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This is a small and densely populated island. Most of us live in urban or semi-urban environments. Even if we are fortunate enough to have some space around us, it is likely that work will take us into the area of traffic jams, parking problems, overcrowded trains, queues and their attendant frustrations.
I have just returned from a few days in my native place. Most of Cumbria has a population density of less than 100 people per square kilometre. In London, the average is 11,500. If you proceed vertically rather than horizontally, the Cumbrian ratio becomes even smaller. And when I ascended Coniston Old Man last week, the number of people I encountered during six hours on the fell barely got into double figures.
The sense of proportion - in more than just the literal sense – which is gained by being on high land and in open space is remarkable. To stand 2600 feet up and see the landscape unfurl beneath you is breathtaking. Coniston Water glittered like a tiny ribbon of glass far below and the hazy outline of the Isle of Man could just be made out on the horizon. Although I was looking at no more than one part of one area of a small country, the scale of the panorama was a reminder of the relation of the human person to the landmass on which we live out our often heedless existence. It is hard to remain preoccupied with the micro when the macro is present with such intensity.
The need for space does not end with the physical. The metaphysical awareness which enables us to make our common lives just and fruitful is more likely to thrive when we are not pressed upon by our environment. The sense of ease and the intimations of creative humility which are conferred by a large landscape points up the necessity of 'making space' in our collective and personal interactions. In politics, the media, faith bodies, education, commerce, industry – in fact, in all situations where decisions have to be taken, the capacity to 'stand back' from self should be nurtured.
Instinctive opposition and the ego-based partisanship which must win an argument rather than find a way forward through dialogue, has become the norm. It is worth taking longer to arrive and to travel better. That may mean accepting that there does not always have to be an answer or that a neat conclusion must be reached in a prescribed time frame. It requires us to venture into an intellectual, emotional and spiritual space where acknowledging one's smallness in the greater landscape becomes possible.
The type of interactions seen in parliaments, synods, boardrooms and many current affairs programmes form much of our thinking on decision making. They are the dialectical equivalent of the busy street and the overcrowded train. Taking time to lift up our eyes - and if possible, our boots - to the hills restores a closeness with the real nature of our being and offers a better view.
© Jill Segger is an Associate Director of Ekklesia with particular involvement in editorial issues. She is a freelance writer who contributes to the Church Times, Catholic Herald, Tribune, Reform and The Friend, among other publications. Jill is an active Quaker. See: http://www.journalistdirectory.com/journalist/TQig/Jill-Segger You can follow Jill on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/quakerpenTweet