Vedabhyas Kundu and Munazah Shah converse on the need for deeper solidarity amidst conflicts across the world. They argue on need to construct Solidarity Footprints and Global Solidarity Index
About a month back an acquaintance in Sudan, Mohammed Mirgani who hails from Darfur shared with us how his house had been burnt and he had to flee to neighbouring Chad. A refugee now, he talked of lack of proper drinking water and basic sanitation facilities in the refugee camp. We are not sure of what is going to be our future, he lamented as he reminded us of his deep respect for Gandhian nonviolence as the method to promote human solidarity in times of conflicts which many parts of the world is experiencing. At least two years back during an online interaction he had underlined the need to promote solidarity amongst the peace lovers across the world based on the principles of nonviolence enunciated by Mahatma Gandhi. He felt such approaches to human solidarity were significant in the backdrop of bitter conflicts between groups which were leading to loss of precious lives and resources. We discussed on how the spirit of solidarity was essential to enhance the feelings of reciprocal sympathy and responsibility amongst members of groups which could promote mutual support. In the backdrop of the ideas shared by Mirgani, on the eve of International Human Solidarity Day on December 20, we try to understand its significance for a global culture of peace and nonviolence.
Vedabhyas: In the context of the myriad conflicts that the world is witnessing today where innocent people like our acquaintance Mirgani has lost his home and resources, I am reminded of peace scholar, DrDaisaku Ikeda and his perspectives in his Peace Proposal 2020, Toward our shared future: Constructing an era of human solidarity. In this Peace Proposal, he underlined how the ‘world was constituted of the overlapping and interwoven activities of countless people and their vectors of mutual influence’. He pointed out, “When competition is conducted in disregard of this reality, we lose sight of the existence of those who suffer under grave threats and societal contradictions. It is thus vital that we consciously engage in shared living and work for a society that is based on an approach of striving to protect and improve not only one’s lives but also the lives of others.” As we find ourselves in the midst of divisive narratives which are leading to conflicts and violence, Dr Ikeda is so apt in his idea of shared living and living for a society which protects all. Munazah, I strongly feel that for furtherance of human solidarity to counter these divisive narratives, each one of us should learn to see every person as a fellow human being and not through the lenses of faith, class, ethnicity, etc. When we learn to see every person as a fellow human being, we will realize the essential unity of humankind. Here I am reminded of this pertinent quote of Mahatma Gandhi who had said, “I believe in advaita, I believe in the essential unity of man and, for that matter, of all that lives.” This is essentially the philosophy of human interdependence which I believe each one of us should try to understand, reflect and practice in the real sense.
Munazah: Vedabhyas, I totally agree with you. In the context of the current conflicts where we are seeing the destruction of lives and resources, I strongly believe that there can be transformative difference just if we start embracing our common humanity. I feel that when we start embracing our shared humanity and embody the values of empathy, compassion, respect and goodwill, these ideals extends beyond individual interactions. It can actually transcend borders and cultural boundaries, fostering solidarity starting from family level, local level to global level. You have pointed out to the philosophy of human interdependence. I think that by recognizing that our destinies are all interconnected and that we are not alone in the universe; we become more conscious of the impact our actions have on others around the world. In fact, Vedabhyas I would like to remind you of one of our previous conversations where we both felt that solidarity should be an important pillar of human interdependence and how it upholds the human dignity of all.
Vedabhyas: Yes Munazah, we discussed about the value and spirit of human interdependence and how it can be an important guidepost for promotion of our shared humanity and humanhood. It is also important to remember how the virtue of solidarity takes us to the path where the idea of human interdependence is aimed at promoting peace and goodness of all in all communities across the world. We also affirmed how the assimilation of the values of genuine solidarity can help in the eradication of those niggles which creeps in due to our differences and prevents us from living as one human family. We stressed on how genuine and deep feelings of solidarity can be potion for individuals, communities and countries to work together for the common good. Munazah, here I think I would like to underline the virtue and spirit of solidarity that is learnt from our traditions and culture. For instance the essence of solidarity for peace has been stressed in different ancient Indian traditions. Similarly, we learn about the importance of solidarity from various indigenous communities around the world. Here I would like to quote Alberto Gomes, a senior peace anthropologist with whom I had the honour of having a dialogue for my book, Conversations on Peace and Nonviolence. He talked about his own anthropological research among the Orang Asli and other indigenous communities which showed how peacefulness or peaceability and nonviolence are integral part of social and cultural practices and which encouraged the spirit of solidarity. He talked about how many village decisions in these indigenous communities are made consensually in the spirit of solidarity and any attempt to dominate to coerce fellow villagers is discouraged.
Munazah: Vedabhyas, I think each one of us have a lot to learn from our traditional and indigenous cultures and knowledge systems on how to promote peacefulness through a spirit of solidarity. Also Vedabhyas, if you remember during our conversations we have tried to delineate the pillars of solidarity, the foundational structures. Both of us felt that human dignity, equality and mutuality were important pillars. Here we should stress that the value of solidarity necessitates that we start recognizing others as ‘human beings’ first and not get into the trap of stereotypes and labels. Every human being deserves to be treated with respect. Also irrespective of our differences in sex, race, ethnicity, nationality and ideologies, we should treat everyone equally. When we start seeing others equally and with respect, we will not see them as someone who is different from us. We will start seeing them as sister, brother, and friend. As egalitarian individuals, I think it should be our moral obligation to work for the advancement of our shared humanity and this is why the spirit of solidarity becomes critical. Here I would like to underline the essence of love, compassion and kindness which are important principles of human solidarity.
Vedabhyas: You are absolutely correct, Munazah. When love, compassion and kindness becomes part of our habit, we will promote mutual respect and this I think is a genuine form of solidarity which is harmless and contributes to emotional bridge-building and deep connections. To me genuine solidarity does not make an individual dependent on another person instead it helps us to come together and collaborate to end any forms of dehumanization and avoidable human sufferings. I strongly feel that if we are able to practice genuine solidarity, we will be able to get out of our inner prisons of nursing negative stereotypes of others; instead we will be able to embrace others. In this context, I strongly feel that solidarity definitely has transformative value. Also, when we practice genuine solidarity, we will start feeling some kind of vibration which helps us go beyond the self and reach the heart and soul of others. It is an elevating experience as it makes us conscious about our sense of oneness, compassion, love and deep respect.
Munazah: Releasing ourselves from our inner prisons takes us to a path of inner transformation and inner resilience. As we are in the midst of serious types of conflicts around the world where children, women and other common people are the worse sufferers, it is an emergent need to practice different forms of solidarity where we focus on building bridges across differences. Most than often we are used to bridge building and developing connections with those who we think are part of our group or fraternity. Now we need a more transformative and radical approach. All the altruistic traits like empathy, kindness, compassion, and gratitude needs to be nurtured across differences so that we can realize the power of genuine solidarity. In our tryst to realize the full potential of true solidarity, we have to do everything possible to overcome ‘affinity bias’ which is our inherent tendency to gravitate towards those who are more like ourselves and possibly share similar interests. This, to my mind will help us develop genuinely cohesive societies based on the principles of solidarity and further inclusiveness.
War and conflicts are having a devastating effect on innocent people across the world and this madness needs to end. In this context, it would be pertinent to revisit the ideas of Thomas Merton (Struggle with Peacemaking, 1983)
The task is to work for the total abolition of war. There can be no question that unless war is abolished the world will remain constantly in a state of madness and desperation in which, because of the immense destructive power of modern weapons, the danger of catastrophe will be imminent and probable at every moment everywhere … This implies that we are also willing to sacrifice and restrain our own instinct for violence and aggressiveness in our relations with other people.
With this in the backdrop, both of us delved further on the pillars and foundational architecture of genuine solidarity and how it can help in empowering each other. We felt these can go a long way in unlocking both strength and courage from within our lives so that we can overcome human sufferings. Also these can lead to a humanistic and nonviolent approach to resolution of our differences. Further, this was definitely the path to end violent conflicts.
Finally, we would like to share our thoughts on a deeper approach to human solidarity. We all know about carbon footprints; but here our inspiration is the idea of nonviolent footprints put together by children and youth of The Peace Gong. (https://vedabhyas.medium.com/ideas-on-nonviolent-footprints-some-random-thoughts-c3433594c829) According to this idea:
“Humans cannot deny their role in the uprising of global violence. They also cannot blame it on only several people- the spread of violence shows that we all have played a role in contributing to the gruesome state of the world today. The idea of the Nonviolent Footprint is ingenious as it will enable us to see the impact we can make. Often we think that an action has minimal value and thus refrain from doing it but Nonviolent Footprint stresses on how even the smallest of actions can lead to a bigger action. It reminds us of our responsibility and accountability to Mother Earth and to other humans because we live in a shared space and each of us has equal ownership in resources. In our earnest journey in the search of nonviolence, no one is more powerful than the other. As we think of Nonviolent Footprints, we think of the Earth as a a gigantic sheet of white fabric laid out and children, adults and senior citizens walk all over it, leaving their colorful footprints. So colorful that the black spots can be seen no more.”
In continuation to this idea of Nonviolent Footprints, we want to underline the emergent need to develop a framework of ‘SOLIDARITY FOOTPRINTS’. The pillars that we discussed: mutuality, deep respect, empathy, kindness, compassion, the scale of our affinity bias, ability to use the strategy of nonviolent communication for deeper connections, ability to do common good, human dignity and equality- all should be the elements of the framework of ‘SOLIDARITY FOOTPRINTS’. This can be the governing idea of individuals and groups to self-reflect and measure their ‘SOLIDARITY FOOTPRINTS’. The idea of ‘SOLIDARITY FOOTPRINTS’ and its efficacy in constructing an equitable and just world based on the principles of mutual coexistence should be ingrained in individuals right from schools. Our education has to be transformative and instill amongst children the true value of human interdependence and what Gandhi was talking about the essential unity of human beings.
To make the solidarity canvas bigger, and in the backdrop of serious conflicts that we are witnessing, we should think of GLOBAL SOLIDARITY INDEX. This can be a new and innovative catalyst to push for genuine global solidarity. Nations can be ranked in terms of the GLOBAL SOLIDARITY INDEX and how a nation as a whole promotes the elements of solidarity internally but importantly in its relations with other nations.
(Dr Vedabhyas Kundu is Programme Officer, Gandhi Smriti and Darshan Samiti and writes in areas of Gandhian Philosophy, nonviolent communication , nonviolent conflict resolution and media literacy. Ms Munazah Shah is a senior news anchor. She specializes in areas of Gandhian nonviolent communication and inner transformation.)