“How do we rebuild trust and community?”
Sir Terry Waite
“How do we rebuild trust and community?”
Sir Terry Waite
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KP The French writer Marcel Price said that the years of pleasure where he enjoyed himself were a waste of time. It was those times of suffering that led to his growth, to enriching his life. I’ve got to admit that I learned this not through reading Price but by watching the film Little Miss Sunshine, but it’s a sentiment that most of us can probably relate to in some measure. It is in times of hardship that we learn most. We gain perspective and perhaps we become more useful to others. If people who have endured much are often worth listening to more, then today’s conversation is with a heavyweight. I’m privileged to be joined in conversation with the humanitarian Sir Terry Waite. Sir Terry was actually knighted earlier this year as Knight Commander in the King’s Birthday Honours List for his services to charity, so if you hear me refer to him as just Terry without the appropriate title, it is because at the time of the interview he had not yet been knighted. Sir Terry became a well-known public figure when he was taken hostage in 1987 and spent five years in solitary confinement. Since then he has done a huge amount of humanitarian work, including co-founding and being present of Hostage UK and Emmaus UK. In today’s conversation we explore the importance of trust and community building, the reasons it’s been so eroded and what ways there might be of rebuilding it. I found Sir Terry’s perspective and honesty both humbling and challenging, as I hope you will too. This is episode seven of the Examined Life Podcast, I hope you enjoy listening.
Terry Waite, thank you so much for finding the time to connect today. It’s wonderful to be speaking to you. The podcast has a really simple idea that hopefully opens up a profound and helpful conversation. I typically begin by asking what question do you think we should be asking ourselves today; something born of your experiences or those areas of life that you’ve become preoccupied by. So I wonder whether we could begin with that, what question do you think we should be exploring and asking ourselves today?
TW Well, I think we’re living in times of very considerable change. We’ve always, right across the history of humankind, experienced change, but the speed of change has increased dramatically in recent years, and in the last three years, let’s say, with Covid, which introduced a whole different way of life for people, something that they had never experienced before in their lives, a period of isolation from friends and relatives which was reacted to in a variety of ways. And then, coupled with that, we come out of Covid, come out of those restrictions, into a situation where the economy has changed dramatically. We in the United Kingdom have been experiencing for a number of years what it’s like to lose an empire. I mean, that started many, many years ago, but now we’re gradually waking up to the fact that we’re a small island in Europe and no longer do we have the power and the influence that we had many years ago when we were an empire; though sometimes we’re still behaving as though we have that power of influence when we don’t. So that’s another great change, and that’s another change which is affecting all of us, and in some instances I think what’s affecting us detrimentally is the rapid pace of technological advancement, particularly with the internet and particularly with the various forms of electronic communication and automated communication.
What it really boils down to is this. Let me give a practical example. I’ve been, like many people, in conversation with my energy supplier because of incorrect readings and goodness knows what. But when I correspond it’s quite clear that my letters are being answered by a machine which can’t punctuate properly and which can’t spell properly, and it makes me question whether or not I’m getting the accurate information at all. Well, fortunately that has been resolved. But the serious side of that is that it doesn’t create trust. We like to be able to speak to a human voice, a human being, and a human being has the power of discernment and compassion. A machine doesn’t have that. A machine will answer according to a formula.
And again, for example, if you’re caught speeding, you are given a form and you’re prosecuted. If you’re going over a certain limit, you’re almost regarded as a criminal. There is no real excuse. You’re either one side of the law or the other. There’s no possibility in that situation of any understanding or compromises to particular circumstances. You did not set out with an intent to speed and yet you’re accused of that and convicted of that by a machine, by a mechanical process. Well, yes, they can argue on the other side, this is efficient, this is the way we have to deal with it, but what it is doing is cutting out the human element. And coming back now rounding all this up – those are just examples of the tremendous changes that are taking place in society, and the ultimate end of this is it makes people anxious. It increases anxiety, it increases nervousness, it lessens trust, and one of the big challenges facing us in society is how do we build trust between each other and how do we build community?
If I could just extend my explanation a little further, we’ve seen, also quite clearly, without mentioning names, politicians who, by all accounts, appear to have betrayed the trust that the public put in them, and that again further erodes this feeling of trust and confidence in the general public. And so we say who can we trust? Where can we turn? What can we do? And it’s very interesting to note that this is not just effecting older people, such as myself, but some effect is having been taking place with younger people, because the incidence of mental disturbance and disorientated behaviour amongst young the young has increased dramatically in the last few years. Perhaps my diagnosis and reasons for that why that is so are incorrect, but it may well be associated with some of the factors that I’ve just outlined.
KP There’s a huge amount in this to unpack: these changes in society that are causing us anxiety and nervousness, and I would love to come back and explore that a bit further. But I wonder if I can begin by asking about the way that trust, as a kind of theme, has shaped your own life. Your book about the years you spent in captivity is called Taken on Trust, And so I wonder if we could begin by exploring how trust has shown up as a kind of defining thing in your own experience.
TW I did entitle the book Taken on Trust because I was in a situation where trust was broken. Let me just for those, I mean many people will not know this story, so let me tell it very briefly. For all my life I have had a concern for those who are marginalised in society, for the outcast. I think that now I’m older I can reflect on that, and I think that stems from the fact that my father, when he was a young man, was brought up during the years of the Depression, when his father’s business failed, when he himself had to leave home and was homeless, found himself in very dire circumstances. Later on he was able to get through that and pursue the successful life, or reasonably successful life, although he was always wounded and scarred, i think, by the memories of those early years. I think my concern goes back partly to that And in that feeling, with that understanding of concern for those who are on the margins of life, I became involved in various works around the world working to enable people to have, one might say, a better form of life, always from a church base.
I’m not a clergyman. Many people think I’m a clergyman. I’m not, although I have received letters addressed to Archbishop Terry Waite which I’ve responded to, but not as Archbishop. I was recruited by Robert Runsey, who was Archbishop of Canterbury, to be his advisor on international questions, international affairs, to travel with him and to work in different parts of the world. I’d already had some experience of working for the release of hostages because, again, as a younger man, I was with my wife and family in Uganda and we lived through the Amin coup, which was a terrible time, and I was able to facilitate the release of some people from Amin’s clutches. And I went to Lambeth, not primarily as the Archbishop’s envoy or primarily as a hostage specialist, but I became involved in that, and I was able to secure the release or help secure the release, because I don’t think any ever one person is always totally responsible. I was able to help secure the release of people from Iran, from Libya and in Beirut. I was involved in Beirut for seeking the release of hostages and I always went out. My belief has been to have a face-to-face meeting with hostage takers. Now, that’s difficult and dangerous and if you’re going to do that, you have to be prepared to face the fact that you may be captured yourself or you may lose your life. And if you’re not prepared to face those facts, those points, don’t do the job. No one’s forcing you to do it. But if it does, if the worst does happen, then take the responsibility yourself. Don’t blame other people. You’ve put yourself there. Your mistake, if it goes wrong, fine, take responsibility for that.
Well, I did not wish to be involved necessarily in Beirut for the release of hostages, but I did get involved because of repeated pleas and requests from families to engage in that particular endeavour. I went out to Beirut. I was able to help with the release of a couple of people and then trust was broken because it appeared that I had a complicity. I was complicit with arms dealing, which was something that was being engaged in by the American administration with Iran And the basic story that became known as Iran-Contra. Iran was fighting the Iran-Iraq war. Iran also was supporting Hezbollah in Beirut. The Americans came along totally without my knowledge, and said to Iran if you will pressure your clans in Beirut to release hostages, we will supply you with weapons. Weapons were supplied limited number. One hostage was released and that was that, just one hostage.
Now, this news was meant to be, this dealing was meant to be totally secret. I knew nothing about it, not a thing about it, but it was the information I understand was released by dissident Ayatollah and became public knowledge. It was in the papers and my name was linked with it because I was involved in the business in Beirut, and it appeared as though I was in fact complicit to arms dealing, which is something I’ve always said I am dead against, and the church is dead against. And I said to my archbishop, I said, look, I have to go back to clear my name and to clear the name of the church as well, as well as for the hostages who are in a terrible state. He said I can’t allow it. I said if you don’t allow it, then I have to go back, I have to resign and go back individually because I can’t go on with this hanging over us. And so reluctantly, he agreed I went back.
I was told when I got back that I was welcomed. I was told that I could now see the hostages who I’d never seen before. I’d only had communication with their captors and I could see them because one was ill and about to die and I said well, if I come and see him, you’ll keep me. And they said no, and I had to think about it, and I decided that I would trust him and I would go. And I went and, of course, I was captured and spent five years in total solitary confinement as a result of that, simply because they thought, quite wrongly, that I was an agent of the American government and that I had secrets which I could tell them, because they were puzzled at the time as to what Iran was doing in relating to the United States of America. What was the relationship there? What was happening? You know, America provided weapons, what was going, and they wanted to extract this information from me. I hadn’t got that information, I knew nothing about that, and so that was that. I was there and there I put my trust in people.
You may say rashly you may say that was foolish; you shouldn’t have done that, it was too big a risk, and it could well be that that is true. But I think my belief has always been I would sooner trust people than not trust people. And if I’m let down, all right, well I have to take the consequences for that. That is why I’ve never complained about my captivity. I don’t agree with that. I was captured, I don’t agree with what was done. But I say, look, take your own responsibility. You said you would go back. You went back. You were captured. You paid the price for that. Fair enough.
KP To anyone listening to this, it sounds like an unbearable and unthinkable nightmare, really, that would destroy you psychologically and spiritually, and yet it didn’t destroy you. So you’ve looked for ways of using that experience and turning it to the goods. You even went back to those who’d captured you, who’d betrayed your trust before, and trusted them again by asking for help for refugees. Some degree of suffering is inevitable for all of us, and I think there is something that we can learn from the way that you’ve used your experiences in later life. What is it that’s allowed you to do that?
TW We live in a confused world and a world of suffering, and suffering is not equally distributed. I mean, there are people who unquestionably suffer more than others, and often through no fault of their own. There can be a variety of factors that cause it. So suffering isn’t life isn’t fair in that respect. But I have the belief myself that in the majority of cases, suffering need not destroy, i t can be turned and utilised for creative end. Now I would give an example from my own experience. I mean, I did have some suffering, but many people have suffered far more than myself, I have to admit.
But I was kept without books, papers or companionship, often in the dark, for five years, chained to the wall, I was tortured and I had a mock execution. I went through all that sort of business. I survived that And you may say well, that could be totally negative experience. But one of the things I’ve taken from that is this, before captivity I had, as I expressed earlier, sympathy for people who were on the margins of life or who suffered, now I’ve been given the gift of empathy. Sympathy is to feel sorry for, and empathy is to know what it’s like to have nothing, to know what it’s like to be kicked around, to know what it’s like to be anxious to be afraid. I know that very well because I’ve been right through that experience and that enabled me to set up, when I came out, two organisations: Hostage International, which you can look up on the web if you’re interested, and I also helped with Emmaus for the Homeless, both of which I’m president now of Hostage and Emmaus, working with homeless people across the United Kingdom.
And going back to Beirut, I do think that, if at all possible, we should try and redeem situations or change situations that have been, at the time, extremely negative. I went back to meet with my captors, my former captors. They had changed, they had moved on. They’d become a movement from a small terrorist group to becoming a political party. So they had changed. I went to see them. They were surprised to see me. They didn’t expect me to go back, and they did actually apologise for what had happened in the past.
They said then well, what can we do? And I said well, look, I said I’ve just come from the border And I’ve seen refugees coming across who are sick and cold and tired. Can you let me have heating oil for them? And they said, yes, we’ll do it. Now, that was a small gesture. You know it’s not going to change the situation politically. It may help a few people, but it was the beginning of restoring a relationship and trying to get something positive out of something that’s been totally negative. And then I think, what we have to try and do in life we don’t always succeed. I certainly don’t always succeed. I’m constantly falling into into negativity and constantly feeling anxiety and what have you. I’m a normal human being and we all feel the same thing. But at least we can make some attempt to turn that and enable our actions to be turned the negative into the positive, if we can do it, and it can be done in a variety of situations.
KP Your own life is an inspiring example of how you have transformed an experience of suffering and turned it into something generative and positive, and I wonder if you could say something about the actual moment of suffering you’re in. You know when you’re in the valley and enduring a challenging time, particularly in the case of your captivity. How do you deal with that? How did you deal with that? How do you frame that kind of experience to make it bearable?
TW Well, there are a number of ways I could answer that. I mean, first of all, when I was taken and told I had five hours to live, was to be, was to be executed, I mean I said to myself three very simple things. I said to myself you have the power to break my body, and you’ve tried. You have the power to bend my mind, and you’ve tried, but my soul is not yours to possess. In other words, I had an identity of a soul. Whatever you may I come, you ask me for a definition of soul, i’d be very hard put to give it. I don’t think it’s very easy to do so. But somehow, that soul, the essential you – I mean someone said to me the other day they just been, someone very close to them had died and they’d been there at the time. And they said you know when that person died and I looked at the body, it was quite clear that something, something had gone. That was just a body now, something essentially gone. Now, where it’s gone and what had happened, who can tell? that’s the mystery of life. The life is a great mystery And one of the things that religion should not do is try and say to people Oh, there’s no mystery. We have a complete answer to that. You could do boom, boom, boom. All you’ve got to do is this, this, this. No, that’s not it. I mean, part of the journey in life is to go more deeply into the mystery that lies within and beyond. And if you know, once you’ve solved that there’s no longer mystery, so you know we have to, but having having with that, so I could say, you know, you cannot possess me completely, that that’s one thing you could say.
The other thing I would say is this in normal circumstances, because that was an extraordinary situation and an extreme situation, but someone has been. I mean I do meet many people, many people come to see me and discuss and talk, and currently I’m seeing somebody each week. I should add that I’m in no ways am I a psychotherapist or a therapist, I’m just a person, just me. I’m not trained in those fields, but someone comes to see me every week at their own request. They’ve just recently bereaved, and the other day they came and they’re becoming again in a few days time looking very drawn and pale and strained, and sat down And for an hour they just talked and we just exchanged. I listened, listened mainly, and you know, at the end of the hour you could see the difference in that person’s face, something had be lifted from them. Well, what does this say? It goes back to what we were saying earlier about the way in which we need to be able to build trusting community listen to each other, share with each other, trust in each other.
All those things are at a premium at the moment in society, and that is another way in which we can make something of suffering. We can share our suffering. Often, if it’s physical pain or mental pain, they’re both equally unpleasant and equally difficult to deal with. They’re very hard to deal with. I don’t minimise them. But I think if we can share, if we have that capacity and that ability to share with somebody in community, then that is one way of dealing with it. I did not have that luxury in captivity. I had to bear it myself for a period of time, but when I came out I was glad that I then could share something of that experience with others and be fortified by the resilience of other people.
KP In your book you write of an experience with a friend when you’re talking about your career path as a hostage negotiator and your friend suggests that maybe there was an element of trying to free yourself from captivity that drove your pool you into that work of hostage negotiation. Do you remember that? Does that resonate still?
TW I do recall that, I mean it was my own reflections here in discussing with somebody. I think they said to me, you know I was constantly engaged in this work and said what are you really doing, are you really trying to release yourself? And I think there was a profound truth in that. And I believe this, I stand on this belief myself, that when we do something for other people there’s no need to be self-righteous about that, because frequently, consciously or unconsciously, we’re doing something for ourselves. And I think that’s been the case in most of my life. I don’t think I’m full of altruism. I think I’m just like any other normal human being. I do have some altruistic motives, I hope. But I must recognise, must balance that by saying come on, you know, often you’re dealing doing these things for yourself. You perhaps want to be seen as this, that or the other, or satisfy some inner compulsion that you don’t really fully understand yet.
So part of the growth process, I think, and part of the way in which we need to proceed in life, is to grow to this deeper understanding of ourselves. And I think you know there are three key points I would make to try and be in the and this is something I’ve not achieved by any means, but I think it’s something worth aiming for to be in harmony with ourselves, to be in harmony with our neighbours, to be in harmony with our environment. To be in harmony does not mean to be unison, to be the same, as What it means is to be in harmony, to be in a relationship. You can, in relationship with others, there can be disagreements, but the disagreements need not be disruptive. They can be conducive to development. This is where the opposite is necessary. I think, as someone you have experienced I’ve experienced Iain McGilchrist would say, you know the opposites are necessary in order for us to grow and to flourish. But if they become over-exaggerated, or if they become, they can become, like all things in life, totally negative, but they’re necessary.
KP Your reflections bring to mind a lovely point, maybe the main point that the writer and preacher Frederick Beachnar makes. He said that we have to listen to our life for what is telling us that we’re becoming or failing to become. This is something that you’ve obviously spent a great deal of time doing, particularly when you’re in captivity. I find that often, with the pace of life and distraction, technology and so on, we are running away from ourselves. We’re not really tuning in and paying attention to our own lives. But I suppose my question is here to what extent have you found it important and maybe in some sense rewarding, to be kind of listening to your life, tuning in to even the suffering and what it’s telling you?
TW Well, I think we have to try and be honest with ourselves, and that’s very difficult. I had the opportunity of engaging in five years’ introspection, now it’s almost like a form of self-analysis. And for five years, literally, I didn’t speak to other people apart from a few cursory words with the guards. I didn’t see anybody. I was blindfolded all the time when anyone came in the room, and for the rest of the time there was nobody there. I had five years of this introspection to be able to examine, as best I could, some of my interior life, which wasn’t all pleasant, I have to say. I mean, there are parts of me and motifs within me which I would say I am not particularly happy about. But I had to look into myself and discover that in my case a long and difficult process which goes on right across life. But on the other hand, you mustn’t be weighed down by it. You mustn’t just become so introspective that constantly you’re being examining yourself and doing that. You have to get on with life. But a healthy degree of introspection is actually very valuable to face who you really are and who you are not. How do I put this? In the past, we could have had a relationship either with their parents or with other persons who have seen us in a particular way and put us in a particular mould. That is not really us, which we begin to believe is the real you or the real me, and it isn’t. You know, you’re greater than that, you’re different than that, and yet you’ve been trapped in this particular role by someone maybe a dominant parent, maybe an anxious parent into that particular role. Well, you know, you have to face that and examine that and say is that really me? Am I really like that? Am I really that sort of person? Get to know yourself and, as I say, you get to know yourself through that introspection, through community, through other people feeding back to you sometimes things that you’re not particularly happy to have fed back to you and sometimes things that you are happy to have fed back to you. In other words, that healthy balance, that healthy relationship with yourself, to grow into greater harmony with yourself and with your neighbour.
Now, all these, this process, I think, is, in fact, as I go right back now to the beginning of where we started this conversation is not being necessarily facilitated easily by some of the modern techniques and modern means of communication. Because what happens? There’s no real human exchange, no real face-to-face encounter with human beings, not a lot of listening. Sometimes, and very quickly, you know, because of I’m not quite clear the total reason for this, but very quickly the discussion between people boils down into right or wrong and then erupts into abuse. You know, they say I am right and you are totally wrong, and then you’re abused left, right and centre, which bruises many people and wounds many people who actually, perhaps on the internet, are seeking some form of support and they put their vulnerability out and that vulnerability is attacked and destroyed. Because there is that, you’ve got to face it.
There is that element within human beings which is a destructive element which goes back right to primitive days. It is there and somehow it’s been given a new opportunity and a new framework to operate through some of the modern media, which is where we have to be careful. And then you mentioned yourself a moment or two ago the reliance on artificial means of actually coming to terms with suffering, through the use of narcotics or what have you. You know, for the majority, majority of people, vast majority it’s a way to doom and destruction, as we’ve seen so often temporary relief, and there’s no such thing as temporary relief for these issues that we’re talking with. It’s a lifelong process. But in that process again going back to what I say about community we need support. We need support of others and there are a lot of very, very lonely, isolated people in society today.
When you think, given all the means of communication, it ought to be different, it isn’t different. There are a lot of lonely people, a lot of isolated people. I’m fortunate I’m speaking to you from a village. I wrote a book called, simply called Solitude, when I went around and met different people in different forms of solitary existence, I met people who lived in the outback in Australia, who had never been into town for five years, who were totally at home and totally content with the solitude of that experience. And then I met somebody who lived in an apartment in Chicago, surrounded by thousands of people, totally lonely and isolated, you know, because for one reason or another they were not in harmony with themselves. They were not in harmony with their environment, they were at odds with it, they were isolated, lonely and afraid. So all these things fit together.
KP You’re listening to The Examined Life, the podcast which takes questions posed by today’s most influential thinkers and explores them over the course of a conversation. Today’s podcast is with the humanitarian Terry Waite. So far, we have discussed the issue of trust, why it’s so important for communities and individuals and how we might go about trying to rebuild it in a society which so desperately needs more trust. So it’s really interesting and helpful to talk about this from a personal perspective. How do I take what’s happened to me and turn it into empathy and listening and building interpersonal trust? But you also mentioned that it’s an institutional and societal problem that we’ve lost trust. We’ve lost the human element in so much of life, and so I guess I’m interested in exploring what it might look like to rebuild trust and relationships that feel humane in our society.
TW One of the things we do that, I myself have a particular faith. I have a belief and I could unpack that if you wish to ask me about that. I do not like to think of myself as being over religious because for me religion as such has a negative connotation for me, as I think it has with many people. You know that he is religious and therefore very constrained and very black and white in beliefs and so on. That is not how I wish to interpret religion. I wish to interpret it in a much broader way. And I have a belief. and I have a belief that in this day and age, the churches and the different religious communities have a vital role to play in the assisting of the building of community and the bringing of people together. Now, one practical example of that the last weekend, the weekend that has just passed before I made this broadcast, I went to speak at a gathering in a church in a seaside resort in Suffolk. Now, this was a building which took about accommodated 250 people. Over 250 people were there, the place was absolutely packed And one was talking about the importance of building community, bringing people together. Now, that group of people in that church, who ran that church, could not have been more welcoming and more friendly. They had a coffee bar and that coffee bar was open six days a week and it was free to anybody who came in. They simply said give a donation if you can. if you can’t, fine, have a coffee or us. You know just this very simple thing of bringing people together, face to face, from different backgrounds.
So that is one way, one way in which this rebuilding can take place, but I don’t think we are necessarily by that going to change the enormous, gigantic political structure that are moving forward with increasing pace, as we see now. you know, on the international stage, the reversion to what seems to be a Cold War situation, which we thought we were through but were not. And so I think we have, looking on the international stage, we have a United Nations that is really pretty powerless, has very little influence at all. now, apart from the moral influence which some people may or may not take a note of, we have a war raging where, which is when you look at it. I mean, you just stand back objectively and you look at these ruined buildings and you say is the other human species mad? Are they crazy? Are they crazy to think that something is to be achieved by blowing people up and by demolishing buildings? Is this the way humanity is going?
And then you genuinely could ask yourself and I think it’s a very pertinent question, a very difficult one to face but are we in fact, as a human species, agents of our own destruction? And are we heading quickly for that route that we destroy the species as a human species by our own stupidity, by our own raping of the environment, by our own behaviour to each other. Are we in fact doing that? These are very important questions, i think. How do we tackle them? How do we deal with them? One way is to have only one way is to have in positions of influence and power in the world, and that means through political life, i’m afraid people who have the vision, who have the moral standing and who have the spiritual depth I don’t mean religious depth, but I mean spiritual depth to help guide the world through this particular period of crisis.
KP It’s a need that seems to be becoming ever more apparent, particularly maybe over the Covid crisis and aftermath having moral standing and spiritual depth and integrity and so on would help to shape priorities differently from the way they look at the moment? Right now, we seem to be only about efficiency and productivity rather than, as you point out, the need for communities and trust.
TW More and more people are feeling they really do feel powerless. Now. I mean, I happen to live in a rural part of England, in a small village, and I know, we know very well that people need housing. But what did I read Only last night? a former school playing field has now been taken over for house building and 50 trees are being demolished, are being cut down. Well, you know, people in the neighbourhood despair. They say we can’t stop it. They say there’s house building, it’s house building, but it’s not building community. And the people who are for these houses are not necessarily the people who need them. They are people who can afford them or are moving out from somewhere, not the needy.
And somehow we just got our priorities wrong. It goes back to our political structures, our political decision making. In all these things And people, i thought, goodness me. On the one hand, we’re talking about protecting and saving the environment and on the other hand, we’re rapidly going ahead and destroying it. We’re destroying the country areas, we’re destroying, we’re felling the trees. Well, you know, can you think of a more? perhaps somebody will correct me on this but the crazy project of building the railway which is going to save us a few minutes on the journey to Birmingham from London And, in the process, costing millions and destroying acres of countryside and people’s ancient dwellings.
Well what sense does that make, apart from the one overriding point which seems to be the determining factor in our most of our political decision making, and that is profitability? Is it going to make profit, is it going to make money for people, this increasing desire in society for constant growth? it must grow every year. If you’re not growing every year, then you’re failing. And that is, of course, the city-led thinking, the city of London-led thinking. You know Well. Of course we need investments, we need reasonable investments, but surely there comes a time when we have to say hold on for a minute. You can’t go on growing and growing and growing forever. You have to be content somewhere.
And some of these big political questions, you know this is where we become in our education. We’ve made fundamental mistakes in ignoring philosophy, in putting philosophy to the edge and putting the ability to think beyond the material. We put this to the edge. The arts have been pushed to the edge. The history has been pushed to the edge in our educational syllabuses. Yes, of course it’s important that children have a numerical ability, but I mean it’s evidence. They are now being proposed They should study math until 18. And at the expense of the arts. The arts, again, are being pushed to one side. Well, the arts are a vital part of enabling individuals to grow up and to be rounded, individuals to have other understandings, other than the mechanical, numerical way of thinking. Numbers are important. Numbers have their own mystery, numbers have their own fascination. I understand that, but you know we have to look beyond that. So it’s education, it’s politics, it’s personal. They have all these things fitting together somewhere.
KP Yeah, i couldn’t agree with you more, terry. It seems like this lack of trust that we suffer, that you’ve articulated, is in some sense a symptom of a society which is operating increasingly like a machine, And it seems to assume that humans are also kind of machine-like as well.
TW Well, i think a question to ask which I’m not necessarily giving an answer to, but I’m trying to point this away which we may begin to deal with it is what does it really mean to be human? You know, what does it really mean to be a human being? Well, i’d go back to this rather seemingly trite and fundamental questions about life. What is the purpose of it here? How are we living it? You know, what are we getting, what are we giving to it and what are we gaining from it? And surely, surely, it must be more the mere economic advantage. Yes, of course we have to make it possible for us to have a reasonable, stable economic base. But we know that our society is organised so that only a fraction of the world’s population have that security of an economic base.
The vast majority are living with acute anxieties, acute poverty, totally wrong. And we can rail about it, we can shout about it, you know, do this, that and the other. We don’t seem to make any difference, nothing seems to change. We seem to go on and on and on in the same old way. And these big questions, can we really face the deep, fundamental questions of life? Are our politicians willing to do that able to do that, because they’re the ones who have got positions of power which can, to a degree, influence things and do influence things. But it’s no good just bleeding from the sidelines or bleeding from the pulpit saying do this, do that, the other. Somehow there has to be we ourselves have to change. we have to get some of the essential principles really a part of our being and try and apply them. Difficult job.
KP As someone who’s interested in character formation. You’ve got me right on topic there. If I can just begin to draw together a few of the threads we’ve been talking about, we start with this question of how we can develop trust again, and we began with individuals, like your own experience, and how we as individuals can develop interpersonal trust with one another. And then the bigger structures and the problems with them politics, technology, the education system all of which, in certain important ways, seem to make it more difficult to engender trust and promote flourishing communities, and the scale of this problem can seem overwhelming. But despite the challenges, i think you see reasons for hope.
TW As we’re beginning to draw to a close, let me say we should never underestimate having said, having faced and looked at some of the enormous issues that do faces in society, we should never underestimate the fact that individuals, too, can make a difference. They can make a difference not just to their own lives but to the lives of other people, and we look around us and we see individuals who have stood up, who have not just stood up to protest, but have stood up and really done something to enable this world to be a slightly more human place and slightly better for those who are on the margins of life. We can see that and people can make a difference. So we shouldn’t despair, but we should be realistic.
TW That seems like an appropriately inspiring and challenging place to draw this to a close. Don’t despair Individuals can do a lot, can do a huge amount, as you, sir Terry, have shown us Well. I’ve really appreciated you spending time today and sharing your wisdom and experiences to explore this fundamentally important question of how we can begin to rebuild trust in our communities. Well, thank you, Kenny. It’s nice to speak with you and we’ll probably meet face to face one day, rather than by the electronic media.
KP I very much look forward to it. Thank you again for your time.
I hope you’ve enjoyed listening to the seventh episode of the Examined Life podcast. I am, as ever, very grateful to you for listening to this podcast all the way to the end. I’m also grateful to my brother, Colin, for any music that you heard, but also for lending me the microphone I am speaking into. I will be back in a couple of weeks for another episode of The Examined Life.