Saturday, 8 September 2012

A downhill trend in love of neighbour

It seems that common sense is no longer allowed: we need proof. Apparently, if your spouse has a heart attack it is stressful. Also older people who can't see properly need more help with their medicines.

If this sort of pointless research is being churned out then something is wrong. When did we stop relating to and empathising with people, especially older people? Is it a lack of imagination? Surely it is obvious that someone who can't see very well is going to have trouble telling the differences between their tablets and reading the instructions? Likewise the death or illness of a husband or wife is probably going to be hard work.  There isn't a good strategy in place to support the spouses of people who have heart attacks, but why do we need something as formal as a strategy? Once upon a time friends, family, neighbours and acquaintances would have rallied round to check on you when a member of the family had an accident or illness. The whole community would be involved.

And there's the rub. We don't have communities any more. The rise in individualism has led to the refusal to give or receive help. Older people especially are increasingly isolated: their neighbours don't known them, their relatives may not see them as a burden but can't or perhaps don't want to make the required sacrifices. The slack is taken up by health and social care services which don't really have the resources to carry out those tasks which were once taken care of out of simple human kindness. The overworked and underpaid who assume these responsibilities get it wrong, often because the person is not their friend, family member or neighbour. (I know that there are a lot of other contributing factors to this situation: people move house more, we live longer, and many people do their best to generously care for others in difficult situations. I am not saying that state organisations and private institutions should have no part in caring for the elderly. Neither is this meant as a criticism of careworkers: that is not the point.) These are not chores, tasks to be got through, but encounters with real people. When we forget that, we lose everything.

I could relate many examples of this but I'll stick with one: I know of an elderly lady who fell over and broke her hip. The carers came in the morning and the evening as usual but no-one answered the door so they went away. Over twenty-four hours later she was found on the floor because her niece was worried at there being no answer at the door, knowing that there was no way she could have or would have gone out. Fortunately, due to this common sense and personal knowledge, she made a good recovery.

As advances in medicine and other factors lead to increased longevity, it is important to recognize the presence of growing numbers of older people as a blessing for society. Every generation can learn from the experience and wisdom of the generation that preceded it. Indeed the provision of care for the elderly should be considered not so much an act of generosity as the repayment of a debt of gratitude. For her part, the Church has always had great respect for the elderly. The Fourth Commandment, "Honour your father and your mother as the Lord your God commanded you" (Deut 5:16), is linked to the promise, "that your days may be prolonged, and that it may go well with you, in the land which the Lord your God gives you" (Deut 5:16). This work of the Church for the aging and infirm not only provides love and care for them, but is also rewarded by God with the blessings he promises on the land where this commandment is observed. - Pope Benedict XVI.


  1. Very well observed. I was watching Fr. Robert Barron's Catholicism Project a couple of days ago when he reported on something which addressed just what you are referring to in society in a very simple way. What we used to call Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy based on Jesus teaching in Matthew 25:41 ff.

  2. Have you by any chance read Haidt's The Righteous Mind? It's next on my reading list, but seemingly discusses the difference between individualistic and communitarian approaches to morality.

    I don't think many reasonable people would disagree that the collapse of a communitarian mentality in Britain has been bad for the country, but the question is what do we do about it?

    Many, of course, don't care, but the Greeks had a word for such people: idiots.


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