Fraternity implies a wide range of possibilities for positive human relationships; comradeship, friendship, and even implies of intimacy for which there is no really adequate word in English but is implied in New Testament Greek word for the love between friends. Jesus is presented in the story as meeting Peter on the beach after the latter had fled and denied him before his trial and crucifixion. Jesus asks Peter do you agape me Peter (i.e. love me in a self-sacrificial way as a parent may love a child or as Jesus himself is reported to have said elsewhere in the New Testament ‘no greater love has a person than to lay down their life for another). Saint Peters answer is no – that he loves Jesus philia –the love between friends a lesser degree of love than agape. But significantly Jesus, who Christians believe was God in human form, did not reject Saint Peter but rather accepted this lesser level of love and made Saint Peter the founder of the Christian Church on earth and gave him the Keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. Why? Well theologically a Christian might answer that all human love is imperfect as is humankind in general and that only God is perfect love as demonstrated by the incarnation and crucifixion of God in the form of Jesus .Jesus as God in accepting our friendship accepts us in our imperfection as well. That acceptance is surely the basis for all friendships and equally is a requirement for the successful practice of Fraternity. For us humans the love between friends philia is of fundamental importance and is a mark of our humanity. When making sure I had spelt philia correctly I came across this quote from Aristotle on Google: “Aristotle takes philia to be both necessary as a means to happiness (“no one would choose to live without friends even if he had all the other goods” [1155a5– 6]) and noble and fine in itself.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philia)
Fraternity like philia covers a wide range of possible relationships including both erotic relationships young lovers, close friends, comrades in arms, members of associations like co-operatives, trades unions and political parties, religious groups, communities based on tribes, clans, regions and nations and to commercial relationships. Like philia Fraternity requires in general a symmetrical relationship of reciprocity or what we might also call mutuality. Aristotle presents three arguments for true deep friendship or love of friends or philia. Being concerned for others is an inherent good or virtue in its own right. Secondly we need the company of likeminded people to be effective in the world and to have truly fulfilled lives. Thirdly, in the company of those who are like ourselves and with whom we share so much in common we can find an affirmation of our own self and life style. (ibid) To practice of Fraternity therefore is to be virtuous and to grow in virtue character and spiritual development is thus implied paradoxically to practise the Virtue of Fraternity to other requires and interior development. Readers might like to visit the Dali Lamas’ ecumenically orientated Mind and Life Institute as one possible source of guidance in this area of interior development. http://www.mindandlife.org/dialogues/ another possible source is the Carmelite website http://www.carmelites.net/prayer/pray-like-a-carmelite/ and another might be Coleman Barks definitive translation of the Sufi Poet Rumi www.sufipoetry.wordpress.com/poets/rumi/ and www.rumi.org.uk/sufism/
In the Co-operative Fraternity may be developed within the organisations and membership culture. Fraternity becomes the common bond not simply within the co-operative however but with the co-operatives relationship with all its stakeholders. One of the best statements of a co-operatives stakeholder grounding in the wider society- now sadly diluted under a changed management structure- was that of the UK Co-operative Bank under the leadership of its then CEO Terry Thomas.
A co-operative business that can associate itself with all its stakeholders on the basis of business integrity and mutual benefits, cemented by a recognition of common bonds and needs will demonstrate this by its’ Fraternal relationships with those stakeholders. Such relationships will always be grounded in policies and strategies that are transparently for the common good, implemented by management and staff and understood and supported by the wider membership in a shared culture of co-operative values.
All very well BUT the question is how? How to establish this context? How to maintain this? And not least how to reconcile the inevitable conflicts of interest when they emerge?
We propose the following areas for development of Fraternity within co-operatives and their wider stakeholder relationships
Firstly, the implementation of co-operative holistic market research that understands the stakeholder as an intimate friend. Secondly, the ethical use of this information which can never be used to manipulate or control or disseminate to people or organisations without the consent of those concerned but can only be used as information to improve the quality of the co-operatives products and services to its customers and members. Thirdly, by the operationalizing of this understanding in the terms of the customer /members offer; the suppliers brief and contract and in the co-operatives practices and responses to its other stakeholders by its communications, policies, procedures, operational practises and staff and member development and training.
The aim is not to be merely seen to be a friend to our stakeholders but in fact to be a friend to them and for them to be a friend to the co-operative. (See Education and Training)