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Germany's outgoing president Joachim Gauck, undoubtedly someone who is listened to with great respect throughout Germany and outside his country, correctly touched on many of these points in his Jan. 2017 outgoing address by asking the question- what kind of society or country we should be like? Because no other nation has taken a lead in tackling the issues facing us today, and no other nation has the will to do it born of difficult experience, and few have shown the leadership qualities and genuine concern of president Gauck in bringing people and nations together, I am unabashedly drawing from some of his immensely valuable insights. It also answers the question of what kind of society we in the West and other parts of the world would want to see.
Gauck said Germany should find "the courage to conduct discussions that include the majority to a far greater extent than has been the case to date," and to not only "encompass those who regularly take part in political discourse." Exchange and discussion, even heated discussion without resentment or prejudice, were "the oxygen of an open society and argument its enlivening element." For this to happen in Europe and America one has to accept that the plurality that existed in communication between different groups has been fractured, because of a divide developing- rural vs. urban, gainers from globalization in large urban centres and those left behind in areas outside, those in tech centres and those outside, isolated communities talking in opposition to other groups. It is important to counteract this fragmentation, by making contacts with people thinking differently or in different circumstances than one's own- "genuine discussion is often the first step on the path to compromise and the starting point for change- and thus for the development of democracy." Democracies learn, this is the essential point, and arguments based on truth, the outcome of discussions based on truth guide democracies. Fake news simply has no place here. Identity has emerged as an issue within Europe and America, as the fracturing in communication coupled with immigration has tended to create fears for identity as a people. Europeans or Americans, or Indians can value their constitutional freedoms, and still live and treasure their landscapes, culture, history, language and literature.
A sense of respect for the constitution and its founders fits well with one's culture- Gauck adds "respecting democratic constitution with universal values naturally does not mean shrugging off one's culture or ignoring traits that have developed over the course of history." Democracy lives and learns, and it is continually in the process of BECOMING, changing with new responses as new generations and new periods with their new issues emerge. The process may take time or be slow at first, this adaptability comes from exercizing political citizenship and bringing out the potential within every person. Citizenship education needs to advance to ensure respect for others and other viewpoints to enlarge the discussion that drives democracy, and for assuming responsibility for the future of the community, and for shared international norms and values. Not opposing the most egregious acts of inhumanity citizens and communities lose credibility, creating room for doubts and dissension that lead to "becoming morally jaded, or cynical," as the universality of human rights is diminished. Choosing to wait things out, the lack of prudent and decisive action, is not a default option. Here Gauck pointed out that the consequences of the U.S. limiting its action in the international sphere and allowing situations to develop had profound negative consequences for Europe, and also in America, allowing cynicism to develop. This means stabilizing the European Union and taking action to counteract internally and externally, and working with partners is a must.
Even as the situation in one part of the world the Middle East has slipped, there are positive developments that give hope in other regions. India (and South Asia) with over 1 billion people is taking on the next stage of modernization, with vibrant democracy in India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. This offers new hope for democracy to expand and grow and constitutional freedoms to progress. It also provides an opportunity to boost growth in the EU and the U.S. through increased trade and economic relations with India and South Asia as a whole for a shared future. Just as Germany has shown a better direction for Europe, India can show a better direction for South Asia, including areas such as Iran and Afghanistan, in peaceful coexistence and modernization. China has so much at stake in today's international order as it continues its drive for economic progress beyond that of a middle income country. Russia has responded in various ways feeling encircled by NATO expansion to its eastern borders and the situation in Ukraine, and from reduced foreign investment in the economy. This has given a feeling that things are "out of joint" or unsettled.
With patience and resilience the people of the European Union and the U.S. can overcome this period of tangled international relations, as the basic foundations laid by predecessors in the last 70 years are sound. New challenges can be met with the same courage shown by exceptional leaders in the past. George Washington reminded Americans in his draft of the First Inaugural Address, Jan 1789, that "should hereafter those who are intrusted with the management of this government, incited by the lust for power, and prompted by the supineness or venality of their constituents, overleap the known barriers of this Constitution and violate the inalienable rights of humanity: it will only serve to show that no wall of words- no mound of parchmt can be so formed as to stand against the sweeping torrent of boundless ambition and the sapping current of corrupted morals." Every generation has to find new meaning, and breathe new life into it, by living true to the values and democratic way of life- "provident in its construction and sacred in its ratification." This is true as well in other countries, for the Basic Law in Germany, and the Constitution in India, to cite just a few, with genuine pride and respect for the spirit, wisdom and efforts of those who worked hard to write it after years of difficulty and struggles.
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