Inspire Dialogue: Final Summary
Lord Rowan Williams, Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge
“To be able to imagine that things don’t have to be as they are is perhaps one of the most important things that human beings ever do.”
One of the things that has struck me from today is the overlap between the presentations from all the different groups. Certain things have come up in every presentation – to do with connectedness, to do with education, to do with technology, in one way or another. I think we need to bear in mind that what we have been discussing today is an interconnected set of questions and challenges.
Another observation is the need to take the amount of time that is necessary. We heard, for example, about the lack of time sometimes in educational contexts to really attend to people and draw them out, so that we find out what they need and what they need to be doing, hearing or saying. We have heard about the time it takes for genuine reconciliation to bed in between societies – we hope very much that we are not on the verge of another Thirty Years, but who knows? The problem is that we live in a society where taking time is not very popular, where we like fast food and fast results. Fast food, as we have discovered, has all sorts of problems attached to it, and fast results have exactly the same consequences. So we have quite a difficult balance to find between the sense of urgency, which certainly ought to be in our minds and hearts, and the sense that we have to learn how to take as much time as something takes. Often we want quick results just to feel better, just as we want fast food just to feel full – and neither of them works. So we need to think about taking the right kind of time.
Secondly, another thing that came through for me is that the responsibility we have is for the responsibility of others. We are responsible for helping others grow into their humanity in their fullness; we are not responsible for solving all their problems. This has come through the discussion in so many different ways, and is central to the practical projects which we hope will come out of this dialogue.
There are two long-term questions that seemed to come up. Firstly concerning freedom: we think we can solve our problems by law, but they can in fact only be solved by culture and communication. Law very often is saying, in the great words of Homer Simpson: “Why can’t someone else do it?” – which is taken from an episode where he ran for public office on this slogan. But it is the opposite of what we are trying to do here. If we try to solve all our problems through law, then we can be giving ourselves a let-out clause for our own responsibility and the changing of culture that will actually shift things. Law has its place, and I could not agree more about the need for absolutely crystal-clear legal protections, legal equalities, and so on, but that does not solve the problems at once.
The second dimension of this is the question: what are the institutions in our society that are independent enough, courageous enough, resilient enough, to push us beyond short-termism in order to keep major issues before the eyes of the public over a long period? At present, our news cycle is dominated by short-term concerns and our planning is dominated by short-term concerns. We need institutions committed to long-term, independent, creative thinking and response. So I would say that the health of our institutions – research institutions, reporting institutions, educational institutions – is part of our agenda in these Dialogues.
Running through so much of the discussion today has been the importance of art, drama and imagination. One of the great philosophers of the last century said: we think we can solve our problems by will, when we need to solve them by imagination. Lively cultural and artistic life is not the icing on the cake – an optional extra: it is part of the air we need to breathe to make a difference. To be able to imagine that things don’t have to be as they are is perhaps one of the most important things that human beings ever do.
And lastly: empathy has come up again and again. Not just as an exercise in virtual reality, but the phrase that came up was about knowledge and feeling. Empathy is not just about trying to conscript other peoples’ interesting experiences to make your own life more interesting: it is having a real sense of connectedness with someone else’s experience, and knowing that your own experience is affected by it in the long run; that you are less of a person if someone else is less of a person. And that involves not just trying to know other people, but also letting ourselves be known – knowing how we are seen and how we are experienced by others. So the issue of vulnerability comes in. So many people, especially in the western world, have gone around in the last couple of decades trying to sort out the problems of other people and other cultures in the world, with very little idea of how they are seen – and the results have not been very impressive.
But knowing how we are seen is quite a risky business. We talk about risk and how to avoid it, rather than asking about what enables us to take risks – and the answer to that is of course trust. We can try and avoid risk, or else we can ask: what is it that helps us bear it, given that we cannot avoid it? And this means the building up of trust.
Thumbnail photograph by Brian from Toronto, Canada (Archbishop of Canterbury) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge
“When we go out and encounter others, we are asking for something that is not already there to come alive in us”read more
United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR)
“Most of these people do not need money, but they need somebody that they can have a conversation with.”read more
Senior Director of Law and Policy for Amnesty International
“The stranger or ‘the other’ is a notion that we construct in our quest for a resource. In reality, there is no ‘other’…”read more
“What makes humanity so beautiful is our multiculturalism… the variety in our colours, cultures and beliefs is what makes us all unique.”read more
“How do we have a dialogue with someone who is fifty years away from inhabiting this earth? This leads to considerations of inter-generational responsibility”read more
Brendan Simms and Alison Liebling
“We were criticised and ridiculed by other professional groups for coming into a maximum security prison with the word ‘trust’ in mind.”read more
The inclusive vision of Glenn Murcutt’s Australian Islamic Centre
“The building sets out to be physically and psychologically inclusive. It speaks eloquently of both its current Australian context and ancient Islamic culture”read more
The spiritual foundations of our contemporary desire for private space
“…the notion of solitude was essential to the development of concepts we now see as foundational for western society: individualism, freedom, social and political equality, democracy.”read more
An interview with Judith Hanson Lasater
“This is the freedom that yoga offers: it allows us to find that moment when we can choose the empathetic response, the compassionate response.”read more
Richard Twinch contemplates the message of an important new book by economist Kate Raworth
“The most powerful tool in economics is not money, nor even algebra. It is a pencil. Because with a pencil you can redraw the world.”read more
John Lloyd talks to Jane Clark and Hilary Papworth about the philosophy behind the QI project
“Nothing is as simple or obvious as it seems. Everything has an underside – something hidden deep inside it which is completely astonishing.”read more
Andrew Singer talks about the vision behind the literary journal Trafika Europe
“Regardless of the political and economic uncertainty, there is a cultural continuity and a unity to Europe that already stretches back hundreds of years.”read more
Dr Andreas Weber talks to David Hornsby about a new way of understanding nature
“It is intrinsic to life to create the experience of self through connection. What is the difference between this and saying that there is an intrinsic yearning to love?”read more
A review by Jim Griffin
“The Western Isles are often referred to as ‘thin places’ – places where the separation between the divine and the human easily breaks down”read more
David Apthorp praises the Sokollu Mehmet Pasha Mosque in Istanbul
“Standing here, before the plain, unadorned mihrab, it as if one has been brought to some ultimate secret.”read more
Dr Vasileios Basios talks to Jane Clark and Michael Cohen about new ideas in science
“I think we have to come back to considering the ancient concept of the ‘great chain of being’ – that somehow consciousness manifests itself from the rock to the plant to the human being.”read more