There was a game that was popular for a while called 6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon, named for the star of Footloose. The idea was that you could connect any film star to Kevin Bacon through a maximum of six steps, which in turn was based on the concept of Six Degrees of Separation which claims that we no more than six steps from being connected to anyone on the planet. Mathematically this has always struck me as dubious considering there are somewhere in the region of seven billion people on the planet until you start considering the amount of travel people do and our freedom to move between other countries. So I thought I’d give it a go.
In three steps I was able to connect to Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, in four steps I was able to connect myself to music hall stars Wilson, Keppel and Betty, in six steps I can connect myself to Winston Churchill, although that one is hard to confirm. It seems to be true that the distance between ourselves and everyone else on the planet is very small. which brings me to my point.
Jesus said “love your neighbour as yourself”. Most definitions of the word define a neighbour as someone who is near you. It doesn’t include anything about relationships. it is simply based on nearness. In a changing world where the relative ease of travel combined with social media means that closeness is no longer tied to geography, where I can video chat on Skype with my sister in Australia, debate ethics on Twitter with a group of people scattered across two continents as easily as if we were in the same room, if I can connect to even a large part of the planet through no more than six people then who is my neighbour?
It seems to me that my neighbour is the Syrian left homeless and countryless by bombing and war, my neighbour is the Londoner being threatened with deportation after living in this country for 50 years as part of the Windrush Generation. My neighbour is the Glaswegian homeless man reading Tolstoy surrounded by all his worldly goods on the street in my home town and bothering no one. My neighbour is the American teen who lost friends in a school shooting. That’s not where it ends though. That if you like is the easy part.
My Neighbours are the men on both sides who ordered the bombings in Syria. My neighbour is the man who drove a car into the crowd of Muslims leaving a mosque. My neighbour is the politician who thought it was okay to deport British citizens to the Caribbean. My neighbours are the people who stand for everything that offends my beliefs and moral standards. Treating, or even imagining, these people as my neighbours. Eva Kor survived experimentation at the hands of Dr Joseph Mengele in Auschwitz, where her parents and her twin sister died. She publicly forgave one of her captors in a very moving moment in a German Court in 2016. She recognised him as a fellow human being and took that difficult step of looking past his actions and chose to try and love him as a neighbour.
I struggle greatly with loving people while they are just a label to me. The Alt-right supporter, the racist, the fascist, the xenophobe. Once you go that step further and begin to view them as people with stories you can learn to love them while still disagreeing with them.