We have to rebuild the links between leaders and people

Even though he didn't live to see it, Yogi Berra, the oft-quoted American sports coach, had a phrase that does justice to the events of 2016. 'The future' he said, 'ain't what it used to be'.

December 23, 2016 11:05

Many different commentators have looked not just at the events surrounding the Brexit referendum, the US elections or the electoral trends across Europe.

They have also looked at the deep concerns emanating from the strengthening of authoritarian regimes, uncertainties in democratic countries and expanding economic insecurities.

It seems as if the political centre ground has been, at least for the moment, eviscerated.

Confidence in political and international institutions is at a low. And the forces of economic progress — previously described as the benefits of globalisation — are no longer seen as benefits and are in retreat.

Francis Fukiyama recently described populism as “the label that political elites attach to policies supported by ordinary citizens that they don’t like”.

But whilst many will focus on changes which were at best unexpected and at worst unthinkable, there are those like me whose most powerful reflection on the year is how unpleasant the political and social disagreements we have witnessed have become.

Is it just me, or does it seem that it is somehow now more acceptable than ever before to abuse, push untruths and dismiss the worth of other people’s contributions?

But the concern is not just over the absence of civility. The issue is about how we can underpin the values on which our society rests and rebuild confidence in the institutions we have, and those who we entrust to operate them.

Perhaps the most important thing we need to focus on is how we can resolve disagreements. How, that is, we can find ways to be open to the ideas of others, how we can find the right way to discuss problems, the right structures to mediate disputes and the right ways to build consent.

The Jewish contribution to civilisation has been the underlying principles and values that underpin societies. Paul Johnson described this as “the basic moral furniture of the human mind”. He added that we taught the world “how to rationalise the unknown”.

Flicking through the pages of the JC, it often appears that we seem incapable of resolving the most minor of local difficulties in our communities.

But this is far from true.

Next week will see yet another remarkable attendance at Limmud, the event that exemplifies how to provide for views and ideas to be freely exchanged and in a spirit of the very essence of Jewish values.

Our community recently celebrated Shabbat UK which brought family and community together with spiritual and social renewal. And on Mitzvah Day we cooperated together from all sections of our diverse community and with the breadth of communities of other faiths and none to find ways to strengthen the fabric of our country.

The world has some difficult choices to make in 2017. There are complex political, economic and diplomatic matters that will occupy the attention of elites across the world.

But the real challenge will be to rebuild the links between people, and between them and the leaders and processes around them.

When in twelve months we look back on a year of more and less change than we expected, let’s hope that we are comforted that we learned the lessons that that which divides us reduces us.

Or as Yogi Berra once put it: “when you come to a fork in the road, take it”.

December 23, 2016 11:05

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