Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 24 January 2020

Empathy and compassion must guide the road ahead

The key to fighting extremism is to emphasise the ties that link us all together, writes Shaikha Al Maskari.

As I write, our world is changing through the power of innovation and technology. Notwithstanding those positive disruptions, universal harmony seems more elusive than ever. We stand today as divided nations, despite the unified lines of digital communication that intertwine our lives. Extremism has threatened our way of living and our lives themselves. Moreover, our efforts at progress and prosperity have been stymied by global warming transforming our climate and poisoning our planet.

The need of the hour is awareness of how we arrived at this inflection point. Social harmony is a product of symbiotic coexistence fostered with acceptance and appreciation of the validity of human diversity, faith, ethnicity, culture, class and gender. Collectively these should be treated as national resources as they are essential for inclusive international economic development. Sadly, the situation is worryingly amorphous today; we need to carefully audit our challenges and set them right.

A core issue is the disunity provoked by mutual distrust. The cause lies in self-serving platforms of relativism and misinformation, which together pool to foment biases, prejudices, stigma and intolerance. Once embedded in public opinion, these are very difficult to change. It is vital to refute this discord and instead raise our voices towards communality forged through mutual respect. While this can be discussed and perhaps agreed by august attendees at international forums, the critical factor is an action plan to implement such beliefs and reinforce them for generations to come.

We are citizens of our countries for practical purposes and our loyalty to our motherland is as natural as our intuitive love for our own mothers. Yet, we belong to a far bigger ecosystem and live within the reality of the merits and vices of our global village. If we are to survive and prosper, we must have peace and stability. The wisdom to sustain these stems from public empathy and compassion.

As the Chinese philosopher Confucius stated: “By three methods we may learn wisdom. First, by reflection, which is noblest; second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third, by experience, which is the bitterest.”

We are at this juncture of bitter learning. Adapting to live together in an increasingly interdependent world can only be achieved through education. However, across social classes and around the world we are experiencing an acute deficit in the education that parents provide to their children.

In crisis zones, millions of children grow up traumatised and without education, discarded to fend for themselves, experiencing and learning bitterness and contempt. In thriving civilised societies, parents are often caught up in the juggernaut of materialism, leaving the child to digital entertainment that flashes images to transfix the child’s attention with disregard for social development.

In my grandmotherly opinion, it is this parenting gap and the resultant absence of family values that form a sinkhole in the child’s developing psyche, isolating and rejecting elements for positive personality development, while conversely, creating a funnel for negative dogmas that fuel nihilistic behaviour.

The values with which our youth grow up will become the foundations of the social framework in which we will live and thrive. Our attitudes to other communities will define the critical success factors for joint progress. An increased public awareness of this fair mutualism reinforces Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood”.

When the Greek philosopher Diogenes of Sinope was asked where he came from, he replied: “I am a citizen of the world”. Today, we look to the future with hope that our collective efforts will boost global citizenship.

In the melee of greed and possession we might close our eyes or look the other way to the sufferings of others. In the midst of recent rhetoric and turmoil, we may forget the essence of our existence: that life’s enduring legacy is the betterment of mankind in a peaceful world. In this spirit I close my message to you with the hope that these ideals may find a place in your hearts.

Dr Shaikha Al Maskari is an Emirati businesswoman and global philanthropist

Updated: July 7, 2016 04:00 AM