Three parables.

The Country House

In the first, a hundred strangers have been wandering around the countryside, looking for somewhere to stay.  The come across a large country house and are met by the owner at the gate.  He welcomes them in with a warm smile saying that his house has many empty rooms, room enough for them, that they must consider themselves his guests.  The strangers enter and at first all is well.  After a while, though, they become disgruntled.  However generous their host, he remains the host, and they are the guests.

The Hotel

Once again the hundred strangers are searching for somewhere to stay.  This time they happen across an hotel.  The hotel is large and has every amenity.  The strangers have enough money to pay the hotel bills, so they book their rooms, move in, unpack, stay …

The hotel rules are simple.  The strangers may do whatever they like as long as they do not disturb the other guests.  Although they are guests, just like in the country hotel, it feels different because here everyone is a guest.  But a hotel room is where you stay, not where you belong.  You have no loyalty to a hotel, and put down no roots there.  You nod to the other guests but everyone remains a stranger to everyone else.

The Home

This time the strangers arrive at a town where they are welcomed by the local dignataries.  The Mayor apologises that they have no country house to cosset them, not hotel in which they can stay, but they do have a patch of empty land large enough to accommodate houses for all the strangers.  The strangers are offered advice from experts about how to construct their houses, and they are given hospitality by the town until the houses are built.  The Mayor is insistent that they see themselves as part of the town, that the house building become a joint enterprise of the strangers and the townfolk.  The strangers invest their energies in building their new homes.  How can they feel detached from something they have constructed themselves.  Not only have they made a home, but they have made themselves feel at home.  The strangers have self-respect and a real relationship with the people around them from the town.  When the houses are finished everyone celebrates together.

“The newcomers still occasionally seem strange.  They speak and act and dress differently from the locals.  But those long sessions of working together have had their effect.  The locals know the newcomers are serious, committed, dedicated.  They have their own ways, but they have also learned the ways of the people of the town, and they have worked out a modus vivendi, a rough and ready friendship.  The two groups respect one another with that unspoken regard that comes when you work with others on a shared project to which each brings his or her own special gifts.  Making something together breaks down the walls of suspicion and misunderstanding, even though that is not the aim of the project at all.” (p15)

Taken from The Home We Build Together by Johnathan Sacks, published in October 2007.   

Johnathan Sacks is Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of Britain and the Commonwealth.  The book is a timely attempt to find a third way between the two main models of integration of immigrants into British society.   The parables could relate to immigration, class, church denominations, but Sacks uses them to develop an argument for a particular approach to a British identity.  It is an model of citizenship based on responsibility to a society connected by the ideas of giving and belonging instead of individual rights.

The first parable represents the assimilationist model, or the melting pot, where in order to belong you have to lose your identity in order to become “one of us”.  The second parable represents the multicultural model.  There is no dominant culture, no identity that has to be given up, but no belonging either.  It risks becoming a society that is a series of interconnecting rooms, with the inhabitants of each room segregated from those in other rooms.  The third way, illustrated by the third parable, is integration without assimilation:

“Yes we have our private rooms, but we also have out public spaces, and those public spaces matter to all of us, which is why we work together to make them as expansive and gracious as we can.  That act of making creates belonging.” (p16)

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