Frances Campbell on Thought for the Day, BBC Radio 4, 24th July 2017
“The publication of the BBC’s top salaries last week has spurred a wide ranging debate about pay and inequality within society. The BBC is not alone, universities too and many other employers – public and private – have been found wanting. And it is not just about equal pay, but a debate too about the levels of pay for particular jobs, including exchanges on this programme about the pay of Vice Chancellors.
Such debates are ultimately about worth, in this case, professional worth in the workplace, which is often reduced in our era by how much a person earns or does not earn. Contemporary society, especially in the West often measures worth in terms of salary, assets, celebrity, status, position and so on. But that focus in itself reduces our understanding of human worth.
Recently I was invited to a premier of a film called ‘summer in the Forest’ which challenges that limited understanding. It tells the story of Jean Vanier, a Canadian Christian, who had served in the Royal Navy during the Second World War. His experiences of seeing such a lack of human love, especially towards the most vulnerable in society, those with learning disabilities who were confined to institutions or subjected to horrific experiments or sent to death camps, led him to found a network of communities and projects called L’Arche (in English The Ark). Today, that network stretches across 37 counties and includes 149 communities which provide a loving home for people with learning disabilities and those who help them.
Jean, through faith, actions and words, is someone who, over 50 years ago challenged one part of humanity (the vast majority) to view another part of humanity through an entirely different prism and as a result, he transformed the lives of thousands of people, not only those with learning disabilities but also those who encountered them in friendship and community. Communities of inclusion grew up, where in his words there was a coming together because ‘people with disabilities are not seeking power over you, they are seeking friendship’.
Richard, a young member of the L’Arche community here in London told me that he’d found a home where everyone is treated equally. Everyone has their gift. He said, when a person first comes to the community, their eyes might be closed because of what they have experienced elsewhere, but soon their eyes are opened by the joy they meet’. He said, ‘No one is lonely in L’Arche.’
Richard’s positive human experience is possible because one brave human being challenged the rest of humanity to overcome its fear of difference; to open their eyes and see beyond first impressions and view human worth in its full richness.”