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Globalizing the Hearts of East and West

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'Globalization brings me a share in cultures other than mine.'

My famous grandfather, Mahatma Gandhi, believed in the dictum, 'The less I have, the more I am.' In fact he was born in a fairly affluent home, and after a nervous beginning he soon started earning handsomely as a lawyer in South Africa. But his experiences persuaded him that he could give his best to the people he cared for only as a poor man, and there is no doubt that his identification with the poorest people of India helped him do what he did.

As for myself, I enjoy comfort and nice things. However my upbringing and possibly my conscience also make me uncomfortable before long with comfort; and I have never been able to regard the accumulation of personal or family riches as a great aim.

My remarks will fall under three heads: money, globalization and equality. But I will discuss them in today's context. I am borrowing some of these headlines from a new history of the last century, written by the British historian, JM Roberts:

* There has been a huge population increase. Our earth carries four times as many people now as it did in the year 1900.

* We have seen an unprecedented, revolutionary growth in the world's wealth.

* There has perhaps been more violence in the last century than in any other, with some 300 millions killed.

* For a great many in the world, there is greater choice in the economic and the political marketplace.

* There is the explosion of information.

* There has been an unprecedented, if long overdue, recognition of the rights of women.

* There has been the spread of the idea that human happiness is realizable and human destiny manageable. Professor Roberts adds that confidence in the idea of managing human destiny has been accompanied by a decline in the influence of religion, especially perhaps in the Western world.

So much on our times. Now some thoughts on money.

We are all familiar with the old proverb, 'Love of money is the root of all evil.' The lure of money has led to murder, to the killing of parents, siblings, spouses, strangers, to war.

But I must relate an experience I had in the fall of 1984, when I was on a fellowship to a research centre in Washington DC. For eight months, I was paid to write something I wanted to write. Soon after I began the project, the writing, somewhat to my surprise, started to flow. In a conversation with an acquaintance in Washington, I said, 'I'm making unexpected progress.'

'Of course you are,' the acquaintance replied. 'You are being paid to write. It's the money that has brought on the flow.' I laughed but protested. 'No,' I said. 'It is my good luck. Serendipity has led me to just the right documents and I am enjoying the Washington air.'

Yet reflection suggested to me that the acquaintance's remark had some truth in it. The knowledge that money was entering my account every month brought to an often anxious corner of my mind a creative peace. For the first time in God knows how many years I was earning more than enough for my family's needs, I was feeling secure and comfortable and confident, and the mind could concentrate on writing. Subversive though the thought seemed to be, money was a fuel for the mind! What an embarrassing, counter-revolutionary thought!

To many there is nothing embarrassing in the thought that money makes the world go round. It is a plain and obvious truth. The Scotsman Adam Smith showed long ago that the good of all comes about when each pursues his or her self-interest. But if this is true, are we entitled to feel superior to St Francis and St Ignatius and others who seemed to preach that there was virtue in poverty?

One evening in India, I saw a man with a small pushcart waiting at the lights with all the other vehicles. He was carrying jamuns, a small purple fruit with a sharp taste which is available for some weeks in India's summer. The jamun-seller was handing out the jamuns to lame and crippled women and children. His ungrudging face, his patience with those who stretched out their hands to him, the relaxed, patient and friendly faces of the beggars - it made quite a memorable scene. It was a brief spell of joy - warmth and sharing for the beggar-children and beggar-women, people who can also, at other times and in other situations, show an angry or hostile face.

I came to two conclusions. The beggars who sometimes 'pester' can at other times be very pleasantly human and even gracious; and the poor, like the jamun-seller, are sometimes more generous than the comfortably-off.

My grandfather thought that the less he had, the more he was. He wanted to raise his asceticism constantly to higher and harder levels. But he did not want the poor of India to remain poor. He wanted health and food and clothes and homes for everyone on earth. And he battled again and again, against powerful British and Indian interests, for the economic rights of the poor.

But he did not think that destroying the rich was the way to enrich the poor, and he understood human nature well enough to underline that the state was likely to be an incompetent regulator of the economy.

Some Indian IT companies are now listed on the New York Stock Exchange, and a few Indians have made it to the growing list of the world's billionaires. I welcome this, and I welcome even more the fact that some of these billionaires have made generous donations to the schools and colleges in India where they studied and for other deserving purposes. When Indians blessed with wealth share it with more than their kinsfolk, when they share it with a wide community, they herald a new and wonderful day.

Globalization is all around us. People, e-mails, phone calls, liquid funds, goods, ideas shoot across international borders.

Every day an individual, an idea, an invention, a company, a country gives a new impetus to globalization, but no one, perhaps not even the world's most powerful country, seems to be able to control or direct it.

In India, and in the Third World as a whole, farmers, industrialists, students, and people in almost every category are divided on globalization, some welcoming it and others trying to resist it. There is resistance to the globalization of some norms.

The Third World is told: if you want free trade with the world, you must protect the environment, you must not exploit labour and you must not injure human rights. The third world asks whether the developed world reached its developed state without violating these norms.

I think most nations practise double standards. I certainly do not want India to aim at getting rich by violating the environment, children, and human rights. Making norms in these areas global and universal is a desirable goal, but these norms will cost poor countries a lot, and that fact calls for understanding.

Globalization is also seen sometimes as an erasure of local and national cultures. If globalization means the death of local cultures, crafts, customs, and languages, if it means homogenization and uniformity, I too would oppose it.

In fact, however, globalization brings me a share in cultures other than mine. Far from robbing me of my culture, it enriches me with flavours of new cultures.

Let me take the liberty of mentioning two early steps in a personal journey towards globalization.

When I was 16 I heard that the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Liaqat Ali Khan, had been shot but was still living. More news was to follow, I was told. Pakistan was regarded by many Indians as an enemy country, and I was a boy wanting to become a man. So I said, 'I hope what follows is the news that the PM of Pakistan is dead.' I was expecting a smile at my smart remark. Instead I received a disapproving and disappointed stare. That disapproval helped me; I saw my smallness.

When I was 21 years old I came to Europe for the first time. The year was 1956, when England and France and Israel had attacked Egypt. I was a strong Indian and Third World nationalist. I did not see individual Europeans in Europe. I only saw the white man. The beauty and greatness of Europe impressed me but I was angry and sometimes wished that harm might come to Europe. Then I met people, influenced by the spirit of Caux, who befriended me, took an interest in me and said to me that they thought that God had a plan for my life and that I could do useful things. Their friendship, their vision, their love, made my heart a little less small, a little less judging, a little less cold.

Today, through God's grace and the good fortune he has allowed me to receive, I can feel at home in many countries. The world has walked into my heart, globalizing it.

Globalization is harsh to the poor, the uneducated, the unlucky. It tends to increase inequalities.

The UN Human Development Report 1999 states that the income gap between the bottom fifth of the world's population in the richest countries and the bottom fifth in the poorest countries grew from 30 to one in 1960 to 74 to one in 1995. This has the potential for creating great unrest.

If we want to manage that unrest, we may have to take a fresh look at our attitude to money, and we may have to address the widening gap between the rich and the poor. It is not easy to see how this may be done, but a little globalizing of Eastern and Western hearts might help.

Indians have a point when they claim a place of equality with other large or powerful countries. But I also long for the day when Indians will address inequalities within India, and also when they will fully recognize and work for Africa's dignity. 'I am your equal' - the thought of equality - and 'You are my brother' - the thought of fraternity - can be mere sentiments. Or they can become decisions. The two thoughts perhaps need each other.

My ultimate faith is in the capacity of human beings to heed the deepest urgings of their hearts.

Mother Teresa followed what she felt God was telling her and entered innumerable hearts, a woman from the Balkans who became a sister to humankind, whose love melted every inequality. Who can say which individual where will respond to a similar call, and assist in creating a global family?



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