A world to heal
Faced as we are with the twin global crises of the pandemic and climate change, we need to revive the remarkable wisdom inherent in the notions of freedoms balanced with responsibilities. The very principles of ‘duties done’ and then ‘rights acquired’ that dictated the life of Mahatma Gandhi and is at the core of thinking in Hinduism and Buddhism is what is glaringly missing in the limited conception of ‘freedoms’ articulated by Roosevelt and apparent in the manner in which Western societies have functioned. This is, of course, not to take away the major contribution that Roosevelt made by reminding the world of this civilizational thinking.
The timing in 1941 of Roosevelt’s four freedoms speech was perfect. The world was floundering as a result of global warfare, the great dislocation of people and communities, and the beginning of severe economic hardship. Principled leadership and the vision for a just world was sorely needed. Today, we are again at a global inflection point where the threats are not so different, given the scale of tragedy from the Covid-19 pandemic, and the impending destruction of humanity and the environment from climate change.
The protests, across Europe and the United States, against the restrictions necessitated by Covid-19 and indeed the assault on the US Capitol on January 6 to protest the carriage of democracy, are examples of ‘freedoms’ shorn of ‘duties and responsibilities’ on both an individual and collective level. It is these very countries and populations whose wealth and lifestyles have, in fact, been the major contributors to global warming that have brought our planet to the current ecological precipice. Contrast this, as an example, with the response to Covid-19 in the countries of South East Asia where a much deeper notion of duties and responsibilities has ensured a much more successful response to Covid-19 than we see in Western countries.
We need to recall, learn from and propound the remarkable wisdom inherent in the notion of freedoms and virtues flowing from some of the world’s great religions and eminent thinkers. As we prepare for the long road ahead we need to build, perhaps anew, a world where the realisation of human rights is paramount, tempered by the responsibilities we all have to each other and to our fragile planet
This post was originally published on Radio Free.