As human beings we are wonderfully diverse and creative – capable of so much love and self-sacrifice. Yet, so easily, we can be divided, abusive or even worse. Prejudice, fear and poverty push so many people to the edges of our community: disabled people, refugees, those who are oppressed because of their race, sexuality or beliefs are marginalised and disconnected from each other. Even those who seem to have the power or the money seem to be living lives that are so shallow: cut off from their neighbours, not involved in their communities and detached from a democratic systems that seem farcically removed from real life.
Often we have confronted these challenges with a call to civil rights, demanding the inclusion of the excluded and calling on the principles of justice. This is right, but insufficient. The changes we need are just about inclusion in the mainstream, they also demand the transformation of the mainstream. We don’t want people to just fit into society; we want to live in the kind of welcoming communities where everyone already fits, where gifts are valued, where contribution is expected and supported.
The ideal of inclusion offers us one way of thinking about the kinds of communities we need. But for inclusion to be real then the people in those communities, all of us, need to act differently. We need to be different people – or perhaps better – we need to learn how to act differently. Communities are just another word for us.
Traditions of thought and religion around the world vary and there are different words to describe how we should live together in community. But in the Western tradition one word stands out above all the others – citizenship.
Being a true citizen has nothing to do with having a passport; it means living your life as if you are a member of the community and as if you share in the responsibility for ensuring that others are welcomed into it. As John O’Brien puts it:
Citizens are people who can say “I belong to this place and it’s people and I am willing to act from responsibility for my belonging.” (Citizenship and Person-Centred Work p. 110)