The Spiritual Work of the United Nations:
Building a Planetary Consciousness

Thursday, October 21, 1999, 3-5:30 p.m.

 The World Bank

Not to be quoted



Statement delivered by
Alfredo Sfeir-Younis
Special Representative to the United Nations

Dear Friends:

Thank you very much for inviting me to speak today.

As many of you already know, I will be leaving New York mid November to work very closely with the United Nations organizations and the World Trade Organization in Geneva. I will also be working with NGOs and other groups of civil society.

The Theme

The theme of today is a very fundamental one, and a very complex one to address, unless Planetary Consciousness is used here to simply mean being concerned about our planet.

You have entitled the theme of today's gathering: "Planetary Consciousness and Spirituality through the Work of the UN"

This is such a vast subject matter, which makes it impossible for me to address each and every aspect of it.

Today, in a few minutes, I would like to explore the relationship between "Planetary Consciousness, Spirituality and Economic Development".

The main reason to acknowledge the main links with economics, or with economic development, is that I am totally convinced that until and unless there is a total reconciliation between economics and spirituality, there will not be peace in the world; there will not be a state of human welfare which would be really acceptable to us all. But I will come back to this particular issue in a minute.

The Importance of This Group

Let me preamble my presentation by saying that:

On my personal side, I want to thank this group for its existence.

To me, its presence at the UN allows many people to speak about values, to speak about what is not only relevant to the individual interest but to the collective interest too; in this case the Planetary interest. This is an essential dimension of the debate we should be having here today.

The Soul and Consciousness of Organizations

Let me also speak a little bit about Planetary Consciousness and my views regarding the UN.

Behind every organization there is a corresponding soul and therefore a definite form of consciousness. The soul of any organization is essentially defined and determined by those individuals who make that entity! Thus, there is no such a thing as 'government' defined in the abstract or in isolation. Any government is no more and no less than those individuals who form part of it. And thus, the soul of a government has a lot to do with the soul of the leaders and of each and everyone who belong and contribute to it.

The same applies to your organization. The soul of it is a mirror image of who you are.

The same applies to the UN. Any assessment of the UN must pass through those of us who belong to it in one form or another.

My friends, this is an important thought I wanted to share with you.

The UN is not the building housing us. It is not the paper we all produce in our respective organizations. It goes far beyond that.

The second thought I would like to share today is that behind every entity, like the government, the UN or your group, there is also a definite form of consciousness. But the level of this consciousness is defined, and heavily influenced, not only by those who form part of the organization but, in many cases, by the collective consciousness surrounding the entity in question.

The reason is simple: consciousness is a field, it is a plane that has no boundaries and, thus, it all belongs to the highest and most expansive form of consciousness that is around us. It is for this reason that many times individual consciousness is heavily influenced by group consciousness.

This is the reason why the individual consciousness of those leading governments is often dominated by the level, nature and character of social consciousness. And, it is the interaction among them, within that open field, that is the major determinant of the outcomes we see in the world today.

At the level of interaction, it is therefore not surprising to find that many leaders, with high levels of consciousness, may make genuine promises as they advance into a position of power, but when they actually are in power, their source of power is basically dominated by the empowerment society is prepared to give them. Once anyone is in a position of power, one must remain fully aware of the fact that it is possible to get completely dominated by the level of social consciousness.

The paradox is that social consciousness is also determined by the level of individual consciousness manifested in a collective form.

At the level of results, we see that despite the billions of dollars spent in the name of economic development:

And I can go on and on.

The same applies to the natural environment. Environmental degradation is really a threat to our existence on this planet. I do not know if our leaders are waiting for a spaceship to come and pick us up to go to another planet, but the situation here is getting worse and worse.

With the demographic dynamics permeating our world today, clearly we have a problem. WE are now 6 billion people and we can be twice as many in a few decades.

Thus, judging from the results, it seems that the level of social consciousness dominating the world today is not very high.

But at the root of the problem, or the principal determinant of this social level of consciousness, is individual consciousness. And it is here where most of our attention needs to be paid.

I am sure that none of us want to see the above mentioned results of development. If I go around the room and I ask, What type of economic development would you like to have? You will certainly say, for example, an economic development pattern that increases the material welfare of people, a world void of hunger and malnutrition, one that is gender equal, one that protects our children, and so on.

Some of you may also say that development must make people happy. Happiness may be a central instrument to measure where we are going with development. That development should result in everlasting peace.

Another group may suggest that development must also lead to enlightenment.

There is no doubt in my mind that all of the above are necessary. That all of the above are needed and should form part and parcel of our everyday activities in development.


The only answer to this question is related to the level of individual and social consciousness.

The lower the levels of consciousness, the less the ability we, individually or collectively, have to maintain the holistic values, the unity values, of development as we move to development implementation.

Let me come back to the fundamentals, before I move to another important theme.

I have said that it is central to acknowledge both the soul and the consciousness of organizations. In both cases, I have implied that if one is to judge any organization, including those involved in peace and development, or if one is to judge the quality and scope of the work such an organization performs, everything really depends on the level of individual and social consciousness.

Organizations cannot be judged in the abstract!

These thoughts may have some important implications for the ways in which we address many of the dimensions of the theme of today.

This reminds me of a conversation I had very recently with the owner of a luggage shop on Lexington Avenue. He was really very pushy and I do not know how we got into an argument about the fact that we consumers are making him react. To that he stated that money is not the relevant issue. That the real issue was the person who has the money.

But, in actual fact, one should go one step further, the real issue here is about the level of consciousness of the person who has the money. Does he or she have the right level of individual and social consciousness to make the right decision with the money he or she possesses?

But change in behavior has its roots in consciousness. While one may start by changing the core values and belief systems of an organization, at the roots of those values lies consciousness.

The UN and Planetary Consciousness

Let me turn to the UN and Planetary Consciousness.

In my view, the UN is an essential and indispensable institution in the world today. The principles that created the UN are as applicable now as they were when the Dumbarton Oaks Declaration was announced in San Francisco.

The planetary and universal foundation of its values and functions are its essence, and to this we need to pay attention for a few minutes.

To start, it is important to note that there are now major differences in the external environment of the UN as compared with the early forties. Now near the turn of the century, these changes must be recognized. In particular, the role of civil society, the private sector and globalization are three of the many other elements that are writing the history of the planet today.

But more important than these is our degree of interconnectedness. Technology allows us to be here and there at the same time. It allows us to communicate almost instantaneously.

Also, the world has become 'smaller' and what one does on one side of the globe clearly determines what can be done on the other side.

These elements have brought about a higher level of awareness of universal and global principles in the design and implementation of policies and programs. These universal values are beginning to be understood by almost all organizations engaged in development.

But this is not just a matter of recognition. This is not just a matter of thinking universally.

This is a matter of operating with and within the framework of universal consciousness or planetary consciousness. And, I am not sure that we are there yet. This is not an easy task, as it requires major inner transformations. It requires major group transformations. It requires major global transformation.

The framework that will allow us to make these transformations a reality is what I have been calling the "paradigm of consciousness"-an all encompassing paradigm whose point of departure is human consciousness; Whose points of departure are all the human dimensions of the development process. This is the real paradigm of unity.

In other words, this is a paradigm that starts from the premise that human consciousness is the ultimate source of economic development.

On The Importance of Spiritual Values

The paradigm of consciousness raises very important questions:

In my experience it seems that there is some sort of a sequence one would need to recognize, if an appropriate answer will be found for those questions. Four components of this sequence may be worth mentioning:


Let me make a few very brief references to each before I share a few final thoughts.

Let us assume that we are all aware of the need of recognizing the importance of planetary consciousness. This may be a gross assumption, as the result of development tends to show something rather different. If awareness is not there, work programs will not reflect the dimensions of planetary consciousness. If awareness is not there, what is then the role of this group?

I know you have that level of awareness; but does the general public have it? Do our colleagues have that level of awareness, or is this seen as something really esoteric and impractical?

Let me move into the question of values. Planetary consciousness rests on universality in the being and in the acting. If we have value systems that are not universal, then we will not attain the aim we are all seeking.

Universality means that nobody and nothing is excluded. Thus, value systems that are in themselves exclusive rather than inclusive should be scrutinized thoroughly! I have stated somewhere that financial and economic value systems are more exclusive than inclusive. That the market mechanisms, as practiced these days are more exclusive rather than inclusive. Information is overwhelmingly showing that. Not long ago some magazine published a frightening statistic: that the five richest people (I recollect) in the world posses more wealth than the whole Sub-Saharan Africa.

Of course, there are many reasons that explain such a wealth gap.

Only a spiritual value system is universal; nobody and nothing is excluded in the path towards Supreme Consciousness. This is available in Chile, in Sudan-anywhere.

But universality must be understood within an organized order in the planet and the cosmos. Thus a spiritual value system must also be evolutionary, as it must embody the fundamental foundations of Natural Law and the Constitution of the Universe. We, the human race, are part of this organized order. We are part of this evolution.

In many instances, the laws of the market clearly violate Natural Law, and there are plenty of examples that show this dilemma.

What is important to remember is that spiritual values are not only universal and evolutionary, but they are also the foundation of social identity; they provide the quality value of human development and progress and they reflect the nature and character of the direction and orientation built into change.

Why there is a Need for a Spiritual Forum

I know many of you here have been advocating the need for a Spiritual Forum. This is not a new idea, but it is an excellent idea.

This Forum is not just a spiritual idea but a fundamental necessity for the world to function within the foundation of the new paradigm I presented earlier. Politics and economics will not be sufficient to attain the type of aims and goals humanity is striving for.

The Spiritual Forum is probably the most important pillar to unify Planetary Consciousness, spirituality and economic development.

Final Thoughts

As my presentation has been rather long, let me leave behind three fundamental ideas.

First, the next millennium must be one that sees the paradigm of consciousness unfold. This is to say, an approach to economic and social development that starts with each and every individual. Where true change and transformation will start from within; from where it really should start.

Thus, we will not ask ourselves about the different types of pollution and environmental degradations, but we will start by asking ourselves why is it that we human beings pollute in the first place. The point of departure will not be pollution but who pollutes. The answer to this question is not trivial as there are not only psychological, social, and economic reasons, but a number of key biological and spiritual reasons as well.

Second, the next millennium has to embrace spiritual values not as a matter of being "touchy-feely" about the world that houses us, but as a matter of fundamental existence. It is impossible to conduct the business of development and human progress disregarding the identity, knowledge and quality value of that progress. The key elements of a spiritual value system must permeate everything we do, and we must be extremely vigilant and proactive that this actually happens.

This will require asking ourselves a number of questions when we judge the work programs of any institution. Examples of these questions are:

Is this issue part of the mandate of the institution? Why is it, for example, that this issue is being discussed at the UN? What is the uniqueness of the issue that demands the attention of this or another institution? Where is the human face and the spiritual dimension of the problem, issue, and/or work program in question?

Third, and finally, the next millennium will have to be a millennium of reconciliation. But, as I expressed at the very beginning of my presentation, this will be the millennium where there must be reconciliation between spirituality and economics.

History has shown all along the many forms and scope of the different forms of reconciliation. At one time in history humanity could not advance without reconciliation between religion and science. Many wars and conflicts were created as a result of a lack of reconciliation between science and religion.

But this is the millennium where all of us must ensure reconciliation between the material and the non-material world. The duality between the material and the non-material is the main source of conflict and human destruction.

What is most important to understand is that the material and the non-material are the two sides of the same coin. Advancement in the material world cannot attain higher values of human welfare without expanding the non-material-the spiritual dimensions of our lives.

This was well recognized in the Dumbarton Oaks Declaration of 1944. One of the main roles of the UN was to be the seeker of freedom. And this was defined as the provision of knowledge that will advance both material and spiritual growth. This idea recently resurfaced about a year or so ago in one of the Secretary-General's reports to the Commission on Social Development.

It is simply a mistake to believe that humanity can improve its welfare in a sustainable manner, while disregarding spiritual growth. In this context, for every effort to advance material growth, we need a similar effort to advance spiritual growth.

My friends,

These are the main elements that form the bottom line of our debate:

Human consciousness, spiritual values and eliminating the duality between the material and the non-material (reconciliation between spirituality and economics).

This is our real challenge. But it is the challenge of choice, and the choice is yours,

Thank you very much.