Global Conference on Achieving Global Ethics through Education

February 12, 2004, United Nations Dag Hammerskjold Auditorium

Speech by Master Sheng Yen

The escalating threat of terrorist acts has given rise to this conference and our recognition of the need for a Global Ethic to address terrorism. But terrorism is not the only reason a Global Ethic is needed. Establishing a Global Ethical standard to guide human interaction is a proactive intervention aimed at the protection of every individual from harm we cause each other. The goal of such an ethical standard is that every human being on this planet would be free from the destructive impact that comes from suspicion, misunderstanding, discrimination, prejudice, ostracism and attack; and instead be empowered to respect, forgive, tolerate, learn from and help each other. Only in this way will we have universal and everlasting peace in this world of ours.

The reasons for the recent emergence of terrorism are complex and over-determined. They involve a myriad of ethnic, religious, political, economic, cultural and historical factors. These varying factors create differing worldviews amongst differing groups. Problems emerge when these natural differences in perspectives are perceived as adversarial and/or dangerous to another group. When a particular group seeks to protect its own interests and to ensure its own security, it then becomes difficult to also care for the interests and security of other groups with a mind of equanimity. Groups who experience themselves as threatened, humiliated and/or victimized are particularly prone to the use of violence as a means of retaliation, and to go as far as to perceive terrorism as a legitimate means for achieving justice.

Because every group has its own perspectives and criteria when defining the term “justice”, each group believes that it stands on the side of justice and that its opponents stand on the side of injustice. This is the relative nature of ethical values. It is for this reason that we need to establish a globally shared ethical standard. Rather than insisting on the justice based on one’s own understanding, we must seek to tolerate other people’s flaws, extend the hand of friendship to every person so that we can live in peace together and grow together.

What is the cornerstone of such a standardized, Global Ethic? Simply put, it is to respect all life. It is the recognition that everyone (and everything) has the right to live and that we all share responsibility to love and protect others. A Global Ethic such as this cannot condone protecting one’s group by causing harm to any persons from another group. When everyone in the world can see each life on this planet as one’s own brothers and sisters and work hard to foster mutual respect and tolerance, the argument of who is just or unjust will no longer be relevant.

How should we go about creating this Global Ethics? Its principle will be to replace confrontation with tolerance, violence with respect and love, and retaliatory hatred with methods of healing pains. If, in the sacred texts or ancient teachings of any peoples, there are tenets that go against the principle of peaceful coexistence for all humanity, then these texts should be reinterpreted in the light of the Global Ethics. This is because the world of the 21st century will develop as an open and diverse environment of mutual interdependence. It will also be an environment of mutual respect and learning. To quote an ancient Chinese saying, it is a world of “seeking commonality while preserving diversity.”

Once this Ethic is stated, we will promote it universally and persistently through the multi-level institutions of education such as schools, community organizations, religious institutions and families. The focus will be on the respect for life and the recognition that everyone has a right to live. It will stress our common responsibility to tolerate those different from ourselves and protect the peace and happiness of human society. How can these be implemented? I suggest the UNESCO adopt the development of the statement of this Global Ethic and the pedagogy for its implementation and execution as its primary project for this century. We, the World Council of Religious Leaders, will of course wholeheartedly support and encourage leaders at all levels of all religions around the world to share in this duty.

The topic of today’s discussion is to strengthen the guidance for global ethics through formal school education and family education. We all know that formal school education today tends to emphasize the transmission of knowledge and skills, often neglecting areas that facilitate the development of a sense of security and healthy personality within students. Family education also faces many problems around the world. Its domain ought to include parental education, child-rearing education, marital education, family financial planning, and education for regulating daily life, etc. Global Ethics, however, can be used as the organizing principle for comprehensive family education. Education within the context of this Global Ethic involves everyone respecting every person and fulfilling one’s responsibilities to enhance personal growth while helping others. The promotion of this Global Ethics in school education will depend on the education policies established by each country’s government and education experts. Parents are crucial in family education as they shoulder the responsibility for teaching their children to develop a heart that respects as they protect their tender spirits from the seeds of hatred, terror and violence. Parents need to be empowered to guide their children in developing a tolerant and forgiving heart. For instance, throughout my childhood, I would often hear my parents reminding me to interact with family members harmoniously and also to show hospitality to strangers from afar. So in my life, I have met only friends, and have not known of enemies.

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