What would we call a model for society that considered its most important aspect to be care and compassion for others rather than the opportunity to take as much as possible for oneself? A model that started with the genuine assumption that it’s worth helping and taking care of each other, and that by making sure to contribute well to our common good we will truly raise the tide and lift all boats, without worrying about making sure that the ones we think don’t deserve it don’t get lifted, and rather than thinking that if a few people can build yachts with decks high above the rest the tide will follow?

Does this sound like something reds and fellow-travellers would say? Well, it is what we can call fellowred, but it has nothing in specific to do with communism. It’s just an attitude of mutual respect, friendship, comity…

I mean, we ought to have a more common word than fellowred for just this kind of thing, and we do, but we don’t, because the sense of that word has shifted: for many people, fellowship has taken on a distinct religious, especially Christian (and perhaps in particular Evangelical), air; in academic contexts, it has a particularly pecuniary air; in some other contexts, it has a Tolkienian air, as in The Fellowship of the Ring. But in general it gives an feeling of a coterie, a chosen few, rather than a broader sense of an attitude or society.

We also have the word companionship, but these days that mainly seems to refer to a Platonic (or not) relationship with a specific other person with the end of not being lonely. And we have comradeship, which is not bad, but may imply tighter ties that bind.

So. There’s fellowred, which is fellow plus red, not as in the colour but as in kindred (and hatred): an old suffix seldom seen now, forming nouns of condition or quality. Fellowred hasn’t been used much in the past half millennium, but, then, we haven’t always focused as much on what it names as we should have, either.

By the way, in spite of collocations such as fellow man and common uses to mean ‘guy’, ‘dude’, ‘bloke’, etc., fellow is not originally or intrinsically masculine. It comes from an old Scandinavian root meaning ‘partner, business associate, companion, comrade, spouse, collaborator, ally’, and that’s what it came into English meaning and still, in many uses, means. So although it has long had some specifically masculine uses, there remain many senses that haven’t become gender-specific (the academic sense comes right to mind again).

And so we can, if we want, talk of doing things not for profit or for the team or for spite or for #winning, but for fellowred. Because, to lightly paraphrase Kurt Vonnegut, there’s only one rule I know of: you’ve got to be kind.

2 responses to “fellowred

  1. I have always enjoyed your writings but this particular piece means so much today. Nice word – fellowred. Thanks.

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