During a visit to Athens in 2013 I met Maria Scordialos, co-founder of the Living Wholeness Institute, who told me that in the aftermath of the Greek financial crisis, people could be divided into three types according to their responses.
- The first were the people who continued as if everything was still the same.
- The second were the people who recognised that there were big problems, but were still looking at the old ways of doing politics to solve them.
- The third were those people who realised that what had gone on was so seismic, they knew they had to find new ways of doing things.
As has been the case in Greece, things get messy and confusing because all three responses tend to be working at once, so it can be hard to get your bearings. It is an extraordinary time in the world, yet what is also extraordinary is that the gears of normality keep on turning. Some people may not agree that things are fundamentally different; others may think the problems can be solved with old tactics. But with so many events in recent weeks suggesting we are living through a WTF (what the fuck) moment, can we really deny that the landscape has changed significantly, or give credence to the belief that we can rely on politicians to come up with the answers? As we encounter one situation after the other to which there seems to be no clear-cut solutions, could there be just a sniff in the air that it may be time to give space to the uncertainty, because only when we recognise it can something new can come through.
At an anti-NATO protest that that took place outside summit at Celtic Manor Resort in Newport, Wales, two women were asked by Channel 4 News Andy Davies to say how she proposed to get rid of extremists if NATO was got rid of. The women appeared to look rather aghast at the prospect of having five seconds to unravel and challenge the logic of war.
Like the women of Greenham Common, who set up camp at the RAF base in Berkshire, or the Women in Black who in London hold a weekly vigil at the Edith Cavell statue, peace campaigners get little attention or air time, and can look absurdly out of sync with the mainstream. But like the women on the march, they are not there saying they have the answers. They are simply saying – with words and actions – stop! – challenging the logic that violence and arms and politics via military strength are the solution to the world’s problems.
If we are prepared to acknowledge that our responses in the past have not got us very far, then at least this begins to open up a space in which we can begin to ask questions about the alternatives. At the end of the NATO summit, President Barack Obama took himself off to Stonehenge. Leaving aside the novelty factor of a world leader taking time out, the obligatory iphone photos and bucket list comments, is it possible we have a thoughtful president hankering after something different to the George Bush and Tony Blair swagger? Of course, it may be that this is simply the way he wants us to see him, his thoughtfulness walking around the stones as carefully a constructed image as Bush’s during his ‘Mission Accomplished speech. But on Broadcasting House recently, a Druid leader said that at a time when world leaders were talking war, then the stones, which thought to bring increased clarity and the Druids’ approach to conflict – talking – might have something to offer.
Now the Druid religion has long been dismissed as weird and loopy, and I an not suggesting at all that it has the answers for todays problems, but are we really in a position to dismiss deeper forms of wisdom when the approach we are taking seems manifestly to be failing?
None of this suggests there will be any change of strategy – a week after his visit, Obama announced an open-ended bombing campaign against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. I’m also not suggesting New Age answers to the world’s problems. But perhaps Obama’s visit to Stonehenge and the reminder of women marching against war are whispers that the old ways are no longer fit for purpose. If that’s so, perhaps it is time to allow ourselves to feel the uncertainty of not knowing what the answers are – or where they will come from, if at all.