When I discuss issues related to education (my main academic field along with development and migration studies), I often emphasise that we as teachers, parents and others guiding children and youth, we must always contribute to making them feel confident and proud of themselves. That is the most important start-up gift we can give them. It is neither knowledge nor good grades; it is good and right attitudes, first to oneself and simultaneously, to others.

If children and youth become confident and proud of who and what they are, where they come from and what they have, then they can also respect others. They will also know that they don’t lose power and identity by honouring others, helping others to be seen and appreciated. Rather they will learn that they get paid back by the people they meet on their life’s journey, at a young age and when they grow older. Then they will become wiser and more knowledgeable than those who were not aware of this, not necessarily by their own fault, but because their environment, especially educators but also the local community, did not stress it enough, perhaps because they too hadn’t quite understood its importance.

To be proud of oneself –and others– does not mean being arrogant or feeling better. It means that we are as good as we are, and others are as good as they are – with all kinds of strengths and weaknesses, ideas, interests, questions, heritage, future wishes and dreams, and so on. When we hold a reasonable degree of confidence, we also have the basis for appreciating multiculturalism and diversity. We don’t need to be afraid of losing anything; instead, we know we will add to what we have, and thus becoming better because we give and take, share and receive.

The international network on Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies (Human DHS), consisting of researchers and thinkers, which you may have heard about, emphasises in its work what I have drawn attention to above. Human DHS doesn’t focus on children, but on adults and the pressing political issues, particularly the conflicts that have not been resolved over decades. Human DHS was established by Professor Evelyn Lindner, a Norwegian of parents with Polish and German refugee background. The key focus is on the importance of understanding the damages that cycles of humiliation have on conflicts so they stay unresolved. Depriving someone of respect and dignity prolong conflicts. Yes, sometimes so long that we don’t exactly remember why we are antagonistic to each other, Lindner opines.

If we turn a leaf, look for a fresh start, we may find that countries and people who couldn’t stand each other can live friendly together, or at least tolerate each other and over time grow friends. Many countries, groups of countries, and regions within countries have managed to do this. It can also be done in our region where there are long-lasting conflicts. Indeed, the thinking of Human DHS can prevent new conflicts from developing and flaring up into wars – in the Middle-East and elsewhere.

The basis for people living peacefully together is mutual respect, which confident and proud people can have, and they will be able to share generously around them. The opposite is humiliating and showing disrespect to our neighbours.

In one or two recent articles, I have drawn attention to various political and socio-economic issues, stating that the most important concept is class. I would argue that class differences would not be accepted and maintained if people have the attitudes I described above – from children’s upbringing to big politics. I believe it is an essential duty of leaders and political parties to work for reduced class differences and greater equality.

Then even gender inequality has to do with class; regional disparities within a country and between countries; inequalities based on race or where people where born, including migrants and refugees; disparities based on religion do also have evident class aspects; environmental issues and climate change have class dimensions, and so on. The majority, the influential people and organisations rule and decide; they make decisions in protecting their interest at the expense of the weaker and poorer.

Usually, we consider the class to be a relatively clear difference between groups within a country, with the decisive variable to be the economic difference; some are poor, and others are rich. Naturally, it is not only about money; there are also other relevant factors, such as cast, religion, race and colour, social and geographic background, education and more, that decide what class people belong to. Class is not a statistic concept. People can over time climb from one class to another. In recent decades, education opportunities have been valuable in reducing class differences in many countries.

In Europe and elsewhere, the socialist and social-democratic policies have been essential in creating more equality between groups and classes from the beginning of the 20th century; the lower classes have been uplifted, or rather, have lifted themselves out of poverty through class-struggle.

Today, many people in Europe seem to feel that the time of class-struggle is over; that we today have opportunities to make the life we want, and be members of the class we choose. Hence, if we stay poor and deprived, we should blame ourselves. Although there is something to it, this view is based on superficial analysis and thinking. How well we do in life is still caused by many inherited factors; the starting point, the class we belong to at birth, is still significant for the life we will have.

New classes emerge or, rather, people from new backgrounds fall into existing classes. Most refugees and other migrants become lower class people in the new lands they reach. That is indeed a problem in Europe. Some will remain alienated and outside the mainstream society for long, together with the poor segments of the countries’ populations. Some of the newcomers may fall prey to the drug and crime and risk becoming permanent outsiders. I would argue that most of those who do, indigenous citizens and immigrants, often fall outside society due to reasons which are only to little degree victims can themselves control. It is caused by an unequal society, notably circumstances, living conditions and environment, and other structural factors.

It is easy to blame people who don’t succeed, point fingers and say they should have tried harder. Yet, the fact is that solutions to social problems are rarely individual; they are collective. The structural solutions to reduce class differences and alienation must be hammered out by labour unions, interest organisations and political parties. Individuals, NGOs, and idealistic groups can speak about solutions and make politicians listen to them so they can prioritise better. But it is not they who will develop new policies; in democracies that is done by the political parties and the government.

Today, an important conference opens in Islamabad, organised by Society for Asian Civilisations, and I have the privilege of attending its deliberations. When I have been preparing for the conference, I have thought that the issues I have taken up in this article, and some columns earlier, broaden the way we should think about the more specific points of the conference, which are about Pakistan’s pluralistic cultural values. It is essential that the broader political issues be included, and that the term class also forms an instrument of analysis. Indeed, the values that I began my article with today are essential, notably that everyone in Pakistan and anywhere else on our globe, must feel proud members of their cultures, and that they are thought at school to be confident and feel good about themselves. Then they can also accept others, be generous to them, such as poor Pakistanis, and the government of Pakistan, have accepted refugees from Afghanistan over decades, most of the time even more inclusive than rich countries sometimes manage to do.

Yet, we all can do better, including in the ways we look at people from lower classes. We must always strive at finding better ways of living together and reducing inequality. We must also realise that there is strength in diversity. Politics lie under all change and development; through debate, dialogue, better knowledge and understanding, we will do better where we are, and find better structural and everyday solutions. And then finally, if you and I agree on major issues, we should be glad. But even if we don’t, we should also be able to like and respect each other. We should always be proud of ourselves and others – trying our best in good faith and with the best intentions.

 

The writer is a senior Norwegian social scientist with experience in research, diplomacy and development aid.

atlehetland@yahoo.com