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By Edith Sizoo

Do common principles mobilise people… everywhere ?

The basic question the Alliance asks itself is : how to meet the challenges which humanity has to face on the threshold of the 21st century ? On the basis of which common guiding principles can the people of the earth act together, despite their diversity? How to mobilise them?
To draw up a Charter, to give it a title and to formulate its guiding principles, is an act of great importance : it is a symbolic act that endows it with meaning. How do the concepts of "responsibility", "plurality", "solidarity", "unity", "governance", "freedom" and "dignity" echo when translated in African, Asian and South-American languages ? Do they correspond with the deep-seated aspirations of people everywhere on the planet ? Do they trigger off a feeling of being obliged to bring about transformations in the years to come ? In short, are they mobilizing ... everywhere?

Concerns and challenges vary

The main concerns of people in various parts of the world, their "challenges of the 21st century", are obviously strongly related to the specific economic, social and political situations in the respective contexts. Where for the majority the bare minimum to survive is not assured, one insists on an equitable sharing of the resources of the earth, on economic security being guaranteed. Likewise, where freedom of political expression is hardly existing, democracy and civil rights are stressed. And where one feels oneself always hindered in the exercise of one's national freedom, politically, economically and culturally, questioning the domination of external forces is considered an important challenge.

Guiding principles vary

Since civilizations distinguish themselves above all by their specific cultural and religious interpretations of life and of relations between the human being and her/his environment, guiding principles to respond to concerns and challenges can differ. Consequently, while the "mainstream" in the Western world is still thinking in homocentric terms of engineering, asserting that the human being can and must plan, manage and control her/his destiny, nature and the course of events, the draft text for a Charter coming from India stresses a "new spirituality, a new holistic and integrated paradigm, a new global dharma, or cosmic law." And while African participants bring out the importance of solidarity understood as mutual obligation and as interdependence, the notions of tolerance and harmony are considered essential in Malaysia. For Thai Buddhists the moral notion of detachment from desires and earthly goods is an important guiding principle, while in the Chinese context the quest for affluence is perfectly acceptable just as re-enchanting the world and feasting is in South America.

Cultural interpretations vary

Apart from the diversity of concerns, challenges and guiding principles, a major problem in international communication -which by definition is intercultural- is that specific cultural nuances of commonly defined key-notions and their implications for social practices may differ.

But… cultural richness is shared

No wonder then that the participants at the Citizens World Assembly in Lille, originating from 125 countries in the world, shared the idea of the necessity to produce an intercultural glossary of the key-notions used in the Human Responsibilities Charter. This intercultural glossary would make explicit to what extent cultural interpretations differ and what they have in common. It would thus contribute to avoiding implicit misunderstandings and at the same time bring out the cultural richness of these key-notions.

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