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This week Professor Mona Siddiqui, Assistant Principal Religion and Society, reflects on our current sense of community and how it will grow and change in the future.

A couple of weeks ago I went out for my daily walk. It happened to be a Thursday evening just before 8.00pm and I’d forgotten that this was the weekly clap for our carers hour. As a few people came out for an event which has assumed the status of a national ritual, I carried on walking. Suddenly a woman shouted: “you should clap as you walk.” She was smiling but her terse tone made me feel that clapping was no longer just a voluntary show of gratitude but a public duty now.

For many, the weekly applause creates a genuine sense of coming together in a time of crisis, but I think as a society we struggle with how to understand human suffering, how to connect both the sense of loss and hope which together give weight and meaning to our lives. Yet it’s this weighing up of struggle, suffering and hope that produce the best narratives of human existence, often so poignantly reflected in the disciplines so many of us study and teach – literature, theology, philosophy and art.

Our current crisis means that community amidst separation is the narrative of the day. For now, most of us are less indifferent to the destiny of others, we are more empathetic towards those taking risks every day, and we remain grateful. But for how long will this renewed sense of community and generosity remain? Once this struggle has passed, maybe a gentler and kinder future for all could be based on nurturing gratitude as a way of life rather than expressing it as a momentary, albeit well intentioned thank you.

Photography: Sam Sills