“Bullets cannot kill love”, said Olav Fykse Tveit, the head of the Norwegian Protestant Church at a memorial service in the capital, Oslo, yesterday, following the murder of two people, and wounding of many more, at an attack in one of the cities gay bars the day before. The cathedral was decorated with brightly coloured flowers and rainbow flags, although the #Pride march itself scheduled for the weekend had been cancelled due to security fears.
In a striking image, Norways Crown Princess lit a candle as part of the service, incorporating both the established artefact of remembrance, the candle, as well the emergent artefact of pride, the rainbow ribbons and flag.
Tveit also noted in his sermon that his Church’s history had not been one of tolerance, that the Protestant church struggled for decades before finally accepting equal rights for same sex couples. Reflecting he said “We see that we can learn, sometimes in spite of ourselves, that diversity is a present, a richness”.
I share this as i seek to find a way into the conversation on conflict, absolutism, and how we share our space in this world, without falling to despair.
At the same time as this terrible act of violence played out in Norway, a friend in the church in the UK received a hand written letter of hate from someone in their congregation.
“You are a disgrace… flaunting your homosexuality… The Scriptures call your people an abomination.”
I don’t know how you feel when you read those words: sickened, indifferent, angry, or something else. I know, in the abstract, that some people would read them as brave words and true.
It is easier to see our differences than our shared humanity, especially when our differences are so great, and especially when they lie at the intersection of systems.
In these instances the intersection is between belief and an absolute version of morality, and a more objective and diverse view of the moral right. Between versions of right held in books and those constructed, concocted, between us. Between fixed and evolving perspectives. For some, between good and bad, or even good and evil.
Rarely will this be more evident than in the US, with Roe vs Wade struck down by the Supreme Court: in one stroke shifting the States back to a legacy framework of rights, driven largely by an outsourced view of the moral right and sanctity of life.
When something is taken away we feel the loss more strongly than when we never held it in the first place. And when change is manifest as victory, or celebrated at the cost of a minority, then in our victory we entrench division.
I’m unclear if society benefits when seen in terms of division and conflict: there are few truths except that in the absence of the promised future, we must all live on this one planet, and hence the choice is not ‘whether’ but ‘how’.
We can seem entrenched in conflict: if we move to either end of any extreme, we simply isolate and separate – and yet we cannot find common ground. Where our beliefs are absolute, then to compromise is to lose.
It seems incredulous that our default state is conflict: and in some cases we cannot envisage unity. Some questions seem unanswerable: some conflict seems forever.
Absolutism is as much a feature of political systems as religious ones, and of course hence casts shadows into the societal and organisational systems that we construct around us.
Note that today we see news of progressive or liberal global Organisations like Disney, Lyft, Citigroup and J P Morgan offering to pay travel expenses for employees to go out of State to have an abortion: carrying us further into an evolved social context where Organisations act more like Governments, protecting their ‘citizens’, and potentially into conflict with established legal frameworks and governments.
So what hope is there, if any? Perhaps we can find it if we follow a path.
The systems of our moral understanding, legal action, and individual belief are not entirely static. Things do change, sometimes fast, but more often slowly. Not always for the better, and always with a cost. Some Organisations, governments, and religions, have become more liberal, whilst of course others have moved in the opposite direction.
Our engagement in the debate is not a short term feature or commitment, but rather part of an evolutionary story. To speak out may not change today, but perhaps in the shadow of our stories we can change tomorrow.
There is little to offer here except hope, and yet hope is itself a foundation for action.
If we lack commonality we do not have to automatically move into conflict: but neither do we have to abandon the truths that we hold dear.
If there are any preconditions for engagement they must include that at the very least we recognise the range of beliefs in which our own truths are held. Anytime our own ability to be ‘right’ is preconditioned upon the need for the other to be ‘wrong’ will condemn us to conflict.
Whilst it is easy to find despair and angst when we look to social media, for me there is hope in the broader context of the Social Age: i find comfort in the fragmenting structures of national power, the emergent and dynamic space of the trans-nationals, and the rise of our online communities. Not specifically because they give us any answers, but rather because they change the framework of the debate and hence give us a new landscape through which to cut a path.
As Organisations like Google, Apple or Facebook, as well as brands, like MacDonalds, Nike, Adidas, Uber and Levi Strauss, wade into the moral domain, they provide a new landscape to navigate.
In many ways it’s easy to forget that brands are a relatively new phenomena, and our currency of engagement has come from somewhere – i suspect from ‘belief’ itself. It’s no surprise that many countries are becoming more secular as they become more brand saturated.
This is no solution, simply a new landscape to traverse. And hence brands have an important role to play, and one that sits beyond marketing.
If Organisations are solely responsible to the shareholder, they will focus on money first. But it is hard to make money at the cost of your soul, and hence the notion of social responsibility is ever more present. It’s not enough to be cheap if cheap is paid for in exploitation – even if it is only the fear of discovery that drives action.
I think this territory, where Organisations themselves will have to take a stand, is both emergent and dangerous, but possibly in ways we do not fully understand.
This year it is encouraging to see so many global brands turn rainbow for #Pride – few churches or governments have managed that – but unless actions, globally, reflect their brand, then it’s just a colour.
Taking immediate action to counter social injustice is one path for them to follow: increasing access to education and opportunity, as well as making clear stands, even in the face of corporate wealth, may be needed.
How this plays out we will see: for me, this is just a potential space, but the potential for a space of new debate – and i guess new conflict too.
As i say, really this writing is just my own alternative to despair: i expect no answer, but i feel the need to explore further.