is society collapsing?

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You could be forgiven for perhaps thinking so.

The ramifications of the vote a few days ago have generated some dramatic activity. Financial markets wavering, Prime Ministers resigning, political parties in disarray, arguments beginning across the channel, countries in our United Kingdom expressing a view, again, that they do not wish to be united. Yet…

I’ve just mown my grass. I’m sitting outside now with a cup of tea. My mower started, water spewed from the tap in order for me to brew my tea, the sun is shining, my neighbour said ‘hello’, a fly wants to share my biscuit, an aircraft passes overhead…

What is society?

One dictionary definition is…

the aggregate of people living together in a more or less ordered community.

another…

an organised group of persons associated together for religious, benevolent, cultural, scientific, political, patriotic, or other purposes.

On that basis the society that is the road I live in, is fine. We are, more or less, operating as an ordered aggregate of people living in a community for a variety of purposes. A local society, I grant you, so let’s look bigger, much bigger.

As a species, we live on a planet. We have little choice really than to live together. We do so for pragmatic purposes, to breathe, to survive, to reproduce as a human race. It’s more or less organised, more or less ordered.

Much is wrong with it though. Some groups fight, for political or religious reasons. Some groups have little, others arguably too much. Some prosper, some starve. Some believe in one set of values or world order, some another. Our cultural histories are significantly different. We speak a multitude of languages. We raise our children and operate in our communities differently. We come together for a variety of reasons beyond survival. In some respects we are organised, ordered. In many we are not.

But even this massively faulty, culturally disparate, often blind society works, more or less. It does so because fundamentally human beings are social animals. We want to ge in groups, to be together, to belong. We have a deep need to connect and to be accepted. Even the terrorist suicide bomber seeks to belong. To his or her faith and to the community or society or afterlife they believe in. We live in relationship systems.

I passed a man sitting in the street on Friday. He had a dog, a blanket, a cardboard mat and was begging. This is one of the wealthiest countries in the world, and he was begging. I can’t rescue him, I can’t take him in or solve his problems, but I can acknowledge him. Acknowledge his existence. His humanity. So I spoke to him. I said hello and asked him how he was. Maybe I should have given him money. Maybe that would have been more important. But money is transient. Money isn’t what makes society. If anything money destroys it.

For me society has at its core, humanity. Human recognising human. Not necessarily agreeing, not necessarily believing the same things, not necessarily speaking the same language, not necessarily living in the same way, not necessarily having the same choices, past, present or future, not necessarily wanting the same things. But human beings nonetheless. It seems to me as long as we have that, society will survive. Hopefully it will blossom and grow.

Say ‘hello’ to someone today.
Maybe offer them something.
Maybe perform a random act of kindness.
Maybe say sorry.
Maybe just smile.

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