As I watched James O’Brien’s Newsnight report on Grenfell last night, I began to see that an inquiry is needed - not only to identify what caused this terrible incident and the parties to blame. But also to identify a deeper problem that lies at the heart of the incident.
The problem that is at the root of the anger, hatred and distrust we are seeing in the local community.
And which can be summed up in something O’Brien said twice during the programme. ‘No one from the Government or from Kensington Council was available to come on the programme and answer questions.’
The official response to Grenfell has been described not only as inadequate but also as invisible. And therein lies the problem.
It may be that we do ultimately identify all the health and safety deficiencies and all the people to blame for Grenfell. It may be that these matters are addressed and that a tragedy like this never happens again.
And we pray that is so.
But fixing these matters will not be the end of things.
Because something more fundamental is broken. Indeed was broken for a long time. And that is the relationship between the residents of the community and the ‘authorities.’
In our Western society we all want fix problems. To find the resources, the skills, the education to sort things out. To make our world a better place. And that is good.
But we don’t want to accept that there are some things that simply can’t be fixed in this way – no matter how generously - so that we can find the solutions and then all go back to our lives.
That there are some things that require us to ‘make ourselves available,’ to be in relationship with others through thick and thin. That require us to be better people ourselves.
We want the right building materials, the right regulations, the right procedures that will keep people safe - without the bothersome business of being in relationship with them.
But if authorities had been fully in relationship with the people of Grenfell Tower, they would they have listened and cared and been willing and wanting to do the right thing, the best thing for the neighbours they loved as much as themselves.
Without recognising and addressing this, other tragedies – most likely different ones – will almost certainly happen because we are not willing to love our neighbour by being with them, by breaking down the barriers that exist – even between one part of a borough and another.
There are many things we can and should do to ensure basic safety and dignity of all people. But there’s something more fundamental than this somewhat detached safety and dignity, and that is the enrichment of genuine and life-enhancing relationships.
Many churches and community groups of all faiths and none have just got out there into the Grenfell community and made themselves available.
If there are blessings to be found in this terrible situation, then one of these is the wonderful new depth of community and relationship that has developed over the last few weeks.
And the “authorities” had the opportunity to be part of this.
But, through fearfulness of potential liability, they have kept their distance.
The world will always have its suffering. We can and should do more to try to minimise the problem of suffering. But we might also recognise that a deeper problem in our world is isolation.
The people of north Kensington felt isolated and ignored before the fire. And now feel this even more.
Sometimes the greatest thing we can do in life is something more than finding ways to fix things. And that is by being with people. Not just in order to sort things out, to handle an inquiry, to identify the right person to blame – but for the long term.
Let’s hope and pray that this lesson – among the many others – is something we all learn.
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Posted by Martine Oborne