Spirituality and Environmentalism: A Better Path to a Better World

Photo: blogspot.com

A Paper for presentation at

Altai Forum 2014

Altai (Russia)

May 27-30, 2014


Prof. Kamran Mofid*

N.B. (I was invited to deliver a presentation at the Altai Forum 2014 Prof. Mofid to speak at the Altai Forum 2014 However, sadly, due to ill-health, I was unable to go. Below, for those who might be interested, I have noted the full text of my speech which I had prepared for the Forum. I am sure the Forum knows that I was there with them in spirit and indeed thank many of my friends and colleagues at the Forum for their kind messages to me and for being a source of inspiration.)

(This presentation is dedicated to the youth of the world, our children and grand- children, who are the unfolding story of the decades ahead.
May they rise to the challenge of leading our troubled world, with hope and wisdom in the interest of the common good, to a better future)

President of the WPFDC Dr. Yakunin, Your Excellencies, distinguished guests, fellow- speakers, friends, colleagues, ladies and gentlemen

It is wonderful to be here in Russia and the beautiful and inspiring Altai Republic, a unique natural and geopolitical region, a historically and culturally important place where Eurasian civilisations, peoples and cultures have always met.

We gather here at the kind invitation of the World Public Forum “Dialogue of Civilisations” grateful for their warm hospitality, support and encouragement.

At the outset I wish to pay tribute to Dr. Vladimir Ivanovitch Yakunin, Founding President of the WPFDC, for his visionary and compassionate leadership and his extraordinary and tireless work for peace, justice, sustainability, and global friendship.

We were delighted and honoured when Dr. Yakunin became the first recipient of the GCGI First Award for Public Service in the Interest of the Common Good, in 2012, at Corpus Christi College, University of Oxford:

Dr. Yakunin Receives First Globalisation for the Common Good Initiative (GCGI) Award

Reverting to my paper, my presentation today is all about the Value of Values and what values we need to achieve and realise our goal of building a better world through spirituality and environmentalism.

Today’s world, it seems, has become a world of continuing and deepening crises. Wisdom, if we have it, must surely compel us to ask: Why?

Today, we talk so much about the continuing financial crisis which began in 2008. But, ladies and gentlemen, in 2008, we also had many other pressing catastrophies: energy, food and environmental crises, as well as other international and security emergencies.

These crises are still with us, deepening and continuing. Why?

Is it lack of money or resources? Or Lack of technology and IT? Or Lack of people holding PhDs and MBAs that are causing these crises? No. What we lack is moral and spiritual imagination and compass: Lack of wisdom and our choice of wrong, harmful, and worthless ways.

Our crises, ladies and gentlemen, are crises that can only be addressed, reversed and sorted out, if we change direction, adopt new values and be concerned about life’s bigger picture. Let me elaborate a bit more:

We have no choice: We must reconnect ourselves with nature. We must begin to respect and admire nature and be inspired by it. Connecting with nature is not simply a matter of going for a nice walk in a nice park, getting some fresh air; rather, it is a matter of reconsidering our individuality, our values, and our wider human and ecological relationship. I firmly believe that the stimulation a fuller connection with nature can bring is very much life-enhancing to the point where it changes who we are, enabling us to change the world for the better.

Moreover, as members of the household of humanity, we must provide security, sanctuary and constructive engagement for all of our human family. Sustained by the bounty of all, called by the Sacred, and animated into action by the Spirit of peace, Justice, and Reverence for All Life, we must be guided by values such as these, to brighten our path to build a world fit for the common good: A vision of hope to build a world of peace and prosperity for all. May we all realise this dream and may we have the wisdom to solve the present and future conflicts through dialogue and always non-violently in the interest of the greater good. Any may we again rekindle our love and respect for the Mother Earth and all she has to offer us. May we also become custodians of nature’s gifts, rather than the exploiters that we have become.

Friends, ladies and gentlemen, as I mentioned already, the road to peace, justice, prosperity, happiness and well-being needs a different set of values to those that have led to increased social inequality, wars, injustice, poverty, destruction, and environmental degradation.

Now let me set the scene by reading you a few inspiring quotes to focus our minds on life’s bigger picture, what’s important, who we are and what is it that makes us truly human and humane:

“He that seeks the good of the many seeks in consequence his own good.” St. Thomas Aquinas

"What is the essence of life? To serve others and to do good." Aristotle

'UBUNTU': "I am because we are.”

“A generous heart, kind speech, and a life of service and compassion are the things which renew humanity.” Buddha

Try not to become a man of success, but a man of value” Albert Einstein

In all, it is my firm belief that, “Our poverty in the West is not that of the wallet but rather that of social connectedness.”

The Dalai Lama was once asked what surprised him most. He replied: "Man, because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future. He lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived."

Now let me share with you the words and sentiments of a young executive, a CEO, earning a lot of money, with bonuses, power, and more: “Now it's all about Productivity, Pay, Performance and Profit - the four Ps – which are fuelled by the three Fs: Fear, Frustration and Failure. Just sometimes I wish that in the midst of these Ps (& Fs), there was some time left for another set of four Fs: Families, Friends, Festivals and Fun.”

You see ladies and gentlemen, we need values, we need love, friendship, kindness, generosity, sympathy, empathy, and compassion to be the guiding principles of all we do. Otherwise, no amount of money, capital, technology, IT, theories and policies, can save us from our own mistakes, the crises of our own making.

Before I venture out more, let me share with you the philosophy, the vision and values of my educational belief. Here I am most humbly inspired by Lao Tzu, a mystic philosopher of ancient China, considered the founder of Taoism.

He said:

"Some say that my teaching is nonsense. Others call it lofty but impractical.
But to those who have looked inside themselves, this nonsense makes perfect sense.
And to those who put it into practice,
this loftiness has roots that go deep.
I have just three things to teach:
simplicity, patience, compassion.
These three are your greatest treasures.
Simple in actions and in thoughts,
you return to the source of being.
Patient with both friends and enemies,
you accord with the way things are.
Compassionate toward yourself, You reconcile all beings in the world."

As an economist ladies and gentlemen, with a wide range of experience, I do appreciate the significance of economics, politics, trade, banking, insurance and commerce, and of globalisation. I understand the importance of wealth creation. But wealth must be created for the right reasons.

Value-led wealth creation for the purpose of value-led expenditure and investment is to be encouraged and valued. Blessed are those wealth creators who know “Why” and “How” wealth is produced and, more importantly, when wealth is created “What” it is going to be used for.

Today’s business leaders are in a unique position to influence what happens in society for years to come. With this power comes monumental responsibility. They can choose to ignore this responsibility, and thereby exacerbate problems such as economic inequality, environmental degradation and social depravation, but this will compromise their ability to do business in the long run. The world of good business needs a peaceful and just world in which to operate and prosper: A world that is truly for the common good.

However, in order to arrive at this peaceful and prosperous destination, we need to change the house of neo-classical economics, to make a fit home for the common good. After all, many of the issues that people struggle over, or their governments put forward, have ultimately economics at their core. As I mentioned before, the creation of a stable society in today’s global world is largely ignored in favour of economic considerations of minimising costs and maximising profits, while other equally important values are put aside and ignored.

Economics once again must find its heart, soul and spirit. Moreover, it should also reconnect itself with its original source, rooted in ethics and morality. Today’s huge controversy which surrounds much of the economic activity and the business world is because they do not adequately and appropriately address the needs of the global collective and the powerless, marginalised and excluded. This, surely, in the interest of all, has to change. The need for an explicit acknowledgment of true global values is the essential requirement in making economics work for the common good. Economics, as practiced today cannot claim to be for the common good. In short, a revolution in values is needed, which demands that economics and business must embrace both material and spiritual values.

In support of the above, we couldn’t have clearer evidence than Lord Kalms’ letter to the Times (08/03/2011):

Ethics boys

Sir, Around 1991 I offered the London School of Economics a grant of £1 million to set up a Chair in Business Ethics. John Ashworth, at that time the Director of the LSE, encouraged the idea but had to write to me to say, regretfully, that the faculty had rejected the offer as it saw no correlation between ethics and economics. Quite. Lord Kalms, House of Lords

Thus, ladies and gentlemen, by now it must be clear that, given the state of our world today- a world of progress and poverty- the continuing and deepening global economic turmoil merely is a symptom of a much larger moral, spiritual and ethical crisis. In short, the world is facing a crisis of values.

There is no doubt that, we should see this multitude of crises as a wakeup call to action, to see things as they are. We should search with an open mind for the wisdom we need to transform our economic system to a sustainable path, grounded in ecological reality, with respect for justice and dignity for all, and our appreciation for nature and our kinship for all living things.

Time is Now for Radical Change: What is to be done?

It is time to question the functionality of the existing economic system that has created a massive and widening gap between a few super rich and the many in abject poverty. We need to examine the soundness of extracting growing profit from a highly leveraged and unsustainable real sector in the face of massive numbers of disenfranchised people who are deprived of a potentially prosperous economic life. We need to question the ability of mother earth to support the extravagance of our blind and ignorant consumerism.  We also need to put self interest in perspective, and balance it with concern for the common good and for other species and the earth.

We should recall the wisdom of Adam Smith, “father of modern economics”, who was a great moral philosopher first and foremost. In 1759, sixteen years before his famous Wealth of Nations, he published The Theory of Moral Sentiments, which explored the self-interested nature of man and his ability nevertheless to make moral decisions based on factors other than selfishness. In The Wealth of Nations, Smith laid the early groundwork for economic analysis, but he embedded it in a broader discussion of social justice and the role of government. Today we mainly know only of his analogy of the ‘invisible hand’ and refer to him as defending free markets; whilst ignoring his insight that the pursuit of wealth should not take precedence over social and moral obligations.

We are taught that the free market as a ‘way of life’ appealed to Adam Smith but not that he thought the morality of the market could not be a substitute for the morality for society at large. He neither envisioned nor prescribed a capitalist society, but rather a ‘capitalist economy within society, a society held together by communities of non-capitalist and non-market morality’. As it has been noted, morality for Smith included neighbourly love, an obligation to practice justice, a norm of financial support for the government ‘in proportion to [one’s] revenue’, and a tendency in human nature to derive pleasure from the good fortune and happiness of other people.

And moreover, as the great ecologist Wendell Barry has reminded us that “The earth is what we all have in common” we must begin to respect the Mother Earth by living our lives by the values of Mother Earth’s Ten Commandments:

I. Thou shall love and honor the Earth for it blesses thy life and governs thy survival.
II. Thou shall keep each day sacred to the Earth and celebrate the turning of its seasons.
III. Thou shall not hold thyself above other living things nor drive them to extinction.
IV. Thou shall give thanks for thy food, to the creatures and plants that nourish thee.
V. Thou shall educate thy offspring for multitudes of people are a blessing unto the Earth when we live in harmony.
VI. Thou shall not kill, nor waste Earth’s riches upon weapons of war.
VII. Thou shall not pursue profit at the Earth’s expense but strive to restore its damaged majesty.
VIII. Thou shall not hide from thyself or others the consequences of thy actions upon the Earth.
IX. Thou shall not steal from future generations by impoverishing or poisoning the Earth.
X. Thou shall consume material goods in moderation so all may share the Earth’s bounty( Ernest Callenbach).

In all, building a new economics system will demand challenging and novel ways of thinking, perspectives that encompass the broad swath of human experience and wisdom, from the natural sciences and all the social sciences, to the philosophical and spiritual values of the world’s major religions and of indigenous peoples as well.  The task before us is a daunting one, and wisdom in how to proceed will come from a multiple of sources, and must embrace the panorama of cultural and disciplinary perspectives.  Let us not carry on constructing a global society that is materially rich but spiritually poor. Let us begin to construct globalisation for the common good, as a path to construct a just and sustainable, peaceful world.

Finally, dear friends, this past few days, here in beautiful and inspirational Altai, we formed a community of committed and passionate gardeners, sowing seeds of sustainability, peace, justice and global friendship for the common good. In the wonderful and wise words of Rumi:

Tender words we spoke

to one another

are sealed

in the secret vaults of heaven.

One day like rain,

they will fall to earth

and grow green

all over the world.

And now I wish to show you this very moving and inspirational video, which I believe very eloquently shows why we have all gathered here, to protect and honour the Mother Earth:

A tribute to Michael Jackson. The Earth Song by Andre Rieu and Carmen Monarcha

Thank you for your attention. I wish you well.

*Prof. Kamran Mofid is Founder of the Globalisation for the Common Good Initiative (founded at an international conference in Oxford in 2002) and Co- founder/Editor, Journal of Globalisation for the Common Good, member of the International Coordinating Committee (ICC) of the World Public Forum, Dialogue of Civilisations, and Founding Member, World Dignity University, and Global Advisory Board, Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies.  Mofid received his BA and MA in economics from the University of Windsor, Canada in 1980 and 1982 respectively. In 1986 he was awarded his doctorate in economics from the University of Birmingham, UK. In 2001 he received a Certificate in Education in Pastoral Studies at Plater College, Oxford. From 1980 to 2000 he was Economic Teaching Assistant, Tutor, Lecturer and Senior Lecturer at Universities of Windsor (Canada), Birmingham, Bristol, Wolverhampton, and Coventry (UK). Mofid's work is highly interdisciplinary, drawing on Economics, Business, Politics, International Relations, Theology, Culture, Ecology, Ethics and Spirituality. Mofid's writings have appeared in leading scholarly journals, popular magazines and newspapers. His books include Development Planning in Iran: From Monarchy to Islamic Republic , The Economic Consequences of the Gulf war, Globalisation for the Common Good, Business Ethics, Corporate Social Responsibility and Globalisation for the Common Good , Promoting the Common Good (with Rev. Dr. Marcus Braybrooke, 2005), and A non-Violent Path to Conflict Resolution and Peace Building (Co-authored, 2008).


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