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"I believe that to meet the challenges of our times, human beings will have to develop a greater sense of universal responsibility. It is the foundation for world peace."

In 2008, be nicer to your neighbours – Dalai Lama

November 23, 2007

>From The World in 2008 print edition

Economist

The Dalai Lama, Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader, urges the world in
general—and China in particular—to show more compassion in the year ahead

As we face the challenge of ever-expanding populations, increasing
demands for energy and food, as well as huge disparities in wealth, we
have to embrace globalisation and accept people from all countries as
neighbours and collaborators, not rivals. In this interdependent world,
war is outdated. Destroying other countries brings no benefit, but
creates humanitarian suffering, trade disruption and environmental
problems that everyone must bear.

In 2008 there will be efforts to put an end to ongoing violent conflict
in several parts of the world. The drive to achieve economic growth will
also go on, while awareness of the perils of climate change and the need
to protect ourselves from its unpredictable effects will become more
acute. This will surely focus attention on the powerless and
dispossessed, who will be the first to suffer and the least able to help
themselves.

People need goods and services to meet the essential requirements of
existence, not to mention those things that bring dignity and comfort to
human life. Yet for all the innovation and creativity of our economic
activity, we have not succeeded in securing these essentials for all
human beings. The yawning gap between the “haves” and “have nots” is
going to create a great deal of suffering for everyone.

We watch, hear and read every day about breathtaking manifestations of
affluence, alongside deaths due to starvation, poverty, malnutrition,
and preventable or curable diseases. Shouldn’t we ask ourselves whether
something is wrong with our choice of goals or our motivation, or both?
I believe we have to find ways of bringing compassion to bear in our
economic activity.

Compassion and love are fundamental to relations between human beings.
Therefore the interdependent society in which we live has to be a
compassionate one, compassionate in its choice of goals, and
compassionate in the pursuit of those goals.

When we focus only on our own requirements and disregard the needs and
interests of others, we are likely to provoke hostility. This is
especially true when we view our own happiness and needs predominantly
in terms of material wealth and power. All human beings yearn for
freedom, equality and dignity, and have a right to achieve them.
Therefore, in today’s shrinking world the acceptance of universally
binding standards of human rights is essential.

I do not see any contradiction between the need for economic development
and the need to respect human rights. The right to free speech and
association is vital in promoting a country’s economic development. In
Tibet, for example, there have been instances where unsuitable economic
policies have been implemented and continued long after they have failed
to produce benefits, because citizens and government officials could not
speak out against them. And it is the same elsewhere.

A middle way for Tibet

We praise diversity in theory, but too often fail to respect it in
practice. If someone is different from us, we are inclined to interpret
the difference in negative terms and perceive it as threatening. The
Chinese government’s attitude to the people of Tibet is a case in point.
Naturally Tibetans love their own culture and their way of life as best
suited to their distinct environment and situation, but whenever they
show active interest, respect or faith in it, Chinese officials regard
their urge to preserve their identity as a threat to the unity of China.
Such an inability to embrace diversity is a major source of
dissatisfaction that can give rise to conflict.

The Chinese leadership places great emphasis on harmony: an excellent
goal. But in order to achieve it, there must be trust. Trust flows from
equality and compassion. Suspicion creates restraint and is an obstacle
to trust. Without trust, how can you develop genuine unity or harmony?

I believe we can find a way for both Chinese and Tibetans to live
together with dignity, freedom and in the spirit of good
neighbourliness. I am convinced that we can achieve a “middle way”, if
we engage in a process that respects our differences and acknowledges
that we have the ability and the means to solve our problems and help
each other.

In 2008 close attention will be focused on China as it hosts the Olympic
games. I feel strongly that as the world’s most populous nation, with
its long history and ancient civilisation, China deserves this privilege
and honour. However, we must not forget that the Olympics are a free,
fair and open contest in which athletes of all recognised nations, no
matter how small, are welcome to compete on an equal footing. Freedom,
fairness, openness and equality are not only the principles enshrined in
the Olympic games but among the highest human values, a measure against
which all nations should be held to account.
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