A few weeks ago, I wrote about the need to re evaluate the concept of free speech in terms of the greater aspect of understanding "the other." So how do we get out of the conundrum that we discussed previously? How can we get to truly understand each other?
Pastor Bob Roberts's book Bold as Love offers some insight into confronting one's fears when they embark upon "multifaith" journeys. He uses the term multifaith as opposed to interfaith because he says "we have fundamental differences, but the best of our faiths teach us, we should get along."
So the solution has to be about engagement and linking in order to understand each other. The problem though is that we view each other with our own lenses and through the mirror of our own prejudices. The truth of the matter thaen becomes that as we peer into the mirror to ask questions as to what went wrong, we are faced with a shattered mirror in the analogy of Sir Richard Burton in the The Kasidah of Haji Abdu El-Yezdi, who wrote “Truth is the shattered mirror strewn/In myriad bits; while each believes his little bit the whole to own.” Thus parts of the truth are everywhere and the whole truth nowhere!
Thus it is with individual pieces that we start. In order for us to reengage with each other, we will have to rediscover a spirituality of commonality which will allow us to recognise the common space and substance amongst all doctrines that will provide the fuel for social change and trigger action for the unity of humanity. This shared language will enable us to develop a set of ideals that continue to stir our collective conscience; a common set of values that bind us together despite our differences; a running thread of hope that makes this improbable experiment of reconciling and rehabilitation of vulnerable communities possible. These values and ideals will have to be living, which cannot find expression on paper or monuments or in the annals of history books, but which remain alive in the hearts and minds of people inspiring us to pride, duty and sacrifice. These living values will have to help us to build on shared understandings and should be the glue that binds every healthy society.
The concept of spirituality of commonality that we need to develop as a society has to be an awareness of the interconnection of all things to provide the fuel for social change. It has to recognise that diverse doctrines have a common space and substance as we all belong to this world and we need to live in peace with everything and everyone and protect it for those who come after us. It has to be about a sense of duty and sacrifice on behalf of those who are voiceless. It has to allow us to value behaviour that express mutual regard for one another, honesty, fairness, humility, kindness courtesy and compassion.
People might scoff at the naivety of this statement but the point is that we have no choice. We have gotten to a position where something new needs to happen. For too long, narrow interests have vied for advantage with ideological minorities seeking to impose their own versions of absolute truth. It is time we reassembled the pieces of the broken mirror.
The Bishop of London talked about nourishing relationships in order to develop an understanding of right and wrong. I would go even further to say that an extension of nourishing relationships and engagement is the concept of linking and partnership for mutual learning. What we need is a change of paradigm in the development of partnerships in solidarity between towns, local authorities, schools, hospitals, religious organisations, youth clubs to not only understand each other but to strengthen communities, add to social cohesion and contribute to personal and professional development through friendships made and work undertaken across the partnerships.
This is a need and an opportunity now more than ever to promote the linking of communities to harness more cross-community collaboration, in the interests of peace, tolerance, and well-being.
Within this spectrum of partnership and linking, we cannot disassociate ourselves from the role of faith. As we talk about the development of new morals, ethics, values and spirituality, we need to consider faith and the role that faith organisations will have in adding to this new narrative.
Faith provides a narrative and a space in which one can start to explore some of these discussions of ethics and morals. In many of the smaller communities (especially the minority ethnic and immigrant communities), faith and faith organisations play a pivotal role in responding to the demands and pressures of the local community, where they operate with local knowledge to address specific community problems. They are highly active in many fields of social service, healthcare, education, human rights, youth development etc. They are self reliant, capable of harnessing the communities’ manpower, skills and resources. They serve very often as role models; variously taking a stand against corruption, developing infrastructure, delivering “sharp end” programmes and offering relief, healthcare and educational resources- where they would not otherwise be found. They are invariably unswerving in their zeal and commitment and many organisations work entirely voluntarily in a spirit of service.
Though there is a character to the religious playing field, that complicates matters with an undeniably, as strong a history of internecine strife and struggle, discrimination as they do of cooperation and collaboration and a problem of religiosity, we cannot ignore their voices and their role. Thus it is against this framework of potential disagreement and division, which we need to build and sustain links.
The report “Engaging With Faith,” drawn up on behalf of The Commonwealth Foundation, by professors Ian Linden and Andrew Firmin, recommends that we should strive to, “support joint working between interfaith networks, by promoting North-South, South-South linking, sharing of practice and focussed exchanges.”
But what is needed is something more: linking, between and within faith (and nonfaith) communities-and certainly faith hub, to faith hub, rather than focussing on inter-faith networks, within the global north and more specifically between cities, towns and communities in the UK.
We need to realise that each of us (with our own faith, culture and community spirit) have a bit of that shard of broken glass from the shattered mirror. Only by piecing them together can we ever hope to move out of our silos and attain a much more cohesive community that better understands, respects and accepts each other. We need to collectively work such that breeding violence, hatred or disdain is illegitimate. We need to ensure that our youth are given accurate information about other traditions, religions and cultures. We need to encourage a positive appreciation of cultural and religious diversity and to cultivate an informed empathy with the suffering of all human beings.
Linking, partnerships, engagement all mean the same thing: a sense of cooperation that leads to better understanding which should be encouraged and supported. This is a powerful tool for the promotion of dialogue, tolerance and harmonious living. Existing initiatives need to be strengthened and new ones started that have sustainable footprints in the community whilst providing a space for all stakeholders of society to play a role.
The concept of linking should be enhanced through a comprehensive education strategy, both formal and informal, that breaks down the seemingly insurmountable divide of ‘us’ and ‘them’. This education should begin at home, within families and small communities, where the benefit of dialogue and linking can be seen and felt. It should roll through schools, institutes of higher education and ultimately politicians, legislators, governments and multi-lateral organisations.
Tan Sen, the master musician at the court of the Moghul Emperor, Akbar, had some fifteen musical instruments in the Emperor’s chamber, which he had tuned to one frequency. Upon playing just one instrument’s musical note, the other fourteen started to resonate, to the astonishment and delight of the audience. Ideally this story can serve well as a metaphor for how communities can work in harmony to achieve an enlightened result.
Photo by BotheredByBees, via Flickr Creative Commons.