Belonging & identity: what have we heard across England?
The Forgiveness Project collects and shares stories from individuals and communities who have rebuilt their lives following hurt and trauma. The testimonies bear witness to the resilience of the human spirit and act as a powerful antidote to narratives of hate and dehumanisation, presenting alternatives to cycles of conflict, violence, crime and injustice.
We all want to belong and to be treated fairly and equally by others in society. Relevance and meaning in our lives come from relationships, expressing our own identities and being heard, but also part of something bigger. This is central to civil society’s purpose in an increasingly changing, global, individualised and digitalised world. Many feel our society has become too much about individuals, about competition.
“Me instead of we. We all build our own little empires, we all have our own little gates at the front of our houses.” Epsom & Ewell community workshop
“We’re pushed further apart by competition for smaller resources and a desire to find our uniqueness, not our common ground.” CEOs of Youth Organisations Conversation
There is both concern, and complacency, about racism and our collective identity as a society. Tensions are often heightened by the media and the internet.
“Brexit is changing our notions of cultural identity and what it means to be British and brown.” Clore Fellowship Conversation
“Between 2014 and 2015 there was a 326% rise in reported street-based anti-Muslim incidents.” Hansard Society, Hansard Audit of Political Engagement 2016
“Social media can narrow horizons and create an echo chamber of own views.” Inquiry Funder Staff Conversation
Civil society sometimes reinforces divisions, cutting us up into single identities.
“We regularly talk about and campaign for the black ‘community’, the Muslim ‘community’, the lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans ‘community’…We can miss opportunities to respond to bigger, structural challenges.. to improve the things that could make us all most happy.” Asif Afridi, Identity-based forms of organising in civil society: good or bad?
People want a shift in values, less individualism and more community, mutual support.
“We’ve got to get away from this every man for himself business.” Shirebrook community workshop
In Mansfield they have created a Welcoming Committee in the town for new arrivals and
strangers in the town to meet each other. CoLab Exeter works with formerly isolated people to connect them with others locally.
There is a strong desire for ways to come together that transcend divisions based on ethnicity, class and religion. All parts of civil society need to focus on defeating racism and division.
“We need to recognise the many identities we all hold simultaneously and to create routes to civic engagement and representation that can cope with that complexity.” Asif Afridi
With Sisters Uncut groups sprouting across the country, people banding together around Community Land Trusts all over England, it demonstrates there are other ways of coming together. Civil society has an important role to play in shaping the future of the digital world.
“Only 12% say [the internet] has had a very positive impact on society… There is a public demand for greater accountability.” Doteveryone, People, Power and Technology: The 2018 Digital Attitudes Report
“We need to make sure that we can shape the way in which we are able to participate in public spaces — and this is as true of Twitter as our town squares.” Joy Green, Social media, meet social good