mattress over at the other side of the gate. It is not as if someone had been sleeping there.
Someone had clearly piled this bed into a van and then dumped it on the side of the road – presumably under cover of darkness.
I am baffled at the idea that anyone could think this sort of fly-tipping is an acceptable thing to do but it is a problem all over the country. What goes through someone’s mind when they plan this, whether it is a bed, an old fridge or black bags of rubbish? It seems to me to be an indication of just how self-absorbed it is possible to be.
Presumably it works along the lines of: “I need to get rid of this. I don’t want it cluttering up my home so wherever I take it and dump it is fine, so long as it is not annoying me anymore.”
The fact that rubbish dumped along roads, in quiet lanes and beauty spots would annoy other people doesn’t seem to count for much.
I am involved currently in some work exploring what it means to talk about Catholic ethos in our National Schools. Something that has come through very strongly for me is how a Catholic ethos invites us to recognise that we are a community. We are not simply a collection of individuals who happen to share a school, a community or a planet. When we care deeply about each other and feel responsibility for the well-being of each other then we can all flourish and thrive. If family, school and parish can work together on this understanding it has positive implications for society.
It is on this understanding of interdependence and shared responsibility that our moral choices can be based then. It is not just “What is right for me?” or “What will make me happy?”. It is more about how my needs and desires fit and work with the needs and desires of others around me. That’s not easy. We know that children start out in life aware only of their own needs and wants. It takes time to develop empathy and to become able to look at the world from the perspective of another person, to understand their emotions and desires even when they conflict with ours.
Sadly, there is a lot of pressure in our world through media and culture to return to the immature belief that the only valid experience, opinion and desire is my own. As families, it is our responsibility to help our children, our teens and ourselves to challenge that self-absorbed perspective.
Family life is an ongoing roller-coaster of making room for the opinions and desires of others, exploring difference and trying to deal with any conflict in a way that does not do harm. That is why the work of our Catholic schools is so vital, offering our children another environment where empathy and solidarity are actively encouraged. Seeing people as created in the image and likeness of God, seeing the world as God’s creation – such a perspective impacts on our moral choices big and small.
Our local Gaelscoil will have its annual bring and buy sale soon. Endless amounts of toys, old books and rice crispy buns will change hands and all the proceeds will be split between two charities chosen by the children. Parents may gaze in dismay at the ‘gifts’ brought home but events such as this are very important. The children are actively involved in making a difference in the lives of others. What better time than Advent to actively commit ourselves to empathy, solidarity and shared responsibility?