At the start of the Millennium, some of us from different faiths met in Lambeth Palace to reflect on the record of the 20th century in which more people were killed as a result of war than in the rest of recorded history. Not knowing the horrors of the conflicts that lay ahead, we resolved that people of all faiths should adhere to common values and we set out to establish what those should be. After a series of meetings we published a grandly titled document ‘Common Values for the New Millennium’. The list included looking to the needs of others, considering responsibilities as well as rights and understanding and respecting diversity.
We thought we had formulated a Holy Grail to lasting peace and social justice. But after a short burst of publicity, the document was soon forgotten. On reflection perhaps we were being simplistic and naive. As Sikh scriptures reminds us, we can’t effect change by simply wishing it.
A few years later, I attended another meeting in the very same room in Lambeth Palace to hear a lecture by a visiting American Preacher on working for lasting peace. He declared ‘what we need are common values’, and now a high powered Commission is engaged on yet another extensive consultation exercise to define British values.
All the values in the Lambeth list are found in Sikh teachings and are also evident in other faiths. The real problem is how to embed these in the fabric of a society that looks to individual fulfilment rather than the needs of society as a whole. How can we walk the talk, or as Sikhs put it, how can we move in a gurmukh or Godly direction. Not easy. A colleague in the Lords reminded me of this when he stated in a debate that religion was out of step with society. To me it was a bit like saying ‘my satnav isn’t following my directions’.
Sikh teachings on the need for cooperation between different faiths suggest that if we synchronise our ethical satnavs, we can begin to make a real difference. Perhaps the first step would be to recognise that despite following different road maps, in reality, we all share common aspirations and concerns, and resolve to work together to make these central to social and political action.