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How do we feel about our fellow citizens?

We have many legal obligations to our fellow citizens. However being my fellow citizen does not, of itself, entitle you to any affection.

Posted 13 March 2022

Earlier today, I gave my 66th "Thought for the Week" on BBC Radio Manchester.

While there is a very strict length limit, it is remarkable how one can still make quite important points. Today I explained that, although I accept my legal obligations to all my fellow citizens, when it comes to allocating my affections I give no priority to citizenship.

You can hear and read it below.

Thought for the Week

Hear my "Thought"

Since the pandemic started, I have pre-recorded the "Thought for the Week" and sent it to the BBC in advance. BBC Radio Manchester has now reopened to visiting contributors, but my diary had me in London today, so it was another remote appearance.

Accordingly you can hear my recording below.

Read my "Thought"

Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all teach the need to love your neighbour. The similarity is no surprise. All three religions derive from the same roots.

But who is my neighbour? In the Gospel of Luke, a lawyer asks Jesus that question.

Jesus replies with the story of the good Samaritan who took care of a Jew who had been robbed and wounded. The Samaritan acted as his neighbour, despite not being Jewish. Meanwhile, two other Jews had ignored the Jew who needed help.

When the Prophet Muhammad was asked about neighbours, he also defined them broadly.

He is reported to have said that your neighbours include the 40 houses in front of you, the 40 houses behind you, the 40 houses to your left, and the 40 houses to your right. That doesn’t mean that the 41st house is not your neighbour! It’s a way of saying that everyone around you is your neighbour.

However, we don’t think about all neighbours the same way.

A farmer in rural Lincolnshire is my fellow citizen. Even though I know nothing about him, I accept my legal obligation to pay taxes to support him.

I have no legal obligations to support a German citizen. However, when that German citizen is a former work colleague, and someone who shares the same interests as me, I feel a strong bond with him. A far stronger bond than with a fellow citizen about whom I know nothing, and with whom I almost certainly have little in common.

Both are my neighbours, but only one is a friend.


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