We need an ethos that we can all share
Allan Hayes considers the social problems underlying the outbreak of street violence
In the last week I have gone through a range of feelings: disbelief, shame; reassurance/relief; and pride in the way communities were asserting themselves. Government must carry out its overriding responsibility for law and order, but we need to ask if there are things about our society that need correcting.
In his speech to the House of Lords, the Archbishop of Canterbury pointed to the importance of the ethos of our educational institutions – he wants them to educate "citizens, not consumers, not cogs in an economic system"; to produce empathy with others and a "deepened sense of our involvement together in a social project". This is admirable and it is surely something that all our schools aim to do – we need to put more into helping them.
But the ethos must be one that we can all share, whatever might be the motivation or basis that we may bring to it personally or from our own culture; and empathy and a sense of involvement are surely better nurtured when children from different backgrounds grow up together.
Moreover, we need also to be concerned about the ethos of our society as a whole: is it fair, does it care for all its members? There is a perception, not restricted to rioters, that the poor and the young are bearing an unfair share of the consequences of amoral, detached financial mismanagement; that a game is being played that ignores most of us.
Government must show that people count, that in deciding policy, the effect on people carries weight. Financial management is important, but we are getting the impression that the financial bottom line comes first and the effect on people is a side issue.
We need to be aware of some deep problems in our society: gross income inequalities, and how low we rank internationally in care for our children. We need to work on building one community, one caring society; and we need to develop its capacity to act.Central to this will be more and better communication and ways of helping one another: getting to know one another – help from professionals and businesses in providing our youngsters with hope and vision.Should we not replace the present prescribed courses in religious education with an inclusive celebration of our humanity, including our religions? The recent television series on the life of Muhammed was a fine example (the account of his last sermon was particularly moving), and we should teach about the Muslim contribution to civilization – we must be able to be proud of one another.
The Archbishop ended by referring to this time as a moment "which could be crucial for the long-term future of our country and our society" – I think he was right.
Allan Hayes is director of Leicester Secular Society