Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner addressed 150 national faith, education and third sector leaders at the Citizens UK’s Civil Society summit.
Talking is the gold standard for civil society and change. We can’t underestimate the power of talking, of quality listening, building relationships, nurturing common values and then, moving together to action.
If we want our communities, families and friends to thrive in the next decade, we have to talk and listen carefully and gently to each. We have to tell the truth – where we are similar which feels great and where we differ, which feels uncomfortable, thorny, awkward but needs attention.
My favourite thinker – Emanuel Levinas, lived in France in the last century, but he easily could have worked for Citizens UK today! He said that our ethics, our values come from the experience of encountering the Other. Relationships for him are the epiphany, the experience of God in our world. We truly encounter each other through the face-to-face, (or in the language of community organising ‘one to ones’).
Through one to ones we have the privilege of experiencing both another person’s proximity and similarities but also their distance and differences. This is how each person is valued as an individual rather than an economic unit.
This is how each person is appreciated and through that appreciation is energised and inspired to work together on common values.
The experience of another person, another face, another heart makes a demand – the demand to acknowledge shared values and then to act. To act together on our values.
Just two weeks ago, an example of acting on shared values happened right near my home. After the appalling burning down of the community centre and mosque of our neighbours in Muswell Hill, local Jewish communities supported our brothers and sisters of the Muslim community emotionally and physically.
They provided love and laptops; empathy and alternative meeting spaces. This is the perfect combination – relationship and action.
What are our common values for our future? I suggest that they are: dignity of each and every individual; an economy that can serve the common good and lastly a commitment to stewardship of people and of this our extraordinary planet.
These values should permeate civil society. The Jewish community has particularly expressed our concern with social care, especially for our elderly. If we apply these values of dignity, a moral economy and stewardship to social care for our elderly population then – I believe the action is clear: the necessity of a living wage for all carers so that our elderly are cared for with dignity, the carers benefit from a moral economy and embody the value of stewardship.
I am proud that Reform, Liberal and Masorti Judaism are partners with Citizens to address our shared concerns and challenges. This involves an organiser for the Jewish community, training for people and a commitment to the common good.
Let’s have conversations today about our communities and families that are based on possibilities; shared concerns and then shared commitments. We can then decide what to do, and commit to one another in a way that makes action obvious and possible. Let’s wonder what we could get up to together – how we can and should impact on our civil and civilised society in Britain.
So let’s start talking.
Photo: Chris Jepson