Since April 1994 we South Africans like to think and say we are free. Of course in many ways we are but are we all free and how free are we really? In Laudato Si’ LS Pope Francis promotes a new lifestyle where he speaks out against the extreme consumerism which still affects us at different levels and in different ways. The consumer paradigm leads people to believe that they are free as long as they have the supposed freedom to consume. But those really free are the minority who wield economic and financial power. Dissatisfaction in the midst of global instability and uncertainty tends to result in selfishness which leads to greed. “The emptier a person’s heart is, the more he or she needs things to buy, own and consume. It becomes almost impossible to accept the limits imposed by reality. A genuine sense of the common good disappears. Social unrest, violence and destruction result. From LS 203-4.
The new lifestyle away from this consumerist attitude which, due to the risks to our earth is ultimately unsustainable, aims at authentic freedom. “Disinterested concern for others and the rejection of every form of self-centredness and self-absorption are essential if we truly wish to care for our brothers and sisters and the natural environment.” LS208.
Our natural environment clearly is about the place and the way we live. Do we live in a shack, a township house, a suburban townhouse, or a mansion? Is it alone as a single person, a family or extended family home, or a retirement village? Every life situation has physical and mental needs, large or small problems and compensations, some more or less difficult to achieve. Growing in environmental consciousness as promoted last week when we celebrated Earth Day on 22nd April, is itself beneficial for us mentally and physically. Spending time with nature, in a flower or vegetable garden, planting, sharing, caring for trees or pets are very good for the soul too. The sky and the earth, even wind and weather can be enriching. However, nature itself, in all its guises needs a certain amount of freedom too.
In fact, the way we abuse the earth and its elements is an attack on its freedom to exist as God has intended. Are we providing for birds, bees and insects or regimenting every natural activity? Game farms, zoos and circuses are getting the message too, that animals need their freedom to roam and to address their own relationship needs and to interact freely.
Pets are great to have in families, as a companion living a single, maybe a lonely life, but particularly beneficial too in special way for the elderly and disabled. Research has shown repeatedly how dementia, depression and even physical conditions like cerebral palsy and parkinsons can benefit and improve through interacting with various animals, horses, dogs and cats. Hippotherapy, with horses, as I mentioned some time ago is still undervalued in our country.
But what of the needs for freedom of our pets? Some institutions e.g. retirement villages allow pets, many don’t. However, should they be kept in cages, locked up, kept tied up or harnessed to leashes constantly? Dogs love to run free and chase things, cats of course, as is well known. But owners have to be responsible too. I plan that part of my Freedom Day activities will be an outing with my dog and other dog parents, to a nearby park where she can run, sniff and play with others or choose to ignore them completely. All to her heart’s content, and mine, while thanking God that I have the freedom to be able to do so. TR FAMILY WEEKLY 27 APRIL 2022