I’m sure that you—like me—are attracted to simple and dramatic headlines. Of course, the fact that we pick up a newspaper or click on a link because of these headlines makes us part of the reason journalists write in such a dramatic fashion. However, life is rarely summed up so accurately in a headline or soundbite.
During this time of both national and international crisis, it is easy to fall into the pursuit of drama and melodrama—but not everything is so black and white. Governing is about working through the grey. Wisdom is about working beyond black and white. One thing that Britons are known for is muddling through, finding a way through difficult situations with subtlety, not drama. It’s nice when you’re on a campaign to make broad announcements, to draw red lines—but this, of course, is not what leadership is about.
Journalism and the rise of the ‘Gotcha!’
One of the problems the government has faced is the fact that journalists, in hunt of a ‘Gotcha!‘ moment, badger leaders to give binary black and white answers on what effectively are very nuanced issues. It is very easy when someone is pounding you with the same question to throw out a quick retort—then the speaker is held to that remark. This is most unhelpful as circumstances change—sometimes things get better, sometimes get things get worse—sometimes it’s hard to explain just why things have changed and exactly what factors are involved. None of us like uncertainty. But having a false promise which inevitably gets changed or reneged on in some way doesn’t help us either. It creates mistrust.
What we need is to be more mature. As consumers of the news, we need to be less attracted to these soundbites and headlines. And the media—both journalists and anchors—need to be less of the ‘high priests’ of self-righteousness and more the enquirers of information and truth. Not every fact can be boiled down to a simple formula or to one sentence.
Faith in uncertain times
As the team here at FaithAction have been connecting with different faith groups and faith leaders across the country, we’ve become very aware of the social, financial, and mental health implications of the lack of freedom we have during this crisis. With many faith groups having to change and scale down their holy days, festivals, and celebrations, the consequence has been keenly felt by related businesses too. With the autumn being so heavily interrupted by COVID restrictions, businesses specialising in celebrations, catering and gifts—all related to religious festivals—have suffered most.
Places of worship themselves have seen a drop in core donations—those they would normally receive as people pass through their doors. At the same time, these places of worship and faith-based organisations are often the hub of significant social action during the pandemic. This core funding they receive from their congregations is down just when their social and organisational infrastructure is needed most.
The issue with uncertainty is that we wait—we want to see what will happen. If I’m not going to be able to see my relatives in person, I might end up buying them a different gift—or simply not buy one at all. It’s the uncertainty which keeps my money in my pocket and stops that resource from going out and stimulating other businesses.
There are many festivals and celebrations we have during the darker months of the year. While some of these relate to dates of prominence for that faith, a celebration such as Christmas falls in December because there was already an existing winter festival when Christians first arrived in the British Isles. These winter festivals are instinctively important to lift our spirits in the midst of dark cold nights. I make this point in relation to our wellbeing, because the financial consequences of uncertainty pails into insignificance when we look at the issues around social isolation and mental health. Both our faith festivals and our places of worship are very important for the wellbeing of people in the United Kingdom today.
A roadmap for the future
So, what is to be done?
Rather than asking the government for a promise on what will happen when the lockdown is lifted, we need to instead ask for a roadmap—one with a number of possible ‘destinations’. We’re all well aware that—with COVID-related deaths passing 50,00 and infection rates rising in many parts of the country—it is hard for the government to know where we will be in a months’ time. Therefore, let us instead hold a more nuanced position. It would be better for us all if we knew three options for what comes after lockdown—particularly in relation to the further faith festivals coming this winter.
We know now that we will return to a regional tiered system of restrictions—but it would be good to know, for instance, different options being considered of how we may be able to socialise and celebrate not just for Christmas, but New Year’s and other key holidays and celebrations.
Let’s not ask for that black and white answer, but instead be open to hearing the different options available to us and be ready to adapt those possibilities.