Ringing the changes

At a recent roundtable on human security, an issue closely tied to the Jesuits’
Universal Apostolic Preferences, there was a familiar ring to the discussion.


By David McMahon, Communications Manager, Society of Jesus in Australia 

It’s that dreaded moment of Mobile Device Shame. You know the one – you’re at a meeting or a Mass and there’s always that one person whose phone goes off loudly. No one judges you, no one mentally shames you – because we’re far too well bred to do so, but also because there’s always an overriding sense of advance karma which nudges you with the thought, “Well, that could be me one day”. 

That day finally dawns at the Human Security Roundtable, organised by Pax Christi, a Belgium-based international Catholic organisation which works for peace, reconciliation and an end to conflict around the world.? 

There I am, as the Roundtable begins. My iPhone is on silent, but I’m nonetheless taking notes on it as the discussion gets under way. There are thoughts on the language of domination and of exclusion. There are reflections on the need for a new narrative of interdependence. I’ve got my head in the game. I’m listening and typing quickly but silently, using the Notes function on my phone.  

Then there’s a moment when I decide to contribute to the conversation. I finish typing, save the note, and placing my phone carefully on the table in front of me, I take my eyes off the phone and prepare to join the conversation. But as I slide my device a few inches away from me on the smooth table, my thumb brushes one of the apps. To my bad luck, it is the ‘image memory’ app which brings up a slideshow of image highlights but – and this is a big but – also plays suitable music when activated.  

Now I’m the one who has committed the error. I’m the one being judged. I quickly reach for the phone, in full view of everyone, and switch it off. But my train of thought has been completely derailed. The moment has passed. I have not made a significant intellectual contribution.  

Rev Harry Kerr made the point that human security is equally a spiritual issue as it is a social and political one. “It involves who we are as collective humanity and as a nation and community, not least the involvement by faith communities. I believe that faith communities have rich resources to contribute to the vision of human security.”  

Joseph Camilleri, convener of the Pax Christi Human Security Working Group, summed up the task of raising the level of the national conversation: “We acknowledge that numerous groups, not least the Society of Jesus, are making a substantial contribution. We are under no illusion that such a shift can occur overnight. However, we can begin the important task of consultation and collaboration by calling together diverse groups and networks, to share their insights and experiences, paving the way for more concrete projects in the second half of the year.” 

In the words of the General Counsel of the Australian Province, Fr Justin Glyn SJ, who also attended the roundtable,The word ‘security’ tends to conjure up images of checkpoints, repression and injudiciously swung rifle butts. The recent conference organised by Pax Christi, the Catholic peace group (of which – full disclosure – I am a member of its Victoria branch) sought to broaden this highly militarised concept to something less brutal and more sustainable. The idea of ‘human security’ would include elements of ecological sustainability, human rights, personal and food security, and economic, physical and mental wellbeing.?  

“The first of these roundtables, held in East Melbourne on 24 April, brought a variety of people from religious and social groups together to discuss the concept, how it fits with existing concepts of human flourishing and what could be done to promote it. As my colleague David McMahon and I noted, the human security concept finds a ready echo and a certain rich resonance in the Society’s Universal Apostolic Preferences, especially given their focus on youth, the marginalised and the environment. 

“It was generally agreed that we live in a country where asylum is still largely a swear word and where more revenue goes to (potentially non-existent, at this stage) submarines than to disability assistance and environmental clean-up. The human security narrative could, therefore, be a refreshing change from the one that it’s not paranoia if they really are all out to get you.  

“The devil, of course, tends to lie in the details. While everyone could agree that human security was a Good Thing, exactly how it could best be promoted was rather trickier. One promising avenue was seen in the fact that the Federal Parliament seems set to consider (again) the potential of a national Human Rights Act. If a Charter of Human Security could likewise be established, it could sharpen the concept and help to build a concept of security which sidelines the rifle swingers.”  

Read more about the Pax Christi branch in Australia 

Banner artwork by Africa Images, Canva