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By Sergio Tripi

[SEPT. 11, 2004]  An editorial for the 57th annual DPI/NGO Conference, "Millennium Development Goals: Civil Society Takes Action":

"Our chances of success depend in great part on the degree to which you, the individuals and groups that make up civil society, mobilize around this [Millennium Development Goals] mission."

-- U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan

For the careful observer, consciousness is changing. We are rapidly accepting the fact that we cannot go on as before, and we are becoming more and more open to new possibilities. A wise use of the creative imagination is essential in order to recognize, among these new possibilities, those which are most able to improve the quality of life. There are now many signs that indicate how the cultivation of creativity is becoming an accepted aim, not only in the education of the young, but also in the world of adults. There is a growing recognition of the importance of inventiveness and imagination in the growth process of the young. And there is a growing interest in courses in creative thought in the world of work, particularly among the leadership. These tendencies, if extended and projected into the future, show what is in store: a global culture, in which regional and national differences are preserved in order to enrich each other, with an accent on creativity in its myriad forms. William James said: "The greatest discovery of my generation is that human beings can change their lives by changing their mental attitudes." It is a revolutionary discovery, because it assigns to humanity as a whole, but also to every single inhabitant of this planet, including me and you who are reading these lines, the ability and the responsibility to contribute to creating a better future from the point of view of unity in diversity.

There emerges in consciousness today the need for, and at the same time the initial evidence of, a new and global system of ethics, which can only spring from the new concept of brotherhood which many people of advanced consciousness have already begun to make their own: the concept, precisely, of unity in diversity. It is a concept of explosive power. It knocks down the barricades erected by different doctrines, overcomes the barriers of different conceptions and behavior, and conquers the incomprehension, animosity and hatred which these differences, sometimes exasperated to the point of fanaticism, have originated and consolidated. From this revolutionary concept, easy to speak of but difficult for many to assimilate, it will certainly be possible to elicit the right reply to those questions which humanity is asking itself in order to rebuild the science of human relationships. And concepts such as tasks, duties and responsibilities will take on a spiritual dimension and a new meaning in the beautiful battle of consciousness to build a new age of peace.

To go from theory to practice, I have some difficult questions to ask. Have we perhaps sown thoughts of comprehension and respect for the weakest in the consciousness of our youth? Have we perhaps taken to heart the tremendous historical results of an education and teaching centered on the principle of force as the greatest social law -- results that, especially in the 20th century, have been devastating, horrible? Have we perhaps indicated to our young people examples of real servants of humanity, stirring in their consciousness the light of comprehension and the responsibility of sharing? Have we perhaps brought to the school desks and the universities, in a predominant way, those principles of fairness which can give rise to responsible social behavior and constitute strong brakes on those whose consciousness is still immature? Or haven't we perhaps proposed to them, in the occurrences of every day, models of conduct which exalt personal achievement to the detriment of the collective interest? And in the media, with few exceptions, haven't we perhaps accepted the indication to our young people, and sometimes the exaltation, of egoistic and venal values which give rise to and feed materialism, individualism, and exasperated and unrestrained social climbing, which takes on, in its worst form, the concept of the end that justifies the means? Haven't we perhaps produced a virtual reality in which violence and cruelty are spotlighted in minute details, almost with satisfaction? Haven't we perhaps accepted as unavoidable the fact of living an existence of well-being side by side with extremely hard and cruel realities that see thousands of children die of hunger every day? Haven't we perhaps accepted without objection, in the virtual reality which now envelops us, protagonists of infinite television stories in which hatred, betrayal, promiscuity and unrestrained social climbing constitute the basic elements for perverted designs and for crimes pursued with wickedness and ruthlessness? Haven't we accepted, even legitimized, these types of behavior, which are characteristic of some social groups, insidiously and ambiguously proposed as a model and a point of arrival for our young people?

Let us, then, assume our responsibilities. Is it too late to change this situation? In spite of everything, I think not. Innovative teachings begin to clear a path in schools and universities. In some high schools, farsighted cultural and didactic associations are presenting to the young, with a real spirit of service, those problems of strong socio-economic imbalance which have brought about very serious situations in many parts of the world. And in some universities a new viewpoint of evaluating world problems and the responsibilities which derive from them is beginning to penetrate. Faculties like political science, economics, jurisprudence, sociology and science of communications are beginning to acknowledge new subjects of study that incorporate responsibilities, tasks and innovative prospects for future levies of management. Moreover, the hundreds of non-governmental associations, the many thousands of nonprofit associations and the many millions of people dedicated to voluntary service bear witness to the fact that a silent revolution of consciousness is already in progress. It is an inexorable movement which it will be impossible to stop. It is our best guarantee that we will gradually know how to build a society that is more just and more inwardly aware and thus really happy, and it is our best evidence that each one of us, in his family, in his profession, in his own place of work and in his free time can immediately bring his own contribution. And I ask those who tend to be discouraged, because they see that these new people, these consciences awakened to the real personal and social values, are still in a clear minority, to bear in mind the scientific concept of "critical mass" and to ask themselves this question: At what level will this growing minority of the population reach a critical mass that will bring about spontaneous modifications in the social tissue? When it will have reached 15 percent? We are already there. Twenty percent? Perhaps, and we are not so far off. Twenty-five percent? Almost certainly, and it will not be long before that level is reached and man will at last be able to show that he knows how to take care of this planet. Pure optimism? Not at all. It is the awareness of not being any longer far from that level of critical mass that I have mentioned, coupled with the certainty that we don't have much more time to change the quality of life on Earth by resolutely traveling the road of sustainable development. In other words: virtue of necessity.


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At least three different levels of values should be included in the vision of sustainable development. At the first level, the most tangible, there are the intelligent calculations made by the scientists or the economists concerning human survival. At the second level there are the compassionate concerns for human justice to which all the movements involved in development and human rights give voice. The third and most inward level, the source of vision, goes beyond the interests only of humanity to include all life. This is the level at which the unity of creation and the subtle interdependence of all creatures are perceived. It is the level to which the religions bear witness, even if it is not necessary to be formally religious to recognize it. It is supported by the understanding of ecology. It can be defined as the spiritual level. There is an urgent need to integrate these different levels of values so that the guidelines and the programs outlined at the Johannesburg Summit honor all three dimensions: those of the mind, the heart and the human spirit.

A fact that is often forgotten regarding human development is that it does not necessarily imply an ever-growing production of goods and services. It is true, for example, that buildings and textbooks are necessary to supply the basis for the education of the population; but human potential is something subtle and subjective, and it is from the relationship that we create between ideas and facts that knowledge, wisdom and culture emerge. A growing number of people are supporting the idea of a culture that is simple in its means and rich in its goals and which deliberately includes not only human beings but all creatures. There is little doubt that such an approach is necessary, particularly in those countries that are already following a course of intense production and consumption. The statistics are convincing; and we are all aware that, if every person in the world consumed as much as the average person in the high-income Western countries, we would need another three Earths to sustain us. Thus the goal of sustainable development cannot be a continuation, an expansion of such as intense exploitation of natural systems. We must learn instead how to extend our comprehension and our respect in order to ensure the sustainability of their usage, also from the viewpoint of future generations, making this the tangible evidence of our degree of free identification with the new emerging values.

In each of the fields of expression of human activity, institutions and practices exist, both at the national and the international level, that materially condition the extent to which individuals can exercise their own liberty. Much has been written about the different, complicated systems on the basis of which such institutions interact within the different societies all over the world. At the center of this complicated network of conditioning factors are the people, the individuals, with their attempts to exercise their own will freely. The meaning of liberty concerns essentially the capacity to make choices, and it is thus a question of values. Liberty of action must therefore be exercised responsibly, given that every choice made by us, every value proclaimed by us, concerns those who surround us and inscrutably extends its sphere of influence outwards. This flow of thought is most valid when it is a question of exercising one's liberty in the choice of fields and programs of service which, as such, though they start from us, extend outside us and provide tangible evidence of how delicate the exercise of this faculty is.

More and more groups characterized by the common desire to serve a cause have been established in the last 50 years, and their number continues to grow. In these days, the nongovernmental organizations associated with the U.N. Department of Public Information are participating in the 57th NGO/DPI Annual Conference at the U.N. Headquarters, coming from the four corners of the world. "This conference aims to raise public awareness and support for the Millennium Development Goals through the 3,000 NGOs working directly with the U.N. Secretariat," says Shashi Tharoor, under-secretary-general for communications and public information of the United Nations. "The involvement of civil society partners in the MDG campaign is essential to its success." And the recognition of the significance of a minority, any minority, working for the common good was splendidly expressed by the American sociologist Margaret Mead, who said: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has." Yes, this too is a fine expression of critical mass!


[Good News Agency editorial by Sergio Tripi;
translation by Jancis Browning]


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