When we plan for ambitious objectives of peace, environment protection, justice and democracy, often one of the most neglected aspects is the simultaneous creation of widespread and strong value systems in society which are in tune with these most important objectives and support them.
Can we create peace in our world if most people have strong feelings of hostility? Can we protect environment if most people do not care about the impact of their life-style on environment? Can we create a just society if most people see nothing wrong in snatching the share of others if they can?
The answers to these questions are obvious. Our world cannot achieve the most essential and important objectives without these being internalised by a very large number of people in the form of conducive value systems.
Some core values are essential not just for creating a better and safer world but also for saving it from ruin. Such values should be treated as universal human values (and not restricted to any faith, religion or nationality). These core values should be such that at least in an open discussion these should be acceptable to everyone ie people of all faiths and nationalities. There can be a broad agreement on identifying and understanding these various core values properly, and on the basis of such an understanding continuing efforts should be made for wider acceptance of these values and deep commitment to them. This can be an extremely creative and participatory process.
One such core value, obviously, is non-violence. This means that we try our best to lead a life, in various ways, which does not involve any violence towards fellow human-beings and other forms of life. We consciously train ourselves not to be violent and aggressive towards others, in action and thought. We do not try to take undue advantage of others, we do not try to deprive and exploit others, we do not inflict any physical and emotional violence on others, we do not push others to get ahead of them.
A related value is that of non-dominance, or not trying to dominate others. A person may not indulge in any physical violence but if he has an excessive and persistent tendency to try to dominate others, he may end up creating even more distress then someone who indulges in physical violence habitually. The inclination that many human beings have towards pushing relations in ways that only their urge or view prevails, without bothering about the distress caused to others and society, should be disciplined and checked. Instead of relationship of dominance, we need relationships of understanding and co-operation at all levels. Instead of trying relentlessly to dominate others in daily life, we need to listen to others, try to understand them, give importance to what they have to say and be caring towards them. This will be useful at levels, all the more so in improving gender relationships.
Another core value is that of accepting equality of all human beings and becoming genuinely free of any discriminative bias on the basis of gender, nationality, ethnicity, colour, religions, caste etc. Thus we sincerely wish well for all human beings, regardless of their nationality or religion. As long as nation-states exist, a citizen’s first loyalty is of course to his own nation but this shouldn’t (in normal circumstances) stand in the way of sincerely wishing well for all the rest of humanity and not wishing ill for anyone. This care value also includes the belief that all human beings are capable of living together in relationships of friendship, respect and co-operation, regardless of their religion, nationality, caste, colour etc.
A person who from innermost heart wishes well for all is already a good global citizen and this strength increases further when there is a protective attitude towards all forms of life and their habitats. This must be part of an overall highly protective attitude towards environment. This was always important, but today this is needed more than ever before.
While this is often stated, it is not adequately emphasised that this must come with important life-style decisions and choices in order to have any meaningful impact. A commitment to environment protection is effective only if it is accompanied by carefully reducing adverse impact as much as possible and contributing to environment protection whenever possible. If prevailing value systems include such care and caution about environment, then this will go a long way in protecting our planet. A value system which honours simplicity and rejects consumerism is highly conducive for protection of environment.
A life restrained in material consumption not only helps in environment protection, but creates more space for helping others, particularly those in need. Values of kindness and compassion must be backed by efforts to create the space for this.
Most of this take us in the direction of bringing our own life in conformity with the welfare of others, particularly those placed in more difficult situations. It is within this framework that all efforts at self-improvement and improving one’s capabilities and creativity should be made, so that the ability to contribute to the welfare of the wider world is also enhanced (along with the ability to contribute to our own welfare). When a person with such an understanding ‘progresses’ the rest of the world also progresses while a self-centered person spreads his ambitions in ways this are often at the cost of others.
A closely related value is to always try to be on the side of justice, and to build up the courage to do so. This in turn is related to the wider commitment to truth and honesty in life.
Honesty is often discussed in the context of financial matters. This is important, of course, but a much wider honesty is needed in all relationships, and in standing by what one perceives as truth and justice.
While these values hold firm for most situations, these can’t be absolute. Exceptions arise . Short-term violence may be needed to prevent someone or some force from committing heavy destruction. A nation faced with a very unjust and destructive invasion may have no option but to take up arms in self-defence, and this use of violence as a last resort in a difficult situation should be seen as courage. Regarding all as equal today does not means that those with a long history of injustice should not get special benefits (in fact this will help society to move in direction of equality).
Strengthening of such universal values over which very broad-based agreement can be reached will contribute a lot to resolving the most serious problems of our deeply troubled world.
Action plans to change governance systems, create new institutions or reform old ones in a big way attract a lot of attention. But such institutional reforms succeed only when the issues advanced by them have the enthusiastic support of a very large number of people. Apart from institutional reforms, there is a clear need to spread the values of environment protection, peace and a world without borders among as many people as possible, particularly youth.
This needs a very strong and continuing campaign which can be sustained year after year. Such campaigns will try to change value systems at all important levels including family, school and college, various community organisations and elsewhere. Such a campaign can creative conducive conditions for big, badly needed reforms in governance systems which may not appear likely or practical just now.
Bharat Dogra is a freelance journalist who has been involved with several movements and initiatives.