The world today is more connected than it has ever been, due to technology. New economic opportunities across continents have brought people from different cultures closer. In this scenario, openness and acceptability have emerged as vital qualities to have. Being able to adjust in a cross-cultural team is critical to business today. Similarly, being able to live in harmony in a cross-cultural neighbourhood is critical to a healthy society. Therefore, it is important to find connects between people, and what connects cultures across the globe are human values.

The term “human rights” gives the impression that our rights need to be protected by an act of law. The human rights movement gained momentum after the atrocities of the Holocaust in the Second World War came to light. However, if human rights need to be preserved by an act of law, it is not a sign of a highly developed society. Of course, laws are needed, but they are a remedial step, a deterrent. If we look at any instance, we will see that what leads to human rights violations anywhere in the world is a narrow and prejudiced mindset. To ensure that human rights are preserved and honoured everywhere, we must provide ways to replace this narrow mindset with a broad outlook towards life.

Laws can suppress the bad in people, to a degree, but the goodness in people cannot be enforced by law. We need to nurture, encourage and manifest it with the right environment and guidance. I would say that access to peace and happiness within oneself is the most basic human right. It is present in seed form in everyone and needs nourishment before it becomes an everyday reality of life. I see governments all over the world today spending all their time and resources in creating deterrents – more laws and more ammunition – rather than nurturing goodness.

The negative tendencies in a person, which can lead to acts of cruelty on fellow human beings, are only on the surface. Our experience in working with convicts all over the world has shown us that inside every culprit there is a victim crying for help. Practising stress-relieving techniques and being taught with care and patience brings a transformation in them and they willingly give up violence for good. There are numerous cases of such people becoming constructive citizens of mainstream society; the very people who at one time violated human rights are today upholding human values.

We need not wait for someone to commit a crime before beginning to educate them. Another thing that I strongly advocate is a multicultural education in schools. Our children must be taught that the whole Earth, with all its cultures and religions, belongs to them, not just a part of it. Just as different parts of the world have different delicacies of food, types of music and styles of clothes to offer, they have wisdom to offer too. Such a perspective will not suddenly appear in the last few years of college but has to be cultivated from the very beginning.

If our legacy to the coming generations is a set of laws to run the world by, they will continue to fight over rights. But if we could show them the right values to live by, we will leave an inheritance they can cherish.

Author: Sri Sri Ravi Shankar is a humanitarian leader and spiritual teacher. He is Co-Founder of the World Forum for Ethics in Business and Founder of The Art of Living Foundation, a not-for-profit and volunteer-based organisation engaged in stress-management and service initiatives.

Image: A member of a charity organization serves an afternoon meal REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl