CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 15 September 2018

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Family life and the common good

Traditionally, the family has always been regarded as the nucleus of society. This is demonstrated in the reflections of philosophers and religious people over past millennia and in modern times in the documents of national constitutions, the United Nations, Churches and a plethora of community and religious organisations.

As a basic social unit, the family has also been understood as a basic economic unit and, consequently, subject to the perennial priority establishing dynamics of society. This is played out in the question, does the family exist for the benefit of the economy or the economy for the family.

There has been much published in the past few weeks about the difficulty families are facing in Hong Kong, in terms of housing and accommodation, frozen incomes in the face of high inflation and failing or inadequate social services.

Pressure is being placed upon the newly-appointed administration of Leung Chun-ying to formulate family-life-friendly policies, to both cherish and nurture the family structure as required by the Hong Kong Bill of Rights, as well as a long list of internationally recognised human rights charters.

But ultimately, the relationship of the family with the economy is formed by cultural attitudes. Our newspapers are full of stories of how family relationships have become subservient to a family business, where all relationships seem to be determined by what makes money.

There is an old saying, Blood is thicker than water, but plenty of people can testify that depends on what type of blood is flowing in the veins of particular members, as the water of economic or political family interest can be a lot thicker than the blood inherited by other individuals in the brood.

The founder of the well known bank for the poor, or Grameen Foundation, Muhammad Yunus, commented during a recent visit to Hong Kong that the territory needs to get over its fanatical interest in making money in order to develop a more humane society.

He pointed out that a good place to begin is the attitude of employers towards staff, saying that employees must be recognised as more than money-making machines and looked at in terms of their humanity, with family life situations and other human needs.

While ultimately, no government can legislate a change in attitude, it can be instrumental in the process of attitudinal change and development through its policies, weighing them to the advantage of the proverbial man in the street, rather than financial magnates.

In this context, Christian Churches have always prioritised the importance family life, as it is the first class room of love, where children learn not only how to love themselves, but to love others, God and country.

While a glance at the history books of the Middle Ages tells us that establishing an overall cultural attitude that would see these values generally embraced by people was a long and slow process, ultimately governments did play a significant role by setting out family-life-friendly economic policies.

Family life is not purely a private matter among parents and their children, or those caring for them. The overall health of family life has much to do with the overall health of a society. Governments do have economic responsibility, but like anyone else in society, they must exercise it for the common good. JiM