The importance of reciprocity


The importance of reciprocity

And Common Good Schools update: Easter 2024

Here, our Common Good Schools Project Leader, Jo Stow, reflects on the importance of face-to-face reciprocal relationships, and reports on the latest activities of some of our partner schools.

As we’ve journeyed through Lent, Christians have been focusing on prayer, fasting and almsgiving. But what is almsgiving really meant to be about? It’s often thought to be about giving money, but there is much more to it. What does this mean in a schools context?

Our Common Good Schools Lent resource helped young people prayerfully reflect on a common good approach to almsgiving. Schools are wonderful at supporting charities through fundraising and this is to be encouraged. But just giving money can unintentionally create an unhelpful dynamic dividing people into the benevolent giver and the recipient. In a school this can communicate to young people that they fall into one of these two groups. Those from poor families may then perceive themselves as a client or victim, and feelings of shame and powerlessness may be provoked.

The common good approach to almsgiving

By contrast, a common good approach brings both parties together in relationship. In Fratelli Tutti, Pope Francis encourages a shift from doing good “to”, to “being with”. He emphasises the importance of building relationships of reciprocity. If we form a relationship with the people we help, allowing them to serve us too, then this recognises the dignity and worth of both parties.

Take the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law. After Jesus healed her, she served him as he ate in her house. On another occasion, Jesus first received the service of Mary who washed his feet with her tears, before granting her the forgiveness she needed. When he meets the woman at the well he is thirsty and asks her to serve him a drink of water, then he gives her the water of life. Jesus shared life with the people he served. In John 15.15, Jesus says to his followers:

I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.

Jesus calls us into a reciprocal relationship with Him and with each other, where there isn’t a “them and us”, nor service provider and client, nor rescuer and victim. Each needs the other in mutuality.

Reciprocity is difficult to achieve if we give money to a charity who does the work for us – we are effectively outsourcing the relationship and we remain detached – this has become the norm in a highly individualistic society. Whilst it is not possible to build relationships with everyone, it is possible to do so with our neighbours just across the road. Volunteering for a local charity might be a step in the right direction, but the Common Good Schools programme proposes something more radical.

Putting it into practice

Students and staff in our partner schools are invited to engage with their neighbours. At Cardinal Heenan Catholic High School in Leeds, reciprocal relationships are being developed with two of their immediate neighbours – a care home and a school for children with special and complex needs. Krystina Gold, a dynamic teacher and Common Good Schools lead at Cardinal Heenan, is taking the initiative to be intentionally relational.

Krystina’s approaches were warmly welcomed. Now, pupils and elderly residents of Brandon House get to know each other during weekly visits. The pupils volunteer their time, talents and friendship and so do the residents. “I have found it a great opportunity to meet amazing and kind people and hear very inspiring stories. It has improved my social confidence and I will definitely continue the experience.” Dillon, Year 7.

In addition to Brandon House, Krystina is working to establish a relationship with nearby Penny Fields School. Describing the first meeting between the two sets of young people, she said, “We joined for their ‘Sing and Sign’ session. Cardinal Heenan pupils did not know Makaton and I was keen for them to connect on the same level – not as helpers, but fellow learners who had something to gain from Penny Field pupils. It was very noisy! There were people face to face, all trying to communicate!” 

Both groups are delighted with the benefits of being together and plan to continue until the end of the academic year and beyond. We look forward to sharing with you how these relationships develop.

Church schools

Working so closely with church schools we understand the importance of providing opportunities for young people to serve but also to build reciprocal relationships. We are pleased to see that the Anglican and Methodist inspection framework articulates this:

“How does the school’s theologically rooted Christian vision create an active culture of justice and responsibility? As an outworking of the theologically rooted Christian vision, what partnerships are important to the school? How do they impact positively and reciprocally on people’s lives?” IQ5 SIAMS framework, September 2023

The Catholic Schools Inspection framework also encourages young people to “pursue the common good and serve those in need” and to respond “to the demands of Catholic Social Teaching in finding ways of responding, locally, nationally, and globally.” CSI Framework 2023

That schools are now required to embed these principles into their approaches is important. Young people badly need local relationships and there is good evidence to show why that is.

The causes of “loneliness

The Campaign to End Loneliness analysed the Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures. Robin Hewings, Programme Director at the Campaign said: “younger people are at higher risk of loneliness.” Indeed,we know that today, loneliness is higher among young people than the elderly. According to the UK government’s Tackling Loneliness evidence review, loneliness is highest for people who are 16-24 years old.

This is startling because it was not the case in the past. So, what has changed?

The falling levels of social trust fuelled by the “me” culture characterise our cultural crisis. In his seventh World Day of the Poor letter, Pope Francis regards this culture as “malign” and says young people are the most vulnerable to its impact. Together for the Common Good consistently calls for all of us to become more intentionally relational and for the fundamental reform of a culture and political economy that dehumanises, commodifies and divides.

The ironically named “social” media has been a major contributory factor in the atrophy of “real life” relational ability among the young. Professor Jonathan Haidt has researched how the smartphone is damaging a generation. He researched significant increases in anxiety and depression from 2004 to 2017 among young people age 11 – 15. Finding that trends were repeated across “the anglosphere”, his findings showed that changes in behaviour happened concurrently with the change from “flip phones” to smartphones. He also found that this new exposure to social media was happening at the same time as parents were reducing free play in an effort to be more protective. Haidt says, “we ended up overprotecting children in the real world while underprotecting them in the virtual world.”

The pandemic only exacerbated a situation in which young people’s brains were already being rewired. Young people were becoming more comfortable with online content than with fellow human beings. The Age of Alienation report says that “young people appear to be around half as likely to say they think other people are trustworthy as they were sixty years ago.”

Being intentionally relational and reciprocal

Loneliness is a symptom of human distress in a deeply dysfunctional culture, but there is an antidote. In this time of confusion and rapid change, it is vital to offer young people encouragement, to equip them with appropriate skills and to know why, as relational beings, human beings need real, local, reciprocal relationships.

Common Good Schools partners are inviting their young people to lead a counter-cultural movement where face-to-face encounters are central. Meeting the needs of another while building an ongoing relationship is fundamental. Whether it is loneliness, mental health concerns, low confidence or low self-esteem, reciprocal relationships are an antidote to so many challenges faced in the school setting. Crucially, young people engaging with Common Good Schools lessons and assemblies also learn why this is important.

Engaging relationally with each other in a school’s community can bring transformation both inside the school and in the neighbourhood. Integrating this common good form of engagement within the life of a school and its local community can be beneficial for all involved. We’re working with our partner schools to observe the effects.

*Latest news*

We’re absolutely delighted to welcome All Saints Multi Academy Trust in Liverpool to the Common Good Schools programme. Two of their secondary schools: Hope Academy and the Academy of St Francis of Assisi will embark on the programme in September, hopefully followed by two more schools from their MAT the following year. Their wonderful chaplain, Mrs Kasia Boydell, will develop their common good commitment across the MAT. All Saints is an ecumenical MAT, drawing inspiration from the work of Archbishop Derek Worlock and Bishop David Sheppard. It is a joy that T4CG and All Saints MAT, sharing the same roots, can work together and we’re excited to see how things develop.

It’s been great to hear how our free Lent resource has been used in so many schools throughout Lent to reflect prayerfully on a common good approach to almsgiving. We even had a request to adapt it which we were happy to accommodate: St Nicholas Catholic High School in Northwich adapted it for their students, who reflected on the parable of the Good Samaritan in their classroom prayer time. The Lent resource is still available via the Common Good Schools website if you want to prepare for next year!

Jo Stow
Common Good Schools Project Leader

During this Easter season, please pray for:

*All Saints MAT staff as they train and prepare to begin the CGS programme in September

*More schools to join

*Financial support to develop CGS further

*For the development of an exciting new partnership between CGS and CSYMI

Do you have a link with your local school? Are you a parent, student, teacher, senior leader, director of an academy trust, trustee or governor? We find the best way to engage is via a personal introduction.

For more details about the programme, please visit the Common Good Schools website where you can book a call with Jo Stow and download a free sample pack to try at your school.

(Left) Students from St Nicholas Catholic High School in Northwich. (Right) Staff and students from Cardinal Heenan Catholic High School and Penny Fields School in Leeds