by Njoki Mahiaini
The statistics provided in a recent BBC article are alarming. It reports that 1 in 4 Glaswegian men will not reach their 65th birthday. Even more concerning is the fact that, compared to residents of cities such as Liverpool and Manchester, Glaswegians are 30% more likely to die young. Considering that of these premature deaths, two thirds will be triggered by drugs, alcohol, suicide and violence, it makes for staggering reading.
Knowing that the circumstances of many early deaths are so hopeless, so lonely and so wasteful is sobering to say the least. Barring a few ‘high-functioning’ sufferers, the majority battle addiction and substance abuse behind closed doors, oblivion their temporary escape from the all-encompassing nature of their isolation. With violence too, domestic, suicide or otherwise, aggression is rarely made manifest in public: often they are intensely private demonstrations of internal anguish and pain.
The lack of motivation evident in parts of Glasgow is born from a perceived lack of hope and sense of detachment from civic society. Recovering alcoholic Walter Brown puts it this way: “I thought we're all going to die young anyway…and [the] government isn't going to give the likes of me a job”. Describing his past alcoholism Walter explained the weight of expectation he felt to conform to a warped stereotype of masculinity. “I was…full of bravado…I would drink a quarter of a bottle of whisky and two cans of lager just to become the person people thought I was by the time I walked into the pub.” His daughter’s patience and unwavering support eventually helped Walter loose the chains of addiction and turn his life around.
Yet there are many more who remain at risk. Not necessarily of forming an addiction but who are vulnerable to fading out of communal consciousness, falling into relational poverty. Here contributing author Carol Craig makes a shrewd observation showing acute awareness of the fact that poverty is not purely material but can be relational too. Ms Craig explains that the erosion of family life and domestic commitment having catastrophic societal consequences for wider society.
“There is a failure of personal relationships in Glasgow that no one is facing up to. This is significant because what is the single most important thing for men's health? It's being married – it can account for as much as seven years of life expectancy. So if we want to find out why health in Glasgow is so poor I think one of the things that we should ask about is relationships." Ms Craig’s statement, intentionally or not, harks to a Creation ordinance. While the Bible endorses celibacy and this gift was bestowed on many notable figures in the Old & New Testaments, there is in Scripture a clear sense that the spiritual companionship which comes with marriage is a divine blessing. The first thing we see described as “Not good” in the Garden is “For man to be alone.”
Of course, companionship comes in many forms – marriage, family, friendship, work colleagues, religious and social groups, and more. But marriage rates are perhaps symptomatic of a relational thinness that affects every area of life, leaving its victims terribly marginalised. On track to have nearly 50% of its households hosting single adults, it’s clear that relationally, Glasgow is in poverty. Yet this piece is not an indictment on Glasgow – a city known for its vibrancy, creativity and friendliness to strangers. No, the issue is one which is in some way reflected in every city in the UK. We do not cultivate or cherish relationships sufficiently, and too few people understand the value to others of knowing someone cares for them. Caring does not mean latent goodwill. It requires effort, persistence and often sacrifice. Paul’s statement about Timothy in his letter to the Colossians; “I have no-one else like him, who will show genuine concern for your welfare” reminds us that even amongst believers, of whom Paul would have known many, caring is not something to be taken for granted. As we respond to Christ’s love for us and his outpouring of grace we are, through our service to others, serving Him (Matthew 25:40).