St Paul's Institute

The Globalisation of Indifference

by Barbara Ridpath

Posted: 25 Apr 2018

It was hard to miss the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, so mellifluously known as CHOGM, if you lived anywhere near London or watched any news last week. It is easy to be sceptical about its purpose or utility, but having had the honour of moderating a fringe session entitled Better Business for a Better World, two things struck me. First, when people share ideas as equals, no matter what their differences in origin, faith, or upbringing, they are more powerful together than any one of them is separately. Second, no matter how different these people are, they find that what unites them is more important than what divides them.

This is in sharp contrast to what we see these days in national and international politics where leaders play on the politics of division and distrust. Whatever information does not suit them, they label a 'false truth.' Those who watch and listen don't know who to believe, or who to trust, even those who try their hardest to be informed users of the media.

This confusion leads to a truly horrible phenomenon, labelled by Pope Francis, according to one of the conference's speakers, as the 'globalisation of indifference.' Faced with an endless supply of disturbing news about imminent nuclear annihilation, seemingly unresolvable conflict zones, displaced people and modern slavery to name but a few, many people close down. When many of these issues are countered by an almost equally endless supply of people decrying coverage they disagree with as 'fake news,' we cannot be surprised by our outrage and disbelief turning first to confusion and finally to indifference.

What is the antidote to this globalisation of indifference? Three ideas spring to mind. First, as part of St Paul's Institute's work on Democracy and the Common Good, we are looking at how intermediate institutions can help encourage local and community actions that use local people to resolve community issues. In bringing people together, the good of the individual can provide an antidote to societal indifference by helping to restore faith in one's fellow man. Second, we can use as many occasions as possible to find points of commonality with those we perceive as being different from ourselves. The Commonwealth Business Forum is but one example. Differences in nationality, or faith, and stages of economic development were trivial compared to the common interests these people had in wanting to run businesses that prospered for the long term while nurturing the people that worked for them and contributing to the communities in which they did business. Third, faith communities have a vital role to play. Faced with the secularisation of Western society, and sometimes dealing with their internecine difficulties, faith communities have avoided a role that no one can play better than them. They need to continually bring people together in a common purpose, continue to work for the common good, and continue to shout out about injustice. Most of all, they need to always remind us of our common bonds and the common thread that predominates in almost every faith, which is to love our neighbour as our self.

About this author

Barbara Ridpath is the former director of St Paul's Institute.

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The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of St Paul's Institute or St Paul's Cathedral.