Friday, July 22, 2011

Facing the crisis: four principles and four virtues

Leonardo Boff's weekly columns are available in Spanish from Servicios Koinonia and in Portuguese on his blog. Some of his older columns are available in English at

by Leonardo Boff (English translation by Rebel Girl)

This phrase of Einstein enjoys full currency: “We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” It's too late to make only reforms; they don't change the thought. We need to start from another way of thinking, founded on principles and values that can sustain a further test of civilization. Or if not, we will have to accept a path that leads us to the precipice. The dinosaurs already traveled it.

My sense of the world tells me that there are four principles and four virtues able to guarantee a good future for the Earth and life. Here I will only state them, without room to deepen them, something which I have done in several publications in recent years.

The first is the caring. Caring is a relationship of non-aggression and love for the Earth and any other being. Caring is opposed to the domination that characterizes the old paradigm. Caring regenerates past wounds and prevents future ones. It delays the unstoppable force of entropy and allows all to live and last longer. For Easterners the equivalent of caring is compassion; because of it, one never leaves a sufferer unattended; one walks with him, stands in solidarity with him and rejoices with him.

The second is respect. Every being has intrinsic value, regardless of human usefulness. He expresses some potentiality of the universe, has something to reveal, and deserves to exist and live. Respect recognizes and welcomes the other as other and intends to live peacefully with him. Ethics is unlimited respect for everything that exists and lives.

The third is universal responsibility. Through it, man and society realize the beneficial or fatal consequences of their actions. Both have to take care of the quality of relationships with others and with nature so they are not hostile but friendly to life. With the means of destruction that have already been manufactured, humanity, for lack of responsibility, could eliminate itself and damage the biosphere.

The fourth principle is unconditional cooperation. The universal law of evolution is not competition in which the strongest wins, but interdependence of all with all. All cooperate to co-evolve and to secure biodiversity. Through cooperation with each other, our ancestors became human. The global market is governed by the stiffest competition, with no room for cooperation. So the rampant individualism and selfishness that underlie the current crisis and have so far prevented any possible consensus against the climatic changes, grow.

These four principles must be accompanied by four virtues, essential for the consolidation of the new order.

The first is hospitality -- a primordial virtue for the world republic, according to Kant. We all have the right to be accepted, which corresponds to the duty of welcoming others. This virtue will be critical in face of the flow of people and the millions of climate refugees who will emerge in the coming years. There should be no extra-communitarians, as there are.

The second is coexistence with those who are different. The globalization of the human experiment does not eliminate cultural differences with which we must learn to co-exist, exchange, complement each other and enrich ourselves through mutual exchanges.

The third is tolerance. Not all values and cultural mores are converging and easily accepted. Hence, active tolerance is required to recognize the other's right to exist as a different being and guarantee his full expression.

The fourth is comensality. All human beings must have supportive and sufficient access to the means of life and food security. They should feel like members of the same family who eat and drink together. Not only is nutrition necessary, it's about a rite of fraternization.

All efforts will be in vain if the Rio+20 in 2012 is limited only to discussing practical measures to mitigate global warming, without discussing other principles and values that can generate a minimum consensus among all and thereby ensure the sustainability of our civilization. Otherwise, the crisis will continue its corrosive action until it becomes a tragedy. We have the means and knowledge to achieve this sustainability. We just lack the will and love of life, ours and that of our children and grandchildren. May we not lack the Spirit that presides over history.

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