"It’s great to back again for a second year to take part in this wonderful community event organized by the Greengate Trust and other members of the Muslim Community in Oldham.
It’s testament to your compassion and courage, in these very fragile times, of the importance of making a public display of your commitment to creating communities of value, integration and respect. I sincerely thank you all for being here today to show your support for the whole community regardless or race, gender or religion. The people of Oldham are an inspiration and example to the whole of the United Kingdom.
Last year I spoke about the wonderful work that was, and still is, taking place in schools and communities in Oldham and Leeds. I would like to give particular thanks to Alexandra Park Junior School and St Anne’s Primary in Royton. Pupils, staff, governors, and parents have been using ‘The Butterfly Model’ and the 'Learning Line' to support the children and each other in developing their study and social skills. I would like to thank publicly Qari Bilal from Greengate Mosque and Father Graham from St Annes Church. The assembly we recently gave together at Alexandra Park Junior School on our shared human values was a highpoint of my year. Thank you.
The power of community
There is an African saying that says it takes a whole village to raise a child. This year I would like to look at the role that communities play in the education and development of our children, young people and families. I would like to explore how the 'Learning Line' can also be a 'Life Line'.
In any community there are those that like change and those that don’t. Those that give the impression of being open to development and engagement but, when push comes to shove, they just want to keep everything the same. Especially if their reputation, sense of security or ego is at stake.
I would like to use a neutral community as an example so as not to be accused of bias or favouritism. This community is located in a rural area somewhere in England known as the 100 Acre Wood. They have a young leader called Christopher Robin. The day to day activities are often centered around a bear called Winnie the Pooh.
The 9th Century Arab scholar Abu Yusuf Al-Kindi, summed up the importance of going beyond a merely tolerating other cultures, knowledge and faiths but embracing and celebrating this diversity when he said:
We should not shy away from welcoming and acquiring the truth regardless of where it comes from, even if it comes from distant races and nations that are different from us. Nothing is more important than seeking the truth except the truth itself.
Human needs, values and virtues
The words of wise teachers over the ages, from every culture address the human same four human needs and related values and virtues:
- The need to question develops the value of courage which leads to the virtue of truth
- The need create relationships of value develops the value of compassion and the virtue of goodness
- The need to become resilient in the face of constant challenge and change creates the value of life-force and the virtue beauty
- The need see results for our efforts creates the value of wisdom and the virtue of gain
I am massively reassured that in my work over the years with peoples from different faiths and cultures that the message from the truly enlightened leaders is this the same.
Let me make this simple but very important point clear. Try this quiz. Here are four passages from the teachings from Islam, Christianity, Buddhism and Humanism. Who do you think said what:
Verily, man is in loss. Except those who believe and do righteous deeds, and recommend one and other to the truth, and recommend one another to patience.
But God has put the body together, giving greater honour to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured every part rejoices with it.
All disciples and lay supporters of [??] should pray with the spirit of many in body one in mind, transcending all differences among themselves to become as inseparable as fish and the water in which they swim.
Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at it’s height. Live in fragments no longer.
I’ll answer the quiz at the end but the fact that you can see that your own spiritual or religious system can relate to all of these passages simply shows how close we are as communities and people. There is more that connects us if we would but reach out to each other in a spirit of openness and trust. It is only the different rituals that can get in the way of seeing and celebrating our shared reality and building, as we are today, relationships of value, hope and respect.
Understanding characters within community
Meanwhile, back in 100 Acre wood we are about to meet four characters that we could find in any community. They can be a driving force for development, hope and achievement or a block to growth bring fear, misery and despair to the very communities they would like to think they serve.
There is a simple model that I use to show the difference approaches to change known as the 10, 40, 40, 10 rule. The four personalities all manage change differently and all approaches are potentially valuable. If each person is open then change will happen with the minimal amount of disruption. If, however, they are closed then change will be slow and tough with limited success. As I go through these four personalities see if you can spot yourself and others:
The first 10% of any community is the enthusiast. This is the Trigger of your group. If open they are passionate, energetic, fun, love people and love life.
If closed they can be disorganised, distracted, demanding, easily hurt when people don't want to play and exhausting. They also tend to lack organisational skills and are great at starting something but not at finishing it.
The second group usually make up 40% of the community. This is Kanga. If open Kange is organised, plays by the rules, pays attention to the details and everyone and everything matters.
If closed Kanga can be controlling (usually in a passive aggressive kind of way). Very demanding, and expects everyone to have the same values as they have. Oh, they are also exhausted trying to keep everything perfect. Closed Kanga lacks the ability to imagine the future and wants any new processes and systems to be a development of the existing ones that they already feel comfortable with. They like the idea of change but not the reality.
The third group usually make up 40% and often get a bad press. This is Eeyore. If open they are reliable, loyal, sometimes a little direct but very hardworking.
If closed they don’t like change in their daily routine. They see the world as very black or white and respect hierarchies however flawed, corrupt or dysfunctional. They moan a lot but don’t challenge. They take orders without questioning from people higher up in the hierarchy (and look down on people below them) and expect others to do so as well.
This final 10% is Owl
The Owls amongst us have knowledge and have invested time and effort into the acquisition of that knowledge.
If they are open they are studious, qualified, curious and love learning. However their ego and elevated state given them by the community can make them feel that they are, in some way, superior to the people that they have been charged to protect and support.
If closed they want to show everyone how clever they are. They use knowledge to control others not liberate them. The closed Owl blocks the potential development of others that they are seeking to control. In the most extreme cases they will ask them to engage in actions that can damage the lives, well being and very existence of others they see as a threat or challenge to their knowledge, culture and value. .
They use their knowledge to take advance to those who do not, and cannot, have their level of expertise for the simple reason they have not had the same educational opportunities and social and cultural experiences. They were born in a different place at a different time. That is their only crime.
Oh, Owls also have massive self doubt. They have been so used to getting things right and being seen to be top of the class they will do everything they can to maintain this pretence. They will cheat. They will lie. And they will avoid others who may threaten their stupidity, greed and anger.
And it is the Owls, I believe, who are the real danger to community. The political, educational and spiritual leaders that have ceased to lead. They have become arrogant in their own self importance and have stopped at a level of knowledge that gives them power and have sacrificed real wisdom for status. They have not acted upon their knowledge but just created mini empires where they are in control. If they understood a fraction of the truths that Christ, l Buddha and the Prophet (peace be upon all of them) we leading us all to they would be less arrogant in their conviction that they had the only way and little more compassionate and understanding of others less informed than they are.
Building a community of hope
I believe that the key to building a community of real hope with tangible outcomes socially, economically, politically and educational will only occur we personally embrace the spirit of collaboration and humanism expressed by all the truly wise from all our diverse cultures. To do this will build an open and thriving community. Our spiritual leaders knew this and in our hearts we know this as well. The challenge is to live the this truth in what was say and do.
To reject, attack and remove yourself from the company of those you do not understand is to deny the possibility of creating an open community where our diversity is our strength but instead to choose to live with a closed mindset fearful of opinions and values that are different from ours. This approach will stop the development of a thriving community but create instead fearful tribes. It also dishonours the spirit of all or our respective spiritual leaders.
It isn’t enough to merely know this truth. It is crucial, that we develop the competences of courage, compassion, life-force and wisdom every day. Not just on special days like today but everyday. That is the real struggle. That is when we need to see the potential in ourselves and those around us as part of one body and take action fearlessly. Regardless of what character you are or culture you come from.
Advice from 100 Acre Wood
So, if I may I’d like to conclude with a word or two of advice to all the characters of 100 Acre Wood and Alexandra Park:
If you are Tigger - keep your enthusiasm and passion but don’t be too demanding of others. They may not have your guide book but they might share your passion for the truth.
If you are Kanga. Keep your planning skills but work a little more at understanding the plans and approaches of others.
If you are Eeyore. Keep your ability to get up in the morning and do what has to be done. However make sure that the actions you are taking are working. Check the impact you are having and if things need to change then let that be your goal.
Finally, if you are the Owl of your community keep learning. The knowledge you have only has value it it’s put into action and refined over time. Do not use your positing in the community to block the development of others because your status and ego is at stake. In short do what you need to do. Lead. But lead with courage, compassion, life-force and wisdom.
It has been an honour to speak to you today. May the spirit of collaboration and compassion evidenced today be with you all everyday until you meet again next year to celebrate once more the achievements of the community of Alexandra Park and Oldham".