I have just come from a meeting where several of the world’s gravest
problems were solved in a most satisfactory manner. There were only five
people present at this historic moment, and unfortunately there were no
minutes taken so I have no concrete proof to substantiate my claim, but
I can assure you that this event did indeed happen.
The meeting took place in Nuremberg, itself a city that has in the past had its fair share of controversy, being a focus of one of the darkest periods in modern history. In a previous century the city centre was the site of a massacre of Jewish residents, an early example of ethnic cleansing. It was here that Hitler built his parade grounds and where those chilling displays of military might took place. Post war of course, we had the Nuremberg trials.
OK, I admit, we were five co-workers sitting in a hotel bar after a long and tiring day, doing what many similar folk do in bars – put the world to rights.
What is it, though about the atmosphere of a bar that brings out the strength of opinion in people who would otherwise not talk part in political debate?
In the UK it is very difficult to capture the imagination of the population when it comes to participating in local, and indeed national elections. There is an underlying apathy which prevails, seeming to say ‘My vote isn’t going to make any difference to the way the country is run, so why bother?’
And yet visit any bar or pub in the country at around 10 o’clock at night and listen to the discussions taking place around tables or bar between friends and colleagues. Beyond the usual gossip and talk about the weather there will be strong opinions on sporting matters, and equally polarised views on local and national government, education, taxation, health provision, world crises and so on. All it takes is a beer or two and a convivial atmosphere to loosen tongues and remove a natural reticence to participate in discussion.
I’m encouraged by this, because it means that deep inside people do really care. They care about their local community. They care about national government. They care about world issues and can empathise with those who live under oppressive regimes, or through national disasters.
We live in a society that embraces free speech, and yet so few exercise that right. Somewhere between the outside and inside of that bar a door opens and closes on such participation, and that is sad. The same is true of those of us who follow a religious belief. It becomes an intensely personal thing outside the familiar meeting place.
We have a lesson to learn, I think in opening our hearts and voices within the normal environment in which we live and work, so that others may catch the vision that we have inside our hearts. And who knows, our viewpoint might indeed make a very real difference to the world if it were allowed the freedom to be shared. What is it they say about a butterfly flapping its wings in one part of the world causing a hurricane in another?