To what should we aspire?

‘Aspiration’ is the latest buzzword, the magic touchstone which will apparently give us entry into a golden age in which individual striving for wealth will solve all the problems of wide-spread inequality and disadvantage presently existing in a country once known as the land of ‘the fair go’ for all.

This message certainly came to me, and I would think to many others, from our Prime Minister`s recent exhortation to follow the example of “my wife Lucy’s and my hard work” spurred on, of course, by their aspirations, which led to the accumulation of substantial personal fortunes. Therefore, the nation’s problems would be solved by a simple change of attitude on the part of the lower orders to aspire to personal wealth, and by the simple strategy of heeding the advice of the Prime Minister, echoing that of a previous Coalition minister, now sadly departed, who said that all that was needed was to “get a better job which paid more money”. Problem solved!

Now while personal aspiration to build better and more secure lives for ourselves and our families is the normal instinct of ‘everyman’, this simplistic advice from our so-called leaders reveals an appalling grasp of the realities and experiences of a great many Australians today.

The attack on the wages and conditions of workers has been ongoing and relentless over recent years and the memories of a past era of secure jobs and fair conditions are, in many cases, just that ‒ distant memories.

Furthermore the record of behaviour of many previously respected corporations and both large and small enterprises has led to a disastrous and general loss of confidence in the leaders of our business world. Every day there is a new revelation of the lack of ethical standards in many of the institutions which constitute our society with the standard response from the boards of management being, “Our prime responsibility is to the ’bottom line’, the dividend to the shareholders. So we have done all that is required of us.”

Their confidence disregards completely the consequences for other sectors of society and to any possible degradation of the environment.

This is the logical conclusion of a hegemony of ‘aspiration’ based solely on the accumulation of wealth without reference to the Social Contract explained by Jean-Jacques Rousseau in the eighteenth century, and embedded in the Christian principles upon which Western society is based. If we accept the benefits of society, we must abide by the rules and ethics of that society. Is that what we are seeing today?

Aspiration is essential to the progress of our personal lives but more importantly for the whole of society to progress. Such an aspiration could be that envisioned by Bishop Desmond Tutu when he said, “No human-made problems are intractable when humans put their heads together with the earnest desire to overcome them.” Certainly such an aspiration is difficult to achieve, but is surely what the world needs? Would it not be preferable that our leaders recommend this aspiration rather than one based on the accumulation of personal wealth?

As Pope Francis reminds us, all things are interrelated, and we cannot act only in our individual interests with no regard for any detrimental consequences for the environment, which is “a relationship existing between nature and society” (Laudato Si’ 139)

Aspiration should not then be a code word for greed, but for “a broader vision of reality”, a society where we strive for a `fair go` for every living creature.


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Greg Doepel

Greg Doepel is a parishioner of St Joseph’s Parish, Gloucester.

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