Shadowing Pádraig Ó Tuama: We Need a World that Works for All—Not Just for All for Whom It Works

This is part of an ongoing series on my month shadowing Pádraig Ó Tuama, poet, theologian, and leader of The Corrymeela Community in Northern Ireland. To read the introduction to the series, click here. To read the rest of the series, click here


Pádraig Ó Tuama loves language. He’s conversant in three or four at least. During my time shadowing him—and in the six years we’ve been friends—I’ve come to notice patterns in the way he uses language. One of the speech devices Pádraig clearly loves is his use of—in his own words—”reflexivity, where a circular and reciprocal relationship between cause and effect is set up, linguistically, in order to deepen reflection on received concepts.” I think of it as mirroring language. By that, I mean sentences or phrases that almost seem symmetrical but for a small change. And in that change is the revelation.

There was one phrase I heard Pádraig use several times, and it’s stuck with me. I don’t remember the exact context wherein I first heard him use it—maybe about the Good Friday Agreement, maybe Brexit, maybe something else—but whatever it was, he said that it needs to “work for all, not just for all for whom it works.” In a way, it doesn’t much matter the original context because it bears weight in so many.

With that simple phrase, Pádraig named, with a kind of poetry, what so many of us are fighting for: a world that works for all of us, not just for the few for whom it seems to be already working. There are some in our world who have vested interests in maintaining the status quo. Capitalism works for them. Mass incarceration, racial inequities, police brutality, poverty, gender inequality, unsettled refugees, etc. work for them. Or at least they think those things do. Their profits grow. They feel powerful and secure. But if our systems, our governments, our peace processes, our wars, our developments are only working for some, then maybe they aren’t really working.

I think we need to ask ourselves this important question (and fill in the blank with whatever you want): “Is ­­­­­­_____________ working for all of us, or just for those for whom it’s working?”

If it’s not working for all of us, are we working to change that?

If we’re not, is that because we’re one of those few for whom it’s already working?

If so, may we confess, may we lament, and may we repent.

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