Towards a Culture of Diverse Humanity

After the attacks of 11th September, how will learning change?

A good education does not just consist of making a mass of information available; it teaches knowledge in the form of skills and adaptability. It promotes openness towards different ways of doing things and, at the same time, it emphasises the values that all human beings hold in common. It has to take in the innovations that mankind continues to devise. It also has to take in the ancient values shared by all cultures: respect for life, respect for justice, altruism, dignity, integrity and understanding, among others. School is just the beginning; good students never stop learning.

How will education be in the future? As Albert Einstein said, "At a time of crisis, only imagination is more important than knowledge". However, dare I say, we will always need both knowledge and imagination in equal measure. Improved knowledge will enable us all to co-exist more easily in the present and will open the way to a safer and happier world civilisation. However, if we do not imagine that civilisation vividly, we will have little chance of moving towards it.

Let us imagine a world of people who all enjoy sufficient health and education to make their own opportunities for a better future. If educational methods and assumptions do not evolve to bring that about, we will continue to suffer from conflict, violence and war. If we do achieve it, violence will still exist - but it will have lost most of its power. Terrorists find support where there is despair and poverty, because violence then appears to be the only option for survival. Education offers other options.

After this emergency, we need to state clearly our educational purpose, heighten ethical values and cultivate a vigorous determination that we may in fact achieve the impossible. The task of educators all over the world should now be to establish the standards and criteria which will make us able to assert our differences and disagreements without recourse to violence.

We may look to other times as well as other places in seeking expressions of humanitarian values. The twelfth-century Sicilian Muslim author, Ibn Zafari, held up a number of Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians as examples of virtuous living, and wrote: "Nations, despite difference in religion, time and country, are agreed in praising four virtues: knowledge, detachment, generosity, fidelity." [1]. Who could disagree? How could these same values be promoted today?

The first step is to establish, through intercultural dialogue, that these and other values are the same values to which every culture subscribes. Educational methodologies worldwide will need to take these universal values into account in promoting a culture of diverse humanity, peaceful resolution of disagreements, honesty and justice.

Improved education is linked with two other factors in a stable community: democratic politics and civil society. Democratic politics allow the individual to contribute to the leadership of the community or nation. Civil society - composed of nongovernmental organisations, charities, educational institutions, clubs, societies, think-tanks, trading partnerships, and so forth - enables the individual to contribute to the society which shapes the policies and culture that connect the individual and the government. These three factors are interrelated. It may well be that, if one is strengthened, the other two can become stronger in turn. Education can be started with just a few ideas. It provides the easiest and cheapest route towards change.

The call for a new humanitarian education is not mere idealism. It is the basis of global security in the future. We have to come to terms with the idea that adversity anywhere is a threat to prosperity everywhere. Before 11th September, we thought we were nations. Now, we realise that we are a globe. The fact is accomplished; our attitudes and actions must catch up quickly. Education will be the key.

HRH Prince El Hassan BIN TALAL
President, Club of Rome
Prince of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan

November 15, 2001


[1] Translation by A. S. Melikian-Chirvani, Sulwan al-Muta'fi Udwan al-Atba: A Rediscovered Masterpiece of Arab Literature and Painting , Shuwaikh, Kuwait, 1985, p. 61.

Bulletin Interactif du Centre International de Recherches et Études Transdisciplinaires n° 16 - Février 2002

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