Week 16: Chair’s Blog – Heritage and Learning

Last week I started to ponder on the roots that made me who I am and suggested that one of the reasons that I was drawn to this organisation was its links to what I consider to be my home. But communities aren’t just about geography, it’s whatever binds a group of people together. As I’ve said before it’s human nature to want to find people who we identify and feel comfortable with. Humans have forever been this way.

But there lies also one of the biggest conundrums we face as a species. The need to identify and group together is how different cultures, languages, religions and laws have developed. This instinct exists in all of us but also, I believe, is the desire for knowledge. The need to breakout of our silos, be curious and find out what is on the other side can be a strong one.

Last Saturday, I decided to venture on the Merton Interfaith Walk that Richard Smart had organised across the area, picking up on an idea first developed by the late Andrew Wakefield. The walk covered six different places of worship as set out here. It was a beautiful day, and the event was well attended by a mixture of different faiths, those with none and the simply curious.

I can’t say personally that I felt any closer to any huge spiritual enlightenment as a result of the walk, not that I was particularly expecting to, but what I was struck by was the warmth of all the people I spoke to not only on the walk but at each of the venues as well. It has made me want to discover more which I think is always a good thing.

Geography of course can be a key part to ethnic heritage. Here in the UK particularly we often make a play of the fact that we are an island. It is one of the factors that the Brexiteers used to win that particular ballot. Often it becomes an issue in any democratic vote. I mentioned last week about my heritage: I am one quarter German. We have seen time and again in history (not only in Germany) how democracy can be abused by leaders who want to pander to a nationalist fervour.

It’s been said that democracy is better than any of the other alternatives and I believe it is. But it is also bound by its geographic limitations, and I despair sometimes when I see the nationalist card being played, particularly when it comes to whipping up support for aggressive action against a neighbouring state. I’m not totally unworldly; I’m aware that politicians have to take sides, and that land, power and economics are all part of the equation – a subject I will seek to tackle another time. However, sometimes shouldn’t we just encourage our ‘leaders’ to step back from the edge?

Of course, it’s easy to say that in theory. I know from experience the heady feeling when you realise that you have people looking up to you. The internet is awash with so-called ‘influencers’ these days. But I say to all ‘leaders’ be careful what you do with your power. You’re human just like all of us.

As I said earlier, I’m not a religious person; I really don’t like the idea of worshipping anyone, supernatural or otherwise. But the event I attended last week showed me that sometimes there is more that binds us than divides us and if we can all show that little bit more humility, kindness, curiosity and appreciation towards one another and our surroundings the world would be a much better place.

We are part of a wider global community, and we share the planet with other species and the yet-to-be-born. I think John Lennon captured it neatly in his lyrics to ‘Imagine’. Next week I’ll discuss the importance of art, in all its different forms and how it can challenge our thinking both locally and beyond.

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