The Solidarity of Civility

Cornerstones, May 2001. Magazine of the Right Livelihood Award, London.

The great Indian pacifist/activist Gandhi was once asked what he thought about ‘western civilisation’ and he replied insightfully that he thought  “it would be a good thing”.

One is tempted to say the same ting about ‘civil society’ – it would be a good thing! In a world wrecked by violence, racism and destructiveness we should be all for a more civil society. As a definition of the universe of community/organisations that make up the third sector, (government being the first sector and business the second) it has a power beyond the traditional  ‘NGO’ definition which defines us by what we are not. It even prompted some of us to retort with describing government as, unfortunately, NPOs: Non-People’s Organisations.

Whatever the terminology, NGOs, societies (which is the controlling term for voluntary organisations in Malaysia), community-based organisations, even the ‘independent sector’ – the list is long – the essence is that there are those outside government and business who dare to speak out on justice, whether economic, social or ecological, and who work for the common good and share a common fire.

In a world that is increasingly violent, wasteful and manipulative, every effort at developing islands of integrity, wells of hope for some and sparks of action must be welcomed, multipled and linked, creating synergies that can help the transformational struggle everywhere.

Some of the best may drift to government or business. If they take with them the ‘caring and daring’ then perhaps we can hope for some of those bold measures that make a real difference to real people.

Today’s reckless globalisation fuelled by many bads - speculative money, an information technology that is liberating but is driven by gambling, pornography and the defence establishment, a cash register health system dominated by drug multinationals that prevents African AIDS victims from getting medicines, a pernicious entertainment system that is destroying cultural integrity, an international governance system that is mocked by superpowers who with impunity allow or perpetrate gross violations of human rights and human dignity in places like Iraq, Chechnya, Kashmir and Palestine, for example.

All this cruelty make up the landscape and mindscape of today’s holocaust. We need civil society even more to be brave and angry if we are to make progress and have the solidarity of civility.

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