“in the bonds of love we meet”

It’s a phrase most of us have sung with varying degrees of passion, but is the affection it describes a reality in contemporary New Zealand public life? What kind of love is this, that would bind us to people we’ve never met; with whom we may feel we have nothing in common? And in a nation where town hall meetings seem like relics of another time and memberships of clubs, teams, societies, and community groups are falling, where is it possible for us to meet with people who aren’t like us—with or without bonds of love?

Riven by personal and political debates that go down to the core of our identities, it is easy to feel that coming together to claim some kind of common “Kiwi” culture is now  impossibly complicated. But, it would be ridiculous to claim our divisions are somehow more complicated than any other time in human history. The enduring task of society has always been to find ways to bring disparate peoples together to seek a peaceful unity. Our challenge now is to work out what this looks like in our context.

While our public square has become more open to include a broader range of voices and New Zealand stories, massive shifts in technology and culture have changed the way we engage; drawing our focus away from common spaces. Singular platforms like the 6 o’clock news, major newspapers, and network TV entertainment were once able to capture national attention and lead public conversation in a way that’s almost impossible to imagine in an age of individualised streaming content delivered via internet algorithms. The explosion of online platforms allows more opportunities than ever before to tell our own stories and find others who share our experiences and views. At the same time, this audience fragmentation guarantees we have fewer spaces of common attention where we can negotiate what these experiences and stories mean for us as a society.

Yet, even in this new context, we can find, and re-strengthen, the bonds of love. The contributors to this magazine have considered how this might be done: in neighbourhoods and families, in fraying institutions like media and politics, through different cultural lenses, and in the kinds of communities and education that form us to listen and love.

I hope this collection of stories and articles will open up space for new conversations, not only about the genuine conflicts that separate us, but on the need for the kind of civility, formation, practices, and affections which can continue to bind us together. This kind of love is not a feeling, or even an action: it is the starting point of common citizenship, formed in relationship, nurtured by action, and ends in feeling.

Without a thriving, vibrant public square we have no renewed future—divided we will fall. With it, we have the means to seek a connected and flourishing society, in which we can stand together.

Those are the stakes. Let the debate begin.

– Jeremy Vargo, Editor

The Bible tells us to love our neighbours, and also to love our enemies; probably because generally they are the same people.” G. K. Chesterton.
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