Wednesday, March 4, 2009

This is What a Social Conscience Sounds Like

I just caught the last part of Gordon Brown's speech before the U.S. Congress. The Canadian and British pundits are, of course, making much of his glowing remarks about how wonderful America is and his constant references to their 'special relationship' with Britain.

I was hearing something else, though. I think I noticed it only because, in the midst of all the global economic chaos, it's something I haven't been hearing from my own government, and haven't really been hearing from the Americans either.

It was the sound of a good old-fashioned, British-style, almost Dickensian social conscience.

In our families and workplaces and places of worship, we celebrate men and women of integrity who work hard, treat people fairly, take responsibility and look out for others. If these are the principles we live by in our families and neighbourhoods, they should also be the principles that guide and govern our economic life too.

In these days the world has learned that what makes for the good economy makes for the good society.

My father was a minister of the church and I have learned again what I was taught by him: that wealth must help more than the wealthy, good fortune must serve more than the fortunate and riches must enrich not just some of us but all.

And these enduring values are the values we need for these new times.

...For let us remember there is a common bond that unites us as human beings across different beliefs, cultures and nationalities. It is at the core of my convictions, the essence of America's spirit and the heart of all faiths And it must be at the centre of our response to the crisis of today. At their best, our values tell us that we cannot be wholly content while others go without, cannot be fully comfortable while millions go without comfort, cannot be truly happy while others grieve alone.

And this too is true. All of us know that in a recession the wealthiest, the 10 most powerful and the most privileged can find a way through for themselves. So we do not value the wealthy less when we say that our first duty is to help the not so wealthy. We do not value the powerful less when we say that our first responsibility is to help the powerless. And we do not value those who are secure less when we say that our first priority must be to help the insecure. These recent events have forced us all to think anew. And while I have learnt many things, I keep returning to something I first learned in my father's church as a child. In this most modern of crises I am drawn to the most ancient of truths; wherever there is hardship, wherever there is suffering, we cannot, we will not, pass by on the other side.

It seems like an obvious thing to say in such times - that the wealthy have an obligation to the poor, the powerful to the weak, and that helping the disadvantaged in our own countries and around the world strengthens us all. And yet, it's a sentiment that has been noticeably absent from the rhetoric of North American leaders as they fret over falling stocks, collapsing banks and the disappearance of consumer confidence.

As if the problem was merely one of economics. As if the poor were merely those suffering from a lack of spending power.

The reason why Brown's words were so striking and so unusual to hear spoken aloud in that particular place is of course that any American politician - or Canadian one, for that matter - who talked that way would instantly be accused of being (God forbid) a SOCIALIST.

Happily, that's not such a dirty word in England.

1 comment:

  1. He's speaking from ethics. Obama does that sometimes, which is why we react so positively to his speeches - it isn't just 'hope', it's the possibility of justice.