Rabbi Sacks: “It’s the people not like us that make us grow”

By Wednesday, October 11, 2017

In his April 2017 Ted Talk, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks – a defender of differences and champion of complementarity, spoke on the topic, “How we can face the future without fear, together.” In it, he said:

“The trouble with Google filters, Facebook friends and reading the news by narrowcasting rather than broadcasting means that we’re surrounded almost entirely by people like us whose views, whose opinions, whose prejudices, even, are just like ours. And Cass Sunstein of Harvard has shown that if we surround ourselves with people with the same views as us, we get more extreme. I think we need to renew those face-to-face encounters with the people not like us. I think we need to do that in order to realize that we can disagree strongly and yet still stay friends. It’s in those face-to-face encounters that we discover that the people not like us are just people, like us. And actually, every time we hold out the hand of friendship to somebody not like us, whose class or creed or color are different from ours, we heal one of the fractures of our wounded world.”

This is precisely the approach of the Philos Project – to provide the face-to-face encounters that facilitate meeting, listening and—gradually—friendships.

During this summer’s Philos Leadership Institute, participants had the opportunity to meet with an Orthodox rabbi Zionist settler, a young Palestinian refugee, a courageous Bedouin woman living in the Negev desert, a Jordanian woman who serves as her country’s minister of tourism, and a professor of sharia law in dialogue with a Catholic priest.

The great achievement of the Philos Project is that it is humanizing on all sides. One morning we would be listening to the chief architect of the Israeli security barrier and then, that same afternoon, we would be listening to a panel of feminists from “Women Wage Peace.” Encouraged to maintain a listening posture and a spirit of openness, these encounters constituted a real education. When there was lively debate and disagreement, we were able to recognize how most people have good will and genuinely want to improve the world, which is the basis for the mutual respect and civility required for meaningful conversation.

At a time when it is becoming increasingly convenient and tempting to surround ourselves exclusively with who and what we like, the Philos Project affirms that, far from threatening personal identity, broadening our understanding of who our neighbors are, can actually contribute to and enrich it.

As Jean Vanier, the founder of L’Arche, recently reflected, “We can only discover what our humanity is when we meet the different. […] A meeting implies I’m not better than you, you’re not better than me…  It is a place of revelation.”

The spiritual entrepreneurs of our day, including Rabbi Sacks and Jean Vanier, are prophetic witnesses to the goodness of difference as they echo God’s affirmation that there are differences among God’s creation that are, indeed, very good.

And thanks to the Philos Project, many people are now experiencing this “place of revelation” with a vision toward a pluralistic Middle East.

Amanda Achtman

Amanda Achtman is an alumna of the 2017 Philos Leadership Institute. She studied political science at the University of Calgary in her home province of Alberta, Canada, and completed a master’s degree in John Paul II philosophical studies at the Catholic University of Lublin in Poland. Being raised in an interfaith Jewish-Christian family motivated her to defend freedom of conscience and religion, while encouraging serious and respectful engagement with theological differences. She is a recipient of the Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Citizenship Medal and is grateful for every opportunity to contribute toward creating an ever more human culture. Follow her on twitter: @AmandaAchtman