This one has been very hard for me; I just couldn’t think of a suitable word with ‘k’; knowledge was a suggestion from several people; kindling, kindred spirits all came and went as ideas. Kindness was in the running for a while. But nothing really got my attention; nothing really felt like, yes, this is something important I want to write about.
So what have ‘kippers’ got to do with Quakers?
Well, not much; that much is true. And it’s a bit of a cop-out to allow me to write about something that has been much in the news lately: British identity and British values.
Now I was not born in the UK and my parents weren’t British – so I must be one of these ‘immigrants’; worse still, I’m from the European Union! Mind you, seeing as I started life in Germany (with German citizenship) I was actually asked by a very brave soul whether by chance I might be Nigel Farage’s wife. A greater insult….
But because I’m an immigrant there is the whole question of ‘what does being British’ actually mean.
There are some things that will always make me different (though I dare say there are proper Brits who might feel the same as I do about these things): I don’t like kippers; I don’t like Marmite; I don’t have milk in my tea (and I don’t drink much tea anyway); I am not in the slightest bit interested in cricket (I don’t understand the rules and I don’t see the point of it).
But some of the things that people have listed as being the British values that should be taught in schools are things that I do care about and that I do ascribe to; the trouble is: I don’t think they are British any more than they are European, or human or universal values; or if they aren’t, they should be.
Starting with the pronouncement of the Prime Minister on the subject. He is quoted as saying that British values are (or at least include) “a belief in freedom, tolerance of others, accepting personal and social responsibility, respecting and upholding the rule of law.”
Well, great, I go along with the view that these are important values; but are they exclusively British? No, they aren’t. I was brought up with those values in Germany; and I was educated in the context of those values in the US; and I’m sure they are taught and respected in many other countries in the world. In fact, to call them British is a bit arrogant, I think.
It reminds me of a conversation I had with a British friend back in the 1980 who said ‘Europe needs Britain as a think tank’. Come on, I thought, haven’t you heard of the cultural achievements of France, Russia, Poland, Austria, Germany and the Netherlands (to name but a few)?
So we’re back to the wretched question: are there any ‘British’ values in the sense that they are exclusively British? And if there were, would that be a good thing? Isn’t it better to look for universal values?
And that brings me on to the people who want to undermine the values we hold dear (however we describe them); should we denigrate them as outsiders, immigrants, foreigners, people who don’t belong with us (which is hardly likely to make them more inclined to see our values as worthwhile); or should we ask them and ourselves why it is that they don’t appear to share our values? Should we enter into dialogue with them?
No, that’s not being multi-cultural and wishy-washy. It’s actually looking at people – all people, wherever they are, whatever they believe – as unique, precious, children of God. And on that basis maybe our values – the really important ones – could become more universal than they are now.
And there’s another thing: in the West, in Europe, in the UK, in North America, we haven’t always been all that good at adhering to these values ourselves. It’s relatively recent that we gave women the vote; it’s not that long ago that gay people were imprisoned for being gay; it’s not so very long ago that we engaged in slavery (and there is some evidence that it’s still going on today, under our noses, here, in Britain just as much as it is in other countries). So we don’t really have any room for gloating over others who have yet to see the truth of the advice we are given: Refrain from making prejudiced judgments about the life journeys of others. Do you foster the spirit of mutual understanding and forgiveness, which our discipleship asks of us?
That’s as much about personal relationships as it is about seeing the other as a person first and as a stranger second.