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Mike Claridge - 14th August 2011

Roundabout - September 2011

St Andrew's, west Bromwich

One word stood out for me in recent disturbances that have shocked us locally and nationally. Respect!

We heard time and time again of young people saying they didn’t respect the police (or wider society) because the police (or wider society) didn’t respect them. This raises all sorts of questions about divisions in society but I want to tackle this from another direction. It occurs to me that if we follow this “respect me then I’ll respect you” route then society will be going round in circles for evermore. Instead what we should be looking at is how we can help people to respect themselves.

Leaving the agenda of “youth” behind for a moment I’m reminded of how people who’ve been made unemployed later in life often feel that they’ve been thrown on the scrap heap. They feel a lack of self-worth and that they’ve been rejected. Even the word “redundancy” implies that someone is no longer wanted. After thirty or forty years of work and contribution to society that must be bad enough. What if you’ve never known anything different? What hope is there for those who feel isolated or excluded?

We need to instill a sense of self worth and dignity in people, regardless of their age or upbringing. The noble faith of Islam is very good at this, that’s why hundreds of converts to that faith are made from people who feel rejected in prison. Islam teaches that people are valued as individuals. Christian teaching has the ability to do this too but has it become a lost message? In recent decades we’ve focussed on “servant theology”, living in the model of Jesus’ sacrifice and humility. We forget sometimes that our scriptures also teach us that we are to regard our body, and ourselves, as a temple (see 1 Corinthians) with all of the respect and dignity that entails. This should have profound implications for a Christian message to our society. Let’s look at two areas; benefits and education.

We hear a lot about “benefit culture”. There are many forms of state benefit and let’s be clear any of us who receive family allowance, family tax credit, free TV licences for pensioners or free bus passes are part of “benefit culture”. In the case of unemployment however there is more than the financial aspect to consider. Many people want to also make a contribution to society, to be useful and, through that, to have a sense of dignity and self-worth. That needs addressing because so many feel they are on the scrap heap. It’s not just about receiving, it’s about giving something in return.

When we turn to education I see a deeply flawed system. Teachers and schools are working hard but is it the model of education that is wrong. We test children in Primary School and, if enough of a year group haven’t reached the necessary “Level 4 and above” in the year they turn eleven, the school may be judged as unsatisfactory or failing. What pejorative words! Even though we reassure children it is the school that is being judged not them, the reality is different. Secondary schools will use those grades when allocating children to classes the following year. The result is a number of children branded as underachieving or low ability. It’s just a short hop from there to a feeling of being “on the scrapheap” before they are even teenagers!

Let’s build a society that teaches respect for self. Respect for others will follow.