Phil-Champain-portrait-200x200Phil Champain, 3FF Director

3FF’s stated vision is a connected and cohesive society where people of different faiths, beliefs and cultures have strong, productive and positive relations. What is the value of such a vision? It may be obvious, but I always think it’s worth asking the question. Particularly at this time of year as we take time out to reflect on the past year and plan our resolutions for the next.

For me this vision is more than just getting on with others who express their identity differently to me. Yes, it is about this, but when I put this question to myself I am drawn to the word ‘productive.’ This word contains something deeper and richer. It reflects my belief that by connecting and working together we can better solve problems, encourage aspiration and imagination, deliver opportunity and rights for all, and experience the joy and excitement of exploring difference.

Of course, this ‘productivity’ is not easy to achieve. We need to continue to work towards the vision, a vision not shared by everyone. Sometimes it feels uneasy. It needs courage. We hold the vision together with our fears and anxieties about those different from ourselves. And our fears can sometimes win us over. We can put the shutters up, pull up the drawbridge. Or at worst begin to label the other as an enemy, as somehow inhuman.

Perhaps one of the most amazing recent examples of a diverse group of people producing something positive together was last Saturday’s agreement by the leaders of 195 nations to confront global climate change after 21 years of diplomatic wrangling. OK, it’s not perfect and should be regarded as a starting point for further measures, but for the first time, all nations – rich, poor and in between – have agreed on a universal plan to reduce the emissions that cause global warming. There is an agreed, positive and creative vision to work to. This in the face of continued fears and anxieties about fairness and sustainable development for all.

But it is not only in the corridors of power that such vision exists. 3FF does a lot of its work in schools, including facilitating links between schools of different faiths, engaging them in a series of meaningful, productive, encounters. I was lucky to have the chance to observe a link recently, during which two 10 year old students, one Jewish and one Catholic, wrote the following poem. For me, Charles and Nikhil clearly communicate the immediate reality of holding their positive and creative vision together with their anxieties and fears.

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Two students writing a poem together during a 3FF school link.

Who we are – by Charles and Nikhil

We are dancers
We wonder how the human race started
We hear people screaming
We see balloons in the ceiling
We want people to stop fighting because it’s very frightening
We are scientists discovering the earth
We pretend we’re world famous dancers
We feel as strong as wrestlers
We touch the heart and feel the beat
We worry about the terrible terrorists
We cry when people die
We are the children of today
We understand how life moves along
We say our prayers to God
We dream to be the best
We try our best at everything
We hope all good comes to us
We are who we are

At all levels of society, in classrooms, boardrooms, homes, community halls and the corridors of power diverse groups of people are doing positive, productive things in the face of fear and anxiety. These stories are sometimes told, often overshadowed. As I reflect on 2015 and think about my hopes and anxieties for 2016 it is these positive, productive stories that sustain my belief that 3FF’s vision remains both relevant and possible.