This week I have been participating in the biennial conference of the International Society for Research in Diaconia and Christian Social Practice (REDI), hosted by our partner DIAK in Helsinki, Finland. Bringing together almost 100 academics, researchers and teachers it has been an opportunity to explore and test thinking about Diaconia in an increasing number of contexts and facing an increasing number of challenges. At the same time, such reflection can also challenge our own internal thinking on Diaconia and what we do. One of such challenging question was posed by a PhD candidate from Norway – “What if that (or those) which is normally on the periphery of our societies moved to the centre?”. Putting it another way, what if people who experience poverty, exclusion, social risk or who have long term care needs were at the centre of our political, social and economic thinking and all our decisions had to be made in the reflection of those experiences? Such a change would be a huge shift not only of thinking but of power – yet surely our faith, and our humanity, means that we should be seeing our societies through the eyes of those who are disadvantaged by our societies?
Last week I wrote about what I would want to see in this years’ European Commission State of the Union speech…this week I am thinking about what such a speech would be like if it placed ‘the littlest, least, the last, the lost and the left behind’ at the centre, and not power held through economic or territorial means? Would we have seen a speech that would have had greater focus on developing ambitious social policies rather than developing defense co-operation? Would we have seen a speech that prioritised youth employment and decent work for all? Would we have seen a speech that focused on investment in social services and policies? I don’t know, but I can hope, and you can read our analysis of the State of the Union here.
But it is not just for politicians to make such a shift in their thinking, we all need to shift our thinking and see that which is on the margins at the centre of our thinking, our practice and our advocacy. It is tough to do, but if in Diaconia we want and believe in empowerment then it is part of what needs to be done to achieve that.
At the ReDi conference there has been some strong thinking of how this could be done and the implications for professional diaconal practice – I hope that some of that thinking can be shared wider across the Eurodiaconia network in the coming year.
Have a good weekend,