The bonds we create among ourselves are built many times to create dependencies and curtail the other person’s freedom. Yet, all the actions of reaching out to others to build meaningful relationships need to respect the autonomy of the other.
PUBLISHED ONFeb 2019
"Bridges unite, and when ther"way […] At times, it may happen that you want to make a bridge and you offer your hand, but the other party does not take it; these are the humiliations that we must suffer in life in order to do good.” (Pope Francis)
Pope Francis understood that building bridges is a complex enterprise, because bridges can unite but they can also divide. It is the case of the 55-kilometer long Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge inaugurated in October 2018.
The two cities more directly affected by the bridge are Hong Kong and Macau, two special administrative regions with a high degree of autonomy from the motherland, China, to which they belong.
Supporters of the bridge say that it will cut journey time between the cities from three hours to 30 minutes. In spite of this advantage, many pointed out that the bridge has a huge environmental cost and fear the two cities, already overcrowded, will be swamped by tourists from mainland China.
The fiercest criticism is on the political level. The bridge is seen as a tool to drag the cities closer into Beijing’s grip, undermining their autonomy. A Hong Kong lawmaker remarked: “This bridge links Hong Kong to China almost like an umbilical cord. You see it, and you know you’re linked up to the motherland.”
The symbolism of this bridge as an umbilical cord you cannot cut is very powerful, and can be transposed to our personal relational life. Many relationships apparently show a caring “reaching out” to another person, but are at the same time built on the need to control others. How many times the bond between man and woman, parents and offspring, priest and faithful, social worker and person in need, etc. are built in order to create dependency and to deprive the other person of their freedom?
Reaching out, embracing, bridging… all these actions, in order to effectively bring unity, need to respect the freedom and the autonomy of the other, and cannot in any way be forced upon anyone.
Interestingly enough, since ancient times the formal title of the Popes was “Pontifex” (Pontiff), which means “bridge builder.” I take it as an invitation from God to imitate Pope Francis in building relationships which are more respectful of other people’s freedom.