And now for something completely different...
The possible beginnings of a return to professional football has been in the news this week.
How will it work? The two teams will play each other but there will be no crowd. No roar. No chanting. No yelled abuse. There will be a television audience – but no ‘live’ audience except a few officials.
Some of the football players are not impressed. They say that the crowd makes all the difference. It can affect the score. The fans lift their teams. Or distract their opponents. It is simply a different game without the noisy, partisan fans.
There’s no doubt that audiences matter. Many of us who teach and preach rely on the energy in the room to know whether we are making a connection or not. A lecturer friend of ours told us recently how difficult he is finding it to teach online where he ‘can’t see the whites of his students’ eyes’! In our Zoom meetings, we all feel a bit ‘at sea’ without being able to see the body language of the others in the ‘room’. All of these experiences remind us that communication is a two-way process, that our responses to each other make a difference.
So what about the ‘games’ that are our politics? How much do we, the members of the audience, matter there? The ‘first past the post’ voting system in the UK certainly leaves many people feeling disenfranchised. As we’ve walked down the public footpaths during the pandemic so many people have complained about the fact that local housing development and road-building is about to deprive the hundreds of people who have used that space - of our natural recreational outlet. ‘And there’s nothing we can do about it,’ we all say! We may not be as powerful as we’d like but we still believe that there is such a thing as the weight of public opinion. ‘The crowd’ can make a difference as we move away very slowly from the intensity of recent weeks. The question for all of us is, which crowd are we going to be part of? Are we going to be part of the crowd that simply and unquestioningly wants to get back to normal? Or are we going to create, seek for and support those groups looking for a ‘new normal’.
One thing is certain – none of us will find a new normal without asking questions. Here are some questions that we think are important to ask. Will we reduce the discrepancy between defence spending and public health spending? Will we invest more in medical research? Will we see Covid-19 as a warning about an environmental crisis and change our travelling habits? Will we seek out politicians who care about changing the inequalities in our societies? Will we pay invest in community building? Will we stop stigmatising those with mental health problems? Will rough sleepers be given a permanent place to live off the streets?
And in our individual lives – will we ask questions and make changes there?
Will we change the way we rank our priorities when spending our money? How much generous energy will we continue to invest in simple acts of kindness? Will we pay attention to the way we travel? Will we question, even in everyday conversations, statements, behaviour and assumptions that marginalise those who are different in religion, race, sexuality, gender and age?
It is a big opportunity. - to be part of the questioning and conversation. To be alert and test our instincts. We might just enjoy it!