Whose point of view?

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I heard of a hotel that was overjoyed to have two weddings planned for the same Saturday. Care was taken to arrange the times so that each event with its gathering and post ceremony socializing could take place. There was also an expectation that what would be common decorations could be jointly paid for. One bride said this would help her; the other said she would not want flowers and so would not contribute. The flower arrangers thought the second bride uncooperative. This was until it was pointed out that she was blind.

We casually think that we know how life works and assume everyone else will think like us. There is belief in common sense because the ideas seem so right. But even at their most correct our ideas are only a partial understanding of the world and we may not see how another person can have a completely different view which maybe just as correct.

On the one hand flowers at a wedding could last for two ceremonies so the two couples could go halves on the cost (colours not being an issue). But if someone is blind they may want to spend their money on different enjoyments such as the food at the reception. There is a third point of view which was the embarrassment the flower arrangers felt when faced with their indignation and how insensitive it was discovered to be.

Sight is a good example of what it means to be human. About half of the population require visual correction which might be by glasses, contact lenses or now laser surgery. To be so common and so relatively inexpensive it is largely left to the individual to sort out. But eyesight is so important that there is still a National Health Service provision for eye tests and glasses that are free at the point of delivery. So to pay or to be paid for depends on the situation of your life.

To be human is to have a variety of capabilities. Some people have 20:20 vision which is to be perfect in each eye. Many people need some sort of fairly simple correction. Others may need a major intervention such as cataract surgery. Some will have to live with a serious challenge.

I read of someone who described people whose capabilities were good, as temporarily-abled. This was another point of view from thinking of people as healthy or disabled. It was a much more humble and realistic view of life. The humility is that when we have strong abilities they are not to be taken for granted. Time may well bring decline and the need to be supported. But even when we are able it is not an achievement of ours. We have had good fortune and should feel no sense of superiority over those who are not as able as ourselves. Indeed I think it should bring duties to us.

We live in a society with people in a wide variety of situations. In many ways this is good and the variety makes for a vibrant and exciting society. But some extremes mean that there are people who are far from flourishing. The able must see that there are people who require help. In recent months is has been encouraging to see how people suffering with hunger and homelessness have been helped. Surely this should be continued and the poverty that is part of it addressed. Similarly the need to restrict movement has meant much employment has been put on hold and people have been paid not to work. Ensuring that people can maintain a decent living has been vital. Yet our ordinary economy had driven down many people’s wages and aiming for a decent living had been put aside in favour of cheap labour making a very unequal society.

The way we have been coming to terms with the Covid virus has shown us new points of view. They have valued people in fresh ways. It has put new practices in place to be communities that support each other. May these understandings grow and our society be more inclusive and charitable.

Best wishes

Alan Keeler