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
Distinguished calligrapher Ann Hechle talks about her lifelong quest to understand the underlying unity of the world.
As I grapple with putting letters, words and drawings together, I am using strategies that belong to a much bigger and grander world, which are part of universal law.read more
What is the universal significance of this festival celebrated at a pivotal moment of the year?
“What would it be to experience time, once more as the moving image of eternity, the continual incarnation of the divine…?”read more
How a nation is trying to heal the wounds of its colonial past and reconcile with its indigenous people
People had been asked: “What can be done to heal the situation?” and many had replied, “If only someone would say sorry”.read more
Jane Carroll visits a new memorial which aims to heal a dark period of American history
“We have to face up to the past in order to come to a proper understanding of ourselves and our world”read more
Michael Sells and Simone Fattal talk about a new translation of Ibn ‘Arabi’s famous cycle of love poems, ‘Translation of Desires’
“For Ibn ‘Arabi longing or desire is a cosmic force. It goes beyond all boundaries, and it is the closest taste of the infinite that people can have in their own experience.”read more
Emma Clark visits the Luohan at the Temple Gallery in London
“This majestic and profound sculpture is both timeless and deeply meaningful in its capacity to give us an insight into what it means to be human.”read more
An interview with Heidi Herrmann about the work of The Natural Beekeeping Trust in preserving our precious populations of bees.
“We need to address the many ways in which we have fallen so far from the ideal place of humanity. The bees demonstrate this as a whole phenomenon – as ‘the Bee’.”read more
Khojeste Mistree talks about one of the world’s oldest surviving religions and what we can learn from it in the present day.
“One of the principles of the Zoroastrian way of life is to promote harmony in this world, and we believe that harmony begins by being happy within ourselves.”read more
Mark Boston reflects on painting the film Loving Vincent
“The entire movement of the world sometimes seems an endless, elaborately painted masterpiece, with every moment in a slightly different configuration from the last.”read more
Artist and psychotherapist Benet Haughton talks about the spiritual vision that underpins his life and work
“Something has to come through that I haven’t seen before, that is transformative, so that I’m surprised, genuinely surprised, by it.”read more