“We are living in a culture of human rights!”: What could have happened for me to be able to say this?
Dear human rights defender, imagine we meet in 10 years and I say: ”We have really created a culture of human rights in Europe; a culture that supports the talents and skills of people in Europe, and perceives diversity as an opportunity. An inclusive society, a new ‘WE’ is alive in our communities!”
Of course so many changes must have taken place for this to happen. My question is: Which particular aspects need to be nurtured to enable a culture of human rights to develop?
Why the future perspective is helpful
As former Director of the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia – FRA’s predecessor - I lived through the many challenges that faced the EU. So this gives me a clearer view on what has to be addressed but also on the resources and the main levers for positive change.
The dimension of crises
We need a common understanding about the dimension of the crises we have to now face: terrorism, extremism, migration, climate change, poverty, social tension, economization of everyday life, crises of identity and loss of perspectives in politics, to mention just a few. Worldwide we face very challenging situations which require decisive actions from many people.
In the Chinese language, the word crisis is composed of two characters. One means opportunity and the other danger. Besides the challenges, there are also positive developments in many fields. For example, many organisations are contributing to social change, sustainability or human rights. These change-makers and ‘social entrepreneurs’ often cooperate very successfully with human rights networks. And don´t forget the openness to which Europe has developed over the past 20 years - despite the alarming construction of a fortress Europe during the last months.
Tremendous change processes
We are in a tremendous phase of transformation. Many people fear the future. This is understandable: the old world is going and the new one has not yet arrived. But the problems of the world have arrived in Europe: In some ways the refugees are the ambassadors for the profound changes. It is a new phenomenon and we have only ‘old experiences’ to shape us. But we need unobstructed views to renew our societies. So we should avoid addressing the issues of tomorrow with the answers of yesterday. We need space for free thinking like having a blank sheet of paper in front of us.
The power of a blank sheet
A blank sheet contains all possibilities. The decisive factor is whether we can complete it positively. For this the following aspects are important:
- Look at the opportunities
We should raise awareness of the potential in our societies. Richard Florida has repeatedly pointed out that the most successful societies in Europe are those which promote the 3 Ts: technology, talents and tolerance. We should actively use the creative environment of a diverse, contradictory society. This will not be easy because life with ethnic, religious, cultural diversity always harbours potential for conflict. These are problems we must clearly accept and cope with.
No one knows how the future will look. There are no simple answers. But with confidence we will grow into new answers. For this we are prepared: we have the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights and the power for renewal. Our experience with the reconstruction after the 2nd World War can give us confidence. And Steven Pinker has shown that all possible forms of violence throughout history have been decreasing: war, murder, torture, executions and rape. Today we are not sufficiently aware that we live in the most peaceful era in human history.
Mindfulness for our needs and feelings is asked for and that of others. Our societies have performed outstandingly in the field of science, but we still do not know much about dealing with fear, envy and hate. The handling of anxiety by the media and in politics is often counterproductive. In addition, the issues of migration, immigration and the EU are burdened by a ‘friend or enemy mentality’. We are captured by a black-and white-thinking – but we need shades of grey.
- The power of images
We need positive images. Each change process is associated with resistance because transformation contradicts our basic need for security. But it can be overcome if we have images of the future which are more attractive than the resistance which always accompanies change. These images are lacking. They are missing in politics and they are missing for the EU.
We need a broad public debate about the challenges. This will actively inspire profound transformation. We have great potential to create a new sense of belonging and social responsibility. This can change attitudes as a study of CIVIS Media Foundation has shown: The construction of mosques was accepted in European cities when a broad, controversial, public debate took place.
Strong cooperation of different organisations in different fields: connect.react.act
Attitudes and culture can be strongly influenced when organisations from different fields act together on the basis of a common platform for a common goal. In this way many people could be involved and get the feeling of participation and belonging. Connecting people, participation and vision could give us confidence in the future and in a possible human rights culture in which we could live tomorrow.
Beate Winkler is author, painter and the former Director of the EU Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia, the predecessor to FRA.