Shifting Paradigm: Towards a Transformative and Holistic Vision of ‘Humanity’ A Call for Rethinking and Expanding the Red Cross Red Crescent Principle of Humanity through Deeper Human and Environmental Consciousness
Thesis paper for the Master of Advanced Studies in Pedagogical Approaches for Education in Humanitarian Principles and Values University of Teacher Education Zug Institute for International Cooperation in Education IZB by Reema Chopra
DISCLAIMER The positions expressed in this paper are strictly those of the author and represent neither the opinion of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), nor the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), nor National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
This thesis seeks to rethink ̶ from an unconventional, holistic perspective ̶ the Fundamental Principle of Humanity (‘Humanity’) as adopted in 1965 by the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement (the Movement). ‘Humanity’, such as defined and interpreted today, seems to be limited and incomplete, and, to a certain extent, no longer adequate to effectively meet the world’s unprecedented, critical crises and challenges at their root, in addition to addressing their symptoms. Rather, it is focused on preventing and alleviating the suffering of human beings only without sufficiently and inclusively considering other forms of life (e.g., animal, plant), their intrinsic value, suffering/interests, well-being and our interwoven destinies.
These interlinked predicaments have indeed greatly evolved and are somewhat indicative of the inadequacy of fragmented, human-centric approaches that place humanity above and/or as separate from the essential interconnected web of life, and that are, at their core, embedded in an unjustified moral discrimination that excludes non-human living beings on the basis of ‘difference’ alone. Paradoxically, such approaches and their underlying mindsets precisely represent some of the root causes of current global challenges (biodiversity loss, climate change, infectious diseases with pandemic potential, etc.), which threaten humanity’s well-being and survival, and that of the Earth as a whole. Given the rapidly closing window for action, these complex issues imperatively require the whole of humanity ̶ including humanitarians ̶ to urgently embrace ‘transformative change’ and extend compassion to all beings.
This thesis therefore holistically reinterprets, expands and re-envisions ‘Humanity’ through deeper environmental consciousness and further inclusiveness with the aim to broaden its implications for the humanitarian and development work of the Movement so that it becomes even more meaningful, effective, preventive, comprehensive and ethical. Grounded in both scientific research/findings and ethical considerations, this paper represents an urgent call for radical transformation through the following two lenses:
(i) Expanding ‘Humanity’ (horizontal expansion): to be truly fit for the future, ethically coherent and aligned with its own humanitarian values, the Movement needs to shift paradigms and further evolve towards a broader, transformative and holistic vision and understanding of the Principle of Humanity, based in the recognition of the essential interconnectedness, interdependence and intrinsic value of all life. This implies extending without discrimination its compassion and efforts to prevent and alleviate animal suffering; to care and ensure respect for the well-being, health, sustainability, diversity and dignity of the Earth in its wholeness and thereby of all its ecosystems and life forms; as well as to promote and inspire conscious, compassionate, peaceful and harmonious living with Nature. Such a shift towards a more inclusive and ecocentric approach is absolutely vital for effectively preventing and alleviating human suffering, for safeguarding human dignity, for achieving holistic peace and sustainability, and perhaps even for humanity to survive ̶ as we are not separate beings. We are inextricably and intrinsically linked with one another and “whatever we do to the web of life, we do to ourselves.” (Chief Si’ahl, 1854);
(ii) Deepening ‘Humanity’ (vertical expansion): for humanity to thrive and reach its full potential, it is essential to further understand and consider the micro-macro interrelatedness, which reveals that the state of the ‘outer world’ is a reflection or projection of our ‘inner world’; both concomitantly transforming and mutually reinforcing one another. Hence, the need to further enhance ‘inner conditions’ and shift into deeper levels of awareness and expanded consciousness, which enable one to realize non-separation and experience oneself as part of and at one with the undivided whole of life. Such transformational insight on ‘inter-beingness’ and non-separability is crucial for unfolding reverence for life and its diversity; expanding compassion and one’s intrinsic, authentic humanity within, compelling one to act spontaneously to alleviate suffering and care for other living beings, human and non-human, and the Earth as a whole, as one would do for oneself. Whether humanity is willing to cultivate this deep, critical consciousness may greatly determine the future of the planet and the realization of inner and outer unity and peace.
Finally, this work may open the path to further discussions and collective questioning, and as such, potentially lead to broaden the Movement’s mission and mandates. It also calls upon the wider humanitarian and development community, if not the whole of humanity, to further integrate holistic approaches, to be responsive to and advance concerns for the well-being of the Earth, its animals, living beings and ecosystems ̶ especially through leading by example and leveraging the transformative and preventive powers of education. This is part of our collective moral responsibility towards ‘life’ in its wholeness and towards humanity itself, and part of being human and humane.
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