My wishes for 2019 (and beyond)

What matters most? Based in part on Wychwood Circle reflections, my wishes for 2019 revolve, for our country, around truth, harmony and an end to xenophobia and petty nationalism, and on the world stage peace, food security, and sustained action on climate change. I always hope at any level for generosity, moderation and humility.

We live in a post-truth world, where anything can be said for political or social effect and if it is contrary to the facts these can be dismissed as ‘fake news’. We recently discussed Evan Davis’ book Post Truth and the need to understand why we are so easily taken in so that we might be more alert to the dangers, both personal and political. I yearn for a return to a reverence for truth, and respect for honesty and sincerity.

Early in the year we discussed, with the aid of an Oxford philosopher, whether we can still trust experts, and national and international developments since then do not bode well for trust, and nor for the attention given to experts. This autumn our theme was wellbeing and we saw how both a secular lack of imagination and social inequalities may have reduced wellbeing in our society, implying a need for a renewal of our common life and decency.

Poetry featured twice with the titles Only Connect and The Borders of Vision. The importance of language is crucial both in seeking the truth and in making sense of our world. As the anthologist of a book of ‘real poems for unreal times’ has said: “sensitivity to language is what distinguishes us as civilised people, both as human beings and as individuals, registering our intelligence as well as our alertness and attention to the lives of others.”

Much of 2019 will take place after the end of March and a major constitutional and cultural change in the UK, which is causing huge uncertainty over its form and its consequences. Many are depressed as well as disoriented, angry as well as despairing, and families and friendships have been riven since the referendum of 2016. While some rejoice, Angela Tilby has expressed what for others is “a loss of relationship that is as great as any bereavement” at the prospect of leaving the EU; she joins us in May to talk about ‘the two tribes’. Pete Silva, with a background in South Africa’s experience of division, will talk to us about ‘Truth and reconciliation’ and another talk will be about ‘Seeking the common ground’, this time in China.

Professor Keith Ward last year looked at rationality and religion. As he showed, what we can and cannot know is a subject for philosophers rather than either scientists or theologians; maybe the rest of us ought to tread more carefully. Next year, we will be discussing with local philosopher Stephen Pickering whether and why we should be moral. Reasonableness, humility and generosity of spirit are attitudes which one hopes we will all reflect in ‘the way we live’ in 2019.

David Soward

December 2018 – January 2019