The UCU equivalent of the ‘tower of babel’



I must confess that I don’t always understand the nuances of what goes on in the UCU guild governments, and he who does not understand should pass no comment.

But I can’t help being reminded at times of that nifty story in Genesis.

It’s the one where God thought the humans were getting above themselves and building a tower to reach heaven.

“Look,” said God, “they are one people and they have got one language, and that’s only the beginning of what they will do.

Nothing now will be impossible. Come, let us go down there and confuse their language, so that they don’t understand each other’s speech.” And He did just that, and the tower collapsed.

This story is a warning to us students and our leaders not to get too uppity, but it starts with the truly exciting idea that if we could only sink our differences and speak with one voice, nothing would be impossible.

That is exactly what the Pope was calling for last year when he talked to vibrant youths.

I went for a public inspirational dialogue last year, invited to give a speech on the management of diversity. I thought that was a smart word for change, which is my hobbyhorse, so off I went, quietly confident.

But as I listened to the first two speakers, I realised that diversity is Ugandan for minorities, people of different tribes, height and colour. The variety of which Uganda once boasted, had become a problem of diversity.

As I frantically scribbled a new speech, I thought about the tower of Babel.

Why had what Ugandan students called their salad bowl of variety degenerated into a smouldering cauldron of diversity a.k.a tribalism? I wasn’t going to believe that they were being punished by God for being uppity.

But you could see and hear it; their differences were beginning to be greater than their togetherness. I could not say that it is any different in UCU, or even in our little bit of the Guild government.

Differences should be a delight and not a problem. The strongest societies, the strongest organisations, the biggest companies, the strongest marriages are those that delight in their differences but also understand each other and can speak with one voice.

The danger, the tower of Babel danger, is that the differences turn into separateness if they can no longer talk together because they lack that common voice.

In catholic theology, to be separate, to be cut off from others is to be in hell. Anyone who has been separate will know that.

It’s my sense that, in recent years, our pursuit of individualism and tribalism in UCU has brought us close to separateness, to the brink of scandals and hell.

It has been a recipe for depression, both economic and personal.

I now feel that we are drawing back from the edge. It’s my hope that, delighting in our differences but with a common understanding, we may yet build something to make Uganda and God take not of.