Editorials of Nancy Roof

Reflective Approaches to Social Activism

In a world aflame with greed, corruption, inequality and environmental devastation, the quiet victories happening worldwide often go unnoticed. A rousing article by Rebecca Solnit about the worldwide explosion of Occupy focuses on the movement’s staying power and patience—patience that is required for long term systemic change.

Occupy is changing national debates, articulating  the destructive nature of the current economic system and innovating new democractic processes in the bargain.  Solnit tells us that most Occupy victories, however, are “indirect, incomplete, slow to arrive and are situations where our influence can be assumed but not proven.” Those who take an unwavering stand on their core values, regardless of results, are often the unsung heroes of the day. Rather than outer accolades, their reward is an inner state of peace and integrity—knowing they have taken a stand for truth and for the welfare of future generations.

As I read these words of wisdom, I was reminded of one of the great honors of my life­—introducing the importance of discovering the often unspoken values underlying decisions made by governments. What was I thinking 17 years ago? As I re-read the words I delivered to 184 governments at the UN Social Summit in 1995, I was struck by the persistence of my purpose through all these years, how Kosmos itself is based on the foundations of this talk and my unwavering belief in our final victory over the destructive forces threatening all life on the planet.

Values matter, especially at this time of US elections when the country is split by self-interest and collective well-being, separated by lying and a politicized justice system. Have we made any progress in creating processes and new structures that embrace inclusive values? Our associates at Kosmos are among many unsung heroes whose persistent determination is building the structure of a new world based on values of freedom, caring, non-violence and justice.

Here is the 1995 talk I gave at the UN Social Summit.

Why is it that the topic of ‘values’ is becoming increasingly central in the media and in everyday conversation? Why is it that the World Summit for Social Development has been called a summit of ‘values?’ Why does the Commission on Global Governance call for a fundamental shift in values for our time?In times of integration we hear little about values. But our world is in the process of profound change. Societal disintegration and global integration are happening simultaneously. Managing these changes requires a new global vision of global interdependence, cultural diversity, and participatory decision-making. We must identify practical values that will work in the contemporary world and provide the foundation for a better, kinder world.

Further, we are asked to develop processes and structures that will foster these values. We can no longer accept empty rhetoric about ideals and values that are exploited in the name of a cause, no matter how bloody. We must demand that leaders who attest to ideals and values be required to demonstrate them in their actions. We must ask the same of ourselves. Only collective action will solve global problems in the contemporary world. Building trust and cooperation between states will be required if we are to avoid collective destruction.

The extensive research of Sisal Book, Harvard University, indicates that three universal values are fundamental to building trust and cooperation. In their absence, global society lacks the cohesion necessary to find common solutions. We can honor diversity only if it does not violate these basic values:

•  Mutual caring, support, reciprocity
•  Constraints on violence, lying, betrayal
•  Rudimentary system of justice

We must make a commitment to practice values that lead to societal cohesiveness. The sacred and secular are converging today in attesting to the reality of the One Humanity. Thinking about us as One helps avoid the negative values of separation and otherness, which lead to fear, suspicion and ultimate dehumanization, inviting violence without conscience. The solution of contemporary global problems requires global solidarity. We must identify ourselves at more inclusive levels as members of the One Humanity. We must change our attitudes, values and behaviors to adapt ourselves to this new identity.

We must choose leaders in all fields who put a high value on changing themselves and developing the values and skills needed for the changing times. We need leaders who are integrated thinkers to build an integrated world.The time is short. The opportunity is now.

We are at a defining point in history, when breakdowns are occurring, and institutional changes have not yet become stabilized and impermeable to change. In the past, sweeping historical changes have occurred through fear and catastrophe rather than through choice and wisdom.

Potential global catastrophe threatens us through nuclear disaster, environmental pollution, poverty and eruption of violence. We must examine the value choices that led to a threatening and materialistic world. Change can occur through a change of mind and a choice of values that includes global responsibility. Civil society, governments and we together can and must define our future through moral courage and the wisdom of our highest values. We, the people of the world, will be satisfied with nothing less.