Whilst driving the other day I was following a car which was progressing very slowly. It didn’t have a fish badge on the back, but I couldn’t help thinking that they were just waiting for a bigger one to be fitted at the next service because they very graciously stopped to let every car out out of every junction, waving more and more people in front, stopping to let people cross the road and generally being as annoying as hell.
It’s a silly example, but highlights a very difficult point. With their forward focus, the driver of that car was blinkered to only see the ‘others’ in front of them. And they certainly did what they could to help these others – letting them out and getting them on their way more quickly.
But what they couldn’t see was the ‘other others’ behind them. I wasn’t in a particular rush, but we can imagine a situation where someone in a car behind might be desperate to try to get to an important meeting or appointment, and by helping the visible others get on their way, the kind driver is seriously hindering the invisible other, the ‘other other’ that they can’t see.
How should we respond to this? How can we attempt to live in a way that takes some account of the ‘other other’ rather than just the other that we see in front of us? In a way this is a problem that is exacerbated in our modern world. Because we interact with so many people – consciously and unconsciously – our potential impact on other others is enormous. We simply cannot know in any rich sense the vast majority of the people that we meet. The homeless person who asks us for spare change – do we know if they will spend it on food, or on alcohol? Should we care if they do? Should we care if our giving them change for drink will end up harming someone else further down the line?
I’ll be trying to work through some of this over the next few posts, drawing in some advent themes as well as some examples from the gospels and extracts from the book, and attempting to drill down to practicalities as far as possible. Hope you’ll enjoy exploring with me.