Building a Culture of Peace and the Evolution of Consciousness
Seminar; Wednesday, 2 June 2004; 3:00 P.M.- 6:00 P.M.
Sharings and Contributions from Friends and Co-Workers in Response to the Seminar1
What is the UN already doing to foster and facilitate a Culture of Peace in the world?
With the U.N., in the past two generations the revolution of consciousness enters into the concrete world and produces, in the various fields of human activity, new levels of awareness based on attentive analyses of situations and their tendencies. In consciousness, however, facts take the name of levels of awareness, which in their turn determine other facts in objective reality. Some of these levels of awareness have already given a formidable acceleration to our way of thinking and therefore of acting.
Today, through the United Nations, there is not a single sector for which there is no international cooperation, for which we do not have a planetary data bank and for which we have not discovered the principal trends and outlined the major corrective action which we should carry out collectively, as a single family, the human one, on a unique planet, Earth. For the first time in history, the peoples of the Earth know each other, foresee the lines of demographic development, the standards of living and the state of health and education, and define human rights and do their best to defend them; not to mention the sciences, whose scope extends from astrophysics to our planetary system, the biosphere, the oceans, and the flora and fauna of the planet. This is a formidable step forward, a situation which simply did not exist in 1945.
At the end of the nineteen-seventies, one of the splendid, innovative expressions of human thought was the North-South Commission, which presented to the world its analyses and proposals for improving the relations between the industrialized and the developing countries. With its revolutionary thinking on the subject of mutual interests between peoples, it had a very powerful impact on public opinion. In that report, the Commission wrote that the reformulation of the relations between the North and South of the world was the biggest social challenge of humanity for the rest of the century. The report concluded thus: "While hunger governs, peace cannot prevail. He who wants to banish war, must also banish hunger. Morally, there is no difference if a human being is killed in war or condemned to die of hunger because of the indifference of others."
The Commission also indicated a "magic" number to the world: 0.7%. Yes, the attentive and severe study of that Commission indicated to the conscience of peoples and their governments that the worst enemies of man, hunger, illness and ignorance, could be defeated simply by earmarking 0.7% of the annual gross domestic product of the industrialized countries for that war. I have purposely used the adverb "simply" because it is on this point that I want to reflect. It is true that less then 1% of yearly national wealth should not represent an impossible commitment for any country; however, it is still truer that this small number represents, or would represent, the evidence of a revolutionary change in the social conscience of the industrialized countries. In fact, only two generations ago many of these same countries had, some more and some less, a colonial policy based mainly on force and exploitation! Presently, we are half the way thru: the world set aside about 0.35% of its GDP to fight the ancient enemies of man: hunger, illness, ignorance. In my view, this little ratio that expresses a gigantic consciousness revolution - which would have been unimaginable just two generations ago - summarizes in the most concise way what the UN is doing to foster and facilitate a Culture of Peace in the World.
What is my vision of a Culture of Peace-for myself? For my home and community? Within the United Nations and within the World?
A major contribution to the development of a culture of peace will come from the enhancement of the role of women within society. In the wake of the new concept of "sustainable development" - which is a pre-requisite for the building of a culture of peace - the problem of substantially improving the possibility for women to participate in the social transformations which are so necessary in so many parts of the world, has gained ever-increasing importance. After four World Conferences of the United Nations on Women, the time is becoming ripe for several fundamental decisions which, once taken, will influence significantly and positively the programmes of sustainable development in many countries. The ground already covered in the right direction is quite clear, if we remember what the social position and role of women were just a single generation ago, even in western countries with an advanced economy. One of the most beautiful thoughts, perhaps the most beautiful, which synthesizes poetically the absurd imbalance between the masculine and feminine role and which at the same time allows one to glimpse the beauty and fullness of a new equilibrium, is that expressed by the Russian writer Helena Roerich: "The flight of humanity's spirit cannot be supported by a single wing".
There appears in consciousness today the need for, and at the same time the initial evidence of a new and global system of ethics. Humanity is searching, in many fields, for very important specific replies to controversial ethical questions (whose concerns range from the ethics of genetic engineering to those of mass communication, from the ethics of responsible procreation to those of the defence of life in extreme circumstances, and also cover economic and political ethics). But it appears increasingly evident that it must give birth to a fundamental global system of ethics, which would constitute the frame of reference for particular and specific ethical problems. This is the perspective for a new code of conduct, which will be the basis for a culture of peace, and in this perspective the UN must contribute significantly, and in some instances will have to take the lead.
The response to this primary moral requirement for global order naturally arises from the new concept of brotherhood which many advanced consciences have already begun to make their own: the concept of unity in diversity. From this revolutionary concept, simple to state but difficult for many to assimilate, it will certainly be possible to deduce the right response to those questions which humanity is asking itself; and concepts like tasks, duties and responsibilities will take on a spiritual dimension and a new meaning in the noble battle of consciousness to build a new era of peace. In this field, the UN has already taken the lead and will have to continue to do so.
Even spirituality itself, particularly in the western world, is undergoing a remarkable transformation. Hedonistic ethics is unfortunately widely diffused in western societies, as a direct consequence of a philosophical culture orientated for a long time mostly towards metaphysical scepticism and the denial of the transcendent. We can say, however that the bottom has been reached: the many aberrations resulting from an exasperated consumerism and the tremendous damage produced by seventy years of historical materialism are signs which indicate that from here one can and must only rise upwards. In fact, corresponding to religions in difficulty because of a crisis of vocations and less frequented temples, there is an introspective tendency and a desire for participation, which represent the beginning of an inversion in tendency in wider and wider social strata. For many millions of people this inversion in tendency has already begun. In this perspective, the NGO's enhanced participation in the work of the UN will play a key role to reinforce the synergy of the UN activities with the "we the people" level of consciousness expression.
In what ways can I contribute to a Culture of Peace-in my personal and professional life?
Public opinion is crucial for the building of a culture of peace. A thought in the Alice Bailey's book "The Externalization of Hierarchy" that is circling the globe is: "Focussed, determined, enlightened public opinion is the most potent force in the world. It has no equal but has been little used". And also: When men everywhere-within the boundaries of their particular state and whilst upholding its authority and its civilisation-begin to think in terms of mankind, then public opinion will become so potent and so right in its inclusiveness that state policies must inevitably conform to the larger ideal, and the sacrifice of the individual and of humanity in large numbers to the individual state will no longer be possible."
However, with few exceptions, the information which we receive every day from the press and television speaks mostly of events which in journalistic slang are defined as subjects which "draw" or "are newsworthy". They are subjects which are based on people's worst qualities: egoism, hatred, separativity. These negative qualities produce, unfortunately still on a wide scale, terrible events like wars, murders, struggles for the control of drugs and prostitution, widespread corruption at all levels, bullying and violence of every kind, and so on; and this trail of violence and blood unfailingly obtains the most space every day in all the newspapers and television programmes. Yet, the reality in which we live does not consist only of that part of humanity which causes those terrible situations that occur every day. There are also many people who live in peace and do their duty, who perform their family and professional tasks every day with respect for others, and who even sacrifice themselves for others. Lastly, there are many who establish a silent army which brings to voluntary service some very different qualities such as altruism, solidarity, sharing and responsibility. And these give rise continually to events which could well be the basis for a daily flow of news which would be positive, encouraging and certainly contagious for all those consciences that are to some extent attentive to those new values for which an already substantial part of humanity lives today.
It is necessary, urgently necessary that a new ethical code sets out this heavy responsibility. It is necessary that the well-prepared public makes its voice heard in order to ask for and encourage information and performances which are different and positive and reveal a new level of consciousness which it is unacceptable for the means of communication to continue to ignore. In the society of global communication, when information and performance are animated by a new sense of responsibility, media will be able to do much to support and disseminate the new values and the new perspectives within humanity.
In this perspective, the contribution of the Good News Agency and The Ethical Code of the Media, launched in the year 2000 by the educational charity that I have the privilege to preside, will become even more significant for the building of a more balanced public opinion. Both documents will continue to be spread around the world - presently to 2,400 media and 2,500 NGOs in 48 countries - and will continue to be available in our website www.goodnewsagency.org.
"The dawning of the new millennium gives us a scope to take lessons from our past in order to build a new and better tomorrow. One lesson learned is that to prevent history repeating itself, the values of non-violence, tolerance and democracy will have to be inculcated in every woman and man - children and adults alike. All of you have heard it many times, but I would like to quote from the UNESCO Constitution one more time because of its relevance and value: 'Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constituted.' The flourishing of a culture of peace will generate the mindset that is a prerequisite for the transition from force to reason, from conflict and violence to dialogue and peace. A Culture of peace will then provide the bedrock to support a stable, progressing and prospering world - a world that is finally at peace with itself." Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury4
The UN General Assembly proclaimed the year 2000 as the International Year for the Culture of Peace, stressing the need to work through education, science, and communication to lead to the respect of all human rights, the promotion of democracy, reconciliation, and solidarity.
After the groundwork for a culture of peace was set, the UN General Assembly proclaimed the International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-violence for the Children of the World (2001-2010) stating that it was "convinced that such a decade, at the beginning of the new millennium, would greatly assist the efforts of the international community to foster peace, harmony, all human rights, democracy, and development throughout the world."
The Decade calls upon UN bodies, NGOs, religious bodies and groups, educational institutions, artists and the media, actively to support a culture of nonviolence for the benefit of every child of the world." Closely related to the culture of peace, the UN General Assembly had designated the year 2001 as "the Year of Dialogue Among Civilizations". At one level, the dialogue among civilization was an intellectual reaction to the widely quoted article of Samuel Huntington "The Clash of Civilizations" in the US journal Foreign Affairs (Vol. 72, N°3, 1993). Huntington wrote "Differences among civilizations are basic, involving history, language, culture, tradition, and most importantly, religion. Different civilizations have different views on the relations between God and Man, the citizen and the state, parents and children, liberty and authority, equality and hierarchy. These differences are the product of centuries. They will not soon disappear."
While recognizing the truth that civilizations change slowly and that the past is always embodied in the present, we must also recognize that we are at a time of a major change of history. The accelerating pace of change in the political, social, technological, economic, cultural, and spiritual arenas of human affairs has created new opportunities for dialogue as the world is inexorably being transformed into a global society. One of the central tasks of today is to develop a problem-solving, future-oriented global view, which addresses the important concerns, issues, and problems of humanity as a whole. We need to identify as clear a vision as possible of a feasible and desirable world society and to outline the specific steps required to move in that direction. We need to analyze clearly the challenges and responsibilities related to the transition to a global society.
The Culture of Peace and the Dialogue Among Civilizations provide a common framework in which we may analyze the past and set out visions for the future. We must begin where we are. As Amiya Chakravarty, a literary secretary to Rabindranath Tagore has written "Each individual must strike the 'universal concrete' in terms of his own creative effort, in the milieu of his own cultural heritage; only by proceeding from wherever we are, geographically, spiritually or vocationally, can we make the integral effort for peace. The peace-worker belongs to the entire human family, using the language of religious associations to which he has been born, and which he transforms not necessarily by revolt but by inner transcendence."
There is a need for breaking new ground. We are called upon to look at the possible contributions of multi-civilizational dialogue to a culture of peace. While there has been for some time multi-religious or inter-faith discussions, a civilization goes well beyond religious dimensions. The methods for such a multi-civilizational dialogue need to be worked out. The "clash of civilizations" is relatively easy to envisage, especially after the 11 September 2001 attacks in the USA followed by the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. More effort will be needed to have meaningful dialogue on the foundations of a culture of peace, but such a dialogue will respond to a crucial need for our time of transition.
1 If you would like to send us your responses to the audience participation questions, please write to us at UN@aquaac.org.
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