A big heart


14 Aug 2019

Strong and caring families can be a wonderful avenue for building communities where each person is valued and respected for themselves.

In thinking about ‘volunteering’ I was reminded of a wonderful address that Pope Francis gave to students and teachers of Jesuit schools in Italy and Albania in early June 2013. The Pope said on that occasion:

‘The principal element of education is to learn to be generous. Saint Ignatius taught us that magnanimity is the virtue of the great and of the small . . . Magnanimity enables us to look to the horizon. It is to have a big heart, to have a great spirit, and to have great ideals. It is the desire to do great things to respond to that which God asks of us. However, generosity is truly shown in doing well the simple things – the daily chores and responsibilities, and the ordinary encounters with people. It is doing the small things every day with a big heart open to God and to others . . . School not only expands your intellectual dimension, but also the human heart. In a particular way, Jesuit schools are attentive to developing human virtues such as loyalty, respect, faithfulness, commitment.’

Strong communities care

‘We live in the shelter of each other’, the old Irish proverb says. What a splendid image. Caring for one another is what strong communities do. Indeed, the quality of any community can be measured by the care it provides for its weakest members. ‘None of us is as strong as all of us’ was at one time the clever catch cry of fast food giant McDonald’s. What a difference it would make to our world if we could all adopt the African philosophy of happiness expressed in the adage: ‘I am because we are’!

During recent years all sorts of institutions have been challenged to eliminate from their communities bullying in all its various subtle and sinister forms. It is one of those demons that needs to be exorcised if we are to succeed at building community. Our leaders should not be afraid to name and claim it. Far from airing one’s dirty linen in public, to name and claim bullying is to take the first steps towards disempowering it.

Target positive values

In my school leadership experience, programs to eradicate bullying have been more successful where a positive value has been the projected target. In other words, rather than simply assemble an ‘anti-bullying’ project as such, focusing on something like developing ‘respect for difference’ has given the program activities clearer direction and hence greater energy.

After all, community is the place where we learn to value and respect each other, even if we don’t always get our own way or have our needs met. Here we learn that life is about us, and not just about me. Community is that place where we learn to value and honour people with whom we might not always get along. Community, above all, is the place where we respect and celebrate our differences.

Young people first learn about community, of course, in the shelter of their family. What they learn or fail to learn in the home they often bring with them to the wider community outside. There is no doubt that a healthy family life runs counter to the ‘supermarket’ morality prevalent in society today.

Restricted options

In this tepid moral climate which canonises the possession of options above all else, a healthy family striving to establish clearly agreed controls and expectations can be a wonderful avenue for building strong communities.

Former Chief Rabbi of the Commonwealth, Jonathan Sacks, puts this very succinctly when he says:

‘At every stage the concept of the family stands counter to the idea of unrestricted choice. To be a child is to accept the authority of parents one did not choose. To be a husband or wife is to accept the exclusion of other sexual relationships. To be a parent is to accept responsibility for a future that I may not live to see. Families only exist on the basis of choices renounced. And our secular culture has made that voluntary closure of options hard to accept or even understand.’

Building a just society

Volunteering in thoughtfully planned and carefully executed community service programs enables us to understand the fundamental importance of building community to achieve a just society. Indeed, the touchstone for establishing justice has always been the capacity to care for those least able to assert their rights: the widow, the orphan, and the stranger. Something of this is captured in the old Celtic verse:

I sought my God
My God I could not see
I sought my soul
My soul eluded me
I sought my brother
And I found all three

This article first appeared in the Spring 2019 edition of Madonna magazine.

Email this Print This Page