This is what a Social Conscience Sounds Like
I just caught the last part of Gordon Brown’s speech before the U.S. Congress. The Canadian and British pundits are, of course, making much of his glowing remarks about how wonderful America is and his constant references to their ‘special relationship’ with Britain.
I was hearing something else, though. I think I noticed it only because, in the midst of all the global economic chaos, it’s something I haven’t been hearing from my own government, and haven’t really been hearing from the Americans either.
It was the sound of a good old-fashioned, British-style, almost Dickensian social conscience.
…So we do not value the wealthy less when we say that our first duty is to help the not so wealthy. We do not value the powerful less when we say that our first responsibility is to help the powerless. And we do not value those who are secure less when we say that our first priority must be to help the insecure. These recent events have forced us all to think anew. And while I have learnt many things, I keep returning to something I first learned in my father’s church as a child. In this most modern of crises I am drawn to the most ancient of truths; wherever there is hardship, wherever there is suffering, we cannot, we will not, pass by on the other side.
It seems like an obvious thing to say in such times – that the wealthy have an obligation to the poor, the powerful to the weak, and that helping the disadvantaged in our own countries and around the world strengthens us all. And yet, it’s a sentiment that has been noticeably absent from the rhetoric of North American leaders as they fret over falling stocks, collapsing banks and the disappearance of consumer confidence.
As if the problem was merely one of economics. As if the poor were merely those suffering from a lack of spending power.
Of course, the reason why Brown’s words were so striking and so unusual to hear spoken aloud in that particular place is that any American politician – or Canadian one, for that matter – who talked that way would instantly be accused of being (God forbid) a SOCIALIST.
Happily, that’s not such a dirty word in England.