What makes a society civilized?
It is an important question and one which might seem to require recourse to religion, philosophy, or politics.
Or one could simply look out to sea and watch as vulnerable people, in desperate flight from violence, poverty and the impact of climate change, risk drowning in their attempt to reach a safer land.
Then you can decide whether you want to reach out and help them, or let them sink beneath the waves.
If the current global pandemic has reminded us of one thing, it is that the people who are already most vulnerable – the poor, the old, the sick and the marginalised – are the ones who bear the brunt of any crisis.
So the question we must ask in order to understand if a society is civilised or not is: does it fulfil its civil and moral duty to do something to help those most in need?
The role of civil society in a civilised society is to respond when it sees such needs. If there are gaps or failings in the way a government or state responds to those in the greatest need, or a lack of empathy, then civil society should act to fill those gaps.
It does not require complex analysis or a high level of education to know it is right to pick up someone who has fallen on the floor.
We know inside ourselves what is right.
And that duty, that form of civilization, extends beyond national borders. Civil societies cannot ignore cruelty or injustice just because it is happening far away. The proximity principle holds little sway once you acknowledge that we are all neighbours sharing one small planet in an immense universe.
This is truer than ever in this current era. While internet technology has received criticism for enabling the spread of hate speech and sowing the seeds of division, it also offers great opportunities to break down the boundaries of time and distance to allow for collaborative solutions.
Most conflict could be avoided or reduced through constructive dialogue. Technology can enable civil society to take its rightful place at the table.
Politicians, bureaucrats and professors do important work, but they alone cannot find solutions to suffering in the world.
Civil society and the business world can contribute the empathy and entrepreneurship that are so often missing from dialogues aimed at finding solutions to the world’s greatest crises.
A civilised society is one in which people with different skill sets and from different countries work together for the greater good of all the world’s peoples and the entire planet.
In 2020 we still hear talk of a ‘migrant crisis’. The reality in the crisis is not one of migration but of humanity.
We are numb and we need to break out of that.
We need to come together to end suffering, to say that, as a civilized society, we will not stand by while millions of refugees and displaced people across the world suffer in camps or are forced to make dangerous, clandestine journeys to security instead of being allowed to take safe and legal routes. (https://www.moas.eu/safeandlegalroutes/)
A civilised society will not accept inaction or dismiss problems as being ‘too complex to solve’.
Instead of focusing on the barriers to solutions, we can be guided by common sense.
A civilised society will empower pioneers proposing new approaches to age-old challenges – not try and hold them back by grasping onto old ways that have clearly not worked.
When we see the suffering of millions of migrants, the planet being destroyed, a deadly virus sweeping the globe, we must turn away from ego and narrow nationalism and join forces to solve the problems and avoid duplication and wasted resources.
It is not possible to achieve true civilisation if our principal focus is on self-interest.
A civilized society must be courageous and say ‘No matter what we see, however great the challenges, the contribution required, or sometimes even the risks, wherever we see suffering we must try our best to help end it.’
At times this might appear to require sacrifice, but the benefits to society as a whole ultimately fall on every one of us and generations to come. Our tangible actions now will live on long after we as individuals have left this precious earth.
Regina Catrambone – Philanthropist, co-founder and director of Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS)