Rt Revd Dr Lee Rayfield reflects on the mess the world is in and the contribution he and every one of us has made to the situation
As someone who invariably tends to look on the bright side of life, I have found the last six months profoundly challenging. Barely a week has passed without having to get my head around a massive sum of money needed to rescue yet another company or institution. Despite regular assurances otherwise, it is increasingly evident there is no short term solution to our economic situation.
In a matter of months, bankers have lost their status as symbols of stability and become icons of complacency or greed. The Government’s strategy for doing away with ‘boom and bust’ has run aground. Regulatory agencies have found themselves in the dock.
The economic environment is unprecedented - and it is hurting. Some of us are feeling the impact directly in terms of job security and loss of income. Others are worrying about our pensions, our children’s future and where all this might end. It is hardly surprising that we are looking for someone to blame.
Yet the uncomfortable truth is that most of us share some responsibility for what has happened. I might be tempted to pin all the blame on banks, Governments or ‘globalisation’ but the reality is that I have played a key role - and you probably have, too.
Let me explain my part. First, I collect too much ‘stuff.’ Put me in PC World or Maplins and I am bound to find something to add to the pile, whether or not I need it. These shops may not do it for you but maybe the Designer Outlet Centre, a golf store or Halfords does. This love of ‘stuff’ has fuelled exponential consumption, spiraling personal debt and squandered the planet’s resources.
Second, I have been more interested in how much something costs rather than who produced it or where it came from. I might wonder how that aluminium torch could have been made for less than a cup of coffee, or those shoes for the price of a magazine, but the fact it is a bargain has suppressed my questions and qualms.
Third, I have been willing to stretch myself very thinly financially in order to secure a mortgage. I look for the few investments I have to perform better than the average. I want my mortgage rate to be low and savings rate high. And if my bank does not deliver I am prepared to move my business.
Can you see the problem? I buy things that I do not need, pay less than their true cost in material or human terms, and look for returns which are unrealistic or unreasonable. From cheap food to cheap energy. I have rarely considered sustainability, only cost. Too often I think and act only for the short term - and Governments, institutions and commerce have found it hard to resist this driver.
This crisis is giving us the chance to reassess our aspirations and values. In spite of the pain it is an opportunity to reset direction. We are now more alive to the impact of a consumer driven lifestyle on our communities and our planet. And most of us have always known that endless economic growth is unreal and unsustainable.
Jesus once told people like me not to worry so much about what to wear or drink but to first look for God’s way of going about things. Do that, he said, and you will find what you truly need. There could yet be a positive side to this crisis but it requires all of us to make different choices about how we live and the future we want. Can I do that? Can you?