I rarely get letters now – apart from leaflets from the local pizzerias. There are days when the phone does not ring. Communication has changed very significantly and rapidly. We have moved from beacon to drum to messenger to post to phone to fax to email to facebook to …. We have moved from moorland track to canals to railtrack to the road to the by-pass to Runway 5. Our horizons have shifted from village to town to Spanish Costas to antipodean holidays and now interplanetary travel plans.
My own journey is from a 35 year ministry in parishes where my business was “to know and be known” to living more anonymously on a housing estate. I have been discovering what most people have long known. That is, that communication is minimal in neighbourhoods. We talk amiably as neighbours – though we don’t see much of one another because working hours are very different. Others are just “passers by”. When we go to the local shops (thank goodness we’ve got some) we pass by one another without recognising one another and realising that the common ground that we share.
Fortunately new communities are being constructed all the time. These are often communities of our own making – virtual communities which offer conviviality and new possibilities for relationship. Unfortunately we feel safer in our Facebook communities than we do in our own street (even though the stats say that crime is lower than it has been for years).
|Good Samaritan window at Tarvin Church|
Passers-by don’t get a good press in the gospels. The Good Samaritan was the exception to the general rule of passers-by when he went out of his way to help the victim. Peter Shaw, in Conversation Matters, reports on a discussion with Veronica who told him about the short conversations she had (she is a flight attendant). She explained that they were all trained to be cheerful, and to look people in the eye and smile. She was full of stories about conversations she had with footballing stars and leading politicians making the point that what mattered was not who they were, but the way they were. What sort of tone did they adopt? Did they smile? Were they cheerful? Did they say ‘thank you’?
I suppose these sort of short conversations prevent us from being just passers-by of one another. A “thank you” shows we appreciate the other person. A “good morning” shows we’ve noticed. A “how are you” shows we care. Words get over our boundaries. Maybe communities are only built brick by brick and word by word.