Oct 18 2010

October 2010 Newsletter

Published by under Newsletters



October 2010



Richard Egan made the case that:

Spirituality is a Public Health Issue.

Richard Egan has been researching ‘spirituality’ on and off for 20 years. He recently finished his PhD looking at spirituality in end-of-life care in New Zealand. Richard teaches health promotion at the Dunedin School of Medicine and is a research fellow focusing on psychosocial-spiritual support care in cancer.

Elaborating on his title, Richard says:

“Public health” we are told, “must be multidisciplinary and holistic” – so clearly spirituality must have a place in it. Spirituality is not just an individual issue, but like water, air or normative beliefs, is also a public health issue. So I will discuss the place spirituality should have in pubic health, and how it can be given the priority it should have.

Our children learn something of spirituality at school in the context of Maori culture, and yet there is a spiritual vacuum in our society – which is seldom addressed when the ills of society are addressed. Then I shall look at the implications of all this for research, policy and practice – and I’ll be keen to join in discussion of all this.


Our Library ….

has recently added five small books to its selection – “Crisis in the Christian Way” and “Human Destiny” [both by Lloyd Geering], “Rethinking Religion” by Don Cupitt, “The Faith of a Quaker Humanist” [David Boulton] and “Honouring the Other” [Kevin Clements’s 2010 Quaker Lecture].


The National Sea of Faith Conference:

Three people from Dunedin went to St Patrick’s College, Silverstream for this year’s conference over the first weekend of October. Here are some comments on it from two of them:

Having hoarded Air Points with each month’s VISA bill, the cost of conference was most reasonable in these tight financial times. A smooth flight to Wellington in the good company of Don Feist and Kevin Clements was swiftly followed with a free bus ride (courtesy of Winston Peters’ Gold card) to Upper Hutt, then a brief taxi to St Patrick’s school. This was “back to basics” with old open dormitories, showers designed for boys not men and taps that were designed to save water but didn’t as they had had the stuffing knocked out of them.

Meal sizes were well-suited to hungry teenagers or truck drivers but were very tasty – good job it was only a weekend conference or my attention to waist size would have been wasted… No-one would ever go hungry there and the cooks were always helpful and generous. Best of all of course was meeting old friends, hugs and laughter and a catch up on news of the last year – sometimes in the various local groups and sometimes in families.

The speakers on the theme of Compassion were top flight and I had several new insights here, Lloyd Geering paraphrased Rabbi Hillel in a nutshell – “You can say “Compassion” standing on one leg – now go and do it.”

Kevin Clements highlighted that it was the “small kindnesses” which are at the heart of compassionate action.

Someone explained that we had to listen to “the other” (using Buber’s expression) and the Saturday evening concert certainly showed how, when musicians listened carefully to each other to control their own performances they produced some very moving sounds.

Lloyd was as sharp as ever, although his wife Shirley stayed home nursing the ‘flu, and was most generous with his time and availability all weekend.

My resolution is to be conscious of doing “small kindnesses” to make use of the phrase and hope that it rubs off.

Christchurch next year – I’ll be taking my car – three seats spare – any takers?

Alan Jackson


The conference theme Compassion and Crisis : our Human Dilemma was compelling, the list if keynote speakers of high calibre, and their subject matter comprehensive, and it appeared that everyone present was of the opinion that compassion, though often lacking, was often present but always desirable.

Evolutionary psychology was a new concept to me and the idea that nature does not have a moral dimension was discussed at some length in our core group. Is compassion taught or caught? Are there circumstances where it has to be suppressed as in war in armed forces? Reciprocal altruism appeared to be moral as long as it was a matter of cause and effect, but not as motivation. One may derive advantage from having been compassionate towards another, but the motive for compassion should always be the need of the other.

On the other hand, Kevin Clements told us that neurologically and biologically we are “hard wired” for compassion and that we can only exist in community successfully if we use our empathetic consciousness and compassionate responsiveness. Honour and respect for others, responsibility for others and altruism towards others are the common themes throughout the rationale of the three philosophers cited by Kevin Clements: Buber, Schweitzer and Levinas. Altruism towards the other in our immediate circle is fairly straightforward but becomes more complex when it involves those of different cultures or ethnicities or those marginalised for whatever reason. The question is asked, “To what extent can Aotearoa-New Zealand in 2010 claim to be a place that honours the Other, promotes equality and justice and celebrates differences?” And to answer that we need to look to ourselves and see others, Maori, Pakeha, the old, the young, the new immigrant, the disadvantaged, as and where they are, and ask, “How do they see us?”

Ian Pool’s paper was for me the most challenging and brought the previous speakers’ topics on to an international stage as the world is faced with a global population that is increasingly unequal in such areas as access to clean water, food, health care, education and a sustainable income. Issues such as social engineering are often undertaken as a solution to perceived problems but can bring about new problems.

I must be quite out of touch with world affairs, as I knew little about policies such as the Millennium Development Goals and their implementation and now understand that sensitivity and compassion need to be directed primarily at people rather than just finance. Monitoring these programmes and analysing their effects on populations is vital if vast numbers are not to be disadvantaged by imposed programmes where the emphasis is misplaced.

Generally the conference was a rich source of thought-provoking information and an introduction to much further study and reading. I am pleased I took the time to attend.

– Frances Smithson.


A few lines from Val Grant’s talk ….

on how human evolution has favoured altruism:

“[…] suggests that altruism took hold partly because ever since the ancestral era we have “favoured sexual partners who were kind, generous, helpful and fair”. ….

“[…] studied today’s sexual preferences in 37 cultures. They found that “kindness” was the single most important feature desired in a partner both by men and women. ….

“The qualities of co-operation, coalition building, food sharing and commitment to the group led directly into altruism. Successful hunting and many of the other activities of daily living that contributed to survival depended on sharing and helping. …. In other words, those that hunted cooperatively survived. Those that left the women-folk back at the base to care for the children had more surviving offspring than those that did not.”

Chair: Marjorie Spittle – Phone 481 1418 – Email: Marjorie
Newsletter Editor: Donald Feist – Phone 476-3268 – Email: Don

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