This article, written by Chief Executive Officer, Luke Dowding, was published for PCN in September 2023. You can read the full magazine here.
During my sabbatical earlier this year I was afforded the opportunity to embark upon a yoga teacher training course, in which I continued to hone the practice I had taken up during the first lockdown. This experience proved to be radical in many ways, not least as it reintroduced the principle of “ahimsa” to me. Ahimsa can mean non-violence, or no-harm, and it applies to how we treat ourselves just as much as how we treat others and the world around us. Since then, I have spent some time reflecting on the teachings of Christ in the Beatitudes, particularly what we read on perhaps one of the more challenging behavioural shifts: to love our enemies.
I am deeply concerned that the current dialogue between those who might consider themselves progressive, and those who consider themselves whatever that isn’t, is increasingly polarised. As we continue to entrench in our positions, what harm are we causing ourselves, and are we loving those who aren’t on the same “side” as us?
I believe that a significant priority for those who champion progressive values may need to engage in some introspection. Perhaps we need to begin the hard task of first asking: is what I am doing harmful to myself? You don’t need the data, although that is available and very useful, to know that those who are activists, pursue social justice, advocate for minorities, and who take a keen view on contemporary issues, are also the people who are facing burn-out, cause-fatigue, strains on their relationships, and physical and mental health issues. There are few accessible structures in place to support us, particularly if we are working on the fringe of established traditions and denominations.
Another, likely as important priority, is the hard task of loving our enemies. This may seem all but impossible when confronted with the hate and vitriol that many experience online in the increasingly harmful world of social media, and when hate-crime, hate-speech, and polarised communities are very present offline too. Yet, I believe there is no future for anyone, progressive or otherwise, if we destroy our humanity, and ignore the call of Christ to love our enemies, whilst trying to get there.
As I continue my work, I will endeavour to think like a doctor and “do no harm”, to myself and, crucially, to my enemies.