For Better or Worse

I’ve always loved children’s picture books and have taken great pleasure in them, as a child, as a parent and still now, when my sons are somewhat beyond being ‘read to’ and I have no obvious excuse to buy them anymore – though I don’t let that stop me.

I have long been fond of Oliver Jeffers’ compassionate and inventive books. Jeffers is an author and illustrator who grew up amidst the divisions and conflict of 1980s Belfast. Since becoming a father himself, he says the aim of his books has become to communicate to his young son what it means to be human in a world which often seems to be unravelling.

This Christmas I acquired ‘Begin Again: How we got here and where we might go’ and I found very compelling one simple suggestion that Jeffers makes. He gives us an image of two blindfolded runners grappling against each other as they head towards a cliff edge, and he speaks of us trying, as we race through life towards whatever is ‘easier, faster, newer, cheaper……to hold each other back and pull each other down, choosing time and again that it’s more important to be right over wrong than to be better over worse.’

Blindfolded sprinters seem a powerfully apt image for the way so much of our world appears to work, but how would it be if, instead of feeling I must assert my own rightness and condemn others ‘wrongness’, I simply ask each day: ‘what could I do today to make things a little better?’ And when I have decisions to make, rather than being paralysed wondering what the ‘right’ thing to do is, can I simply ask ‘what would make things better rather than worse?’

Suddenly the enormous and complex issues of our society seem just a little less daunting. I may not have the ultimate power, or even any answers, as to how we set the world to rights, but I do have endless power, and opportunities, to make things just a little bit better.

I think I’ll carry on reading those children’s books!

Revd Kate McFarlane