Don’t listen: look

People gathered at the John Pat Peace Place fire, Songs for Peace 2019. Photo: Marg Bertling (Big hART)

It’s been hard to read the news for some years now, and there’s little sign that will change soon. By definition, news tends to be bad: that’s what makes an event unusual, and therefore ‘news’. It’s not news that millions of people had a quiet, productive day: it’s news that someone was hurt.

But news is also stories, constructed narratives intended to catch our attention, to make us feel and act. One leading narrative is about how divided Britain has become. Now that we’re going through our fourth electoral campaign in five years, the narrative of division is being heated up on all sides. But it is just a narrative. I don’t underestimate the conflicts playing out now, from America to Hong Kong, Bolivia to Turkey. They are serious and growing. Even so, believing they are everything, or all that matters, is a big mistake, because it means we undervalue the daily achievement of most people, more or less, getting along. My daily experience, over decades, has been mainly of people working together, supporting one another, trying to do their best, often with not very much. And that’s not because I live in a ‘bubble’ – another narrative, intended to make us doubt our own experience – though I never forget the gift of living in a time and place of relative security. It’s because, mostly, people do try to make the best of life, love and friendship. That’s what I see in the community art projects I meet, across Britain and much further afield: people working together to make a difference where they live. You can see it in this account of a simple gathering under the stars on Ngarluma country to honour song, peace, pride and harmony.

Read the article from Big hART, and remember that special as this event was, it is not news because all over the world, every single day, there are similar celebrations of culture and community. The narrative of division contributes to dividing us, if we listen to it. The practice of community is something we live, we know, we own. We shouldn’t let distant strangers tell us what is true or real about ourselves: let’s trust our own experience.