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  • Kirsty Birkett

Is this a new age of neighbourliness?

‘It’s generally accepted the experience of living through the 1930s depression and World War Two shaped the so-called Greatest Generation - a cohort of Britons noted for resilience, prudence, humility, work ethic and a sense of duty. They are qualities people see in the Queen and in 100-year-old Captain Tom Moore’, a news article says (‘How will Coronavirus change the way we live?’, 1 May 2020).

The article goes on to say that it’s hoped the lockdown, with the community spirit shown by clapping for the NHS, caring for neighbours and so on, will unblock ‘a spring of neighbourliness’ that will continue after lockdown. Really?

It’s also notable that the Queen and Captain Tom, and others of that generation, were likely raised on largely Christian values, promoting care for others and self-sacrifice. It wasn’t just the awful events of their era that shaped them.

A modern generation raised on principles of self-expression, individualism and love for oneself is unlikely to have the same reaction - as notable in another article in the Independent, ‘Goodbye big society- already we are seeing a return to looking out for number one’. This article quotes data suggesting that the neighbourliness evident during early days of the lockdown has fallen as weeks go on. ‘What emerges from this data is a population that is increasingly self-interested, or at least less interested in others, which advances social fragmentation’. If you promote a philosophy that values putting one’s own dreams and aspirations first, self-definition and personal rights, it is hardly surprising that this is what you get, even in the midst of a pandemic.


Kirsty Birkett is a research fellow with the Latimer Trust. She is also a part-time Associate Minister at St Paul's Hadley Wood and is currently researching the interface between psychology and biblical anthropology, with an emphasis on resilience, happiness and models of emotion. She has written several articles and books, those published with us can be found here.

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