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Jeffrey Sachs: Confucius' Wisdom Can Assist us in Overcoming Modern Challenges
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Jeffrey Sachs: Confucius' Wisdom Can Assist us in Overcoming Modern Challenges

Again by expressing my gratitude to the Nishan Forum for bringing us together for this extraordinarily important discussion. We have already heard wonderful talks about the importance of common values for our time, and the potential for common values of our time. And   China's Global Civilizations Initiative and the Nishan Forum are a unique venue in the world to help forge those common values and the community that we urgently need. Do we have common values in the world? The answer, I think, is that we can have common values in the world. This is a matter of potentiality, but we do not currently have common values in the world. We have great divisions, tremendous distrust, unprecedented tensions and very great dangers in the world. We are here to help find the common values and the community to solve those tensions, to overcome the world's crises, especially to find peace and harmony among the nations of the world. I think that there are several reasons for our extreme tensions in the world today. Perhaps the biggest is that the world order is changing, and I believe changing for the good. The last two centuries were very unusual. They were a period in which one rather small part of the world, which is sometimes called the West, or, I believe can be more accurately called the North Atlantic region of the world, the United States and Western Europe, dominated much of world politics and much of world economy. And that North Atlantic-led world has come to an end. And that is good, because it has come to an end because of China's wonderful economic development and the progress in many other regions of the world. So we have truly arrived at a multipolar world, and yet we do not have a shared understanding or common values for that new multipolar world. We also have unprecedented interdependence of our nations. We are more interconnected and interdependent than ever in history. Of course, already, 2000 years ago, there was a silk road between the Roman Empire and the Han Dynasty. But this was not the interdependence that we have in our digital age and our intense interconnections of technology, information finance, the physical flow of goods and people. We also face unprecedented common global challenges as never before, as exemplified by the range of environmental catastrophes now being visited upon the world because of the way that our economic system has interacted with the physical Earth for the past two centuries, during the age of industrialization. And of course, we have more powerful weapons. For the first time in human history, we have weapons that can end civilization, even end humanity itself. So our times are extraordinarily complicated. And we are not in a harmonious period. We are in a period of tremendous stress. I put a lot of responsibility for that stress on my own country, on the United States, which still has a mentality, as we heard of hegemony or global preeminence or dominance in a world in which that is neither feasible nor desirable. But it is a fact of American political culture to this day, and it makes the world very much more dangerous than if there were a proper understanding of our global interconnectedness, and of the anachronistic idea, the outdated idea that the United States somehow is world leader. This is almost preposterous in our complex and interconnected world today. Now, we are here to forge a better understanding of our world and truly workable common values. I believe this is possible, but as our wise speakers have already indicated, it is a long and rocky road. It will not come from a slogan or a saying or a piece of deep wisdom. In fact, it will have to come through collective interaction. Over many years of discussion, debate, encounter and realization of our commonality as human beings and our common interests on the planet. I believe that ancient wisdom can play a tremendously important role in enabling us to find common values for the 21st century. And that's why this unique forum, in this unique place, is such a gift for humanity. Let me say that I believe there are at least four ways in which ancient wisdom can help us in our modern challenges.

The first is that ancient wisdom can help us to heal our own societies. Remember that Confucius, himself, teaching his students and lecturing to leaders of the  Zhou era, already was talking about the need for ancient wisdom. So 2500 years ago, Confucius himself said, we need ancient wisdom to understand our modern challenges,modern in the era, 500 BC, in the spring and autumn period, already, ancient wisdom was needed. According to the wisdom of Master Kong.

Second, ancient wisdom helps us to understand each other. By studying ancient philosophy, we understand the roots of different civilizations. Because Confucian civilization is different from Western civilization. It is much more about harmony and society. It is much more relational than the individualism that characterizes a lot of Western ancient civilization. So by studying ancient civilization, we learn the deep roots of our modern societies, because our societies reflect roots that go back even thousands of years of course.

The third is by studying ancient wisdom, we remember history. I come from a country that knows almost no history. It's a new country. It's only 240 years old roughly, 250 years old. It's nothing in the span of human history. And we remember almost nothing. By the way, if we study Confucius and study Mencius, we are bound to remember that we are studying a civilization that is more than 3,000 years old in its vigor and Confucian wisdom, 2,500 years old. And that helps us to appreciate how a shortsighted we can be. Because the Western countries in the United States believe that it is natural that the Western world should lead the world. But this is an artifact of simply two centuries in the vast sweep of human history. And since they don't know the human history, they don't understand how fleeting that particular idea is. And there is a fourth reason why studying ancient wisdom is so important, and that is that when we study the ancient wisdom of Confucius, of Aristotle, of the Buddha and other sages, we do find the common values that we seek. This is what is so wonderful. If you study what I call the ABCs of our culture, Aristotle, Buddha and Confucius, we find that they are all what we would say in modern parland's virtue ethicists. They all believe that the way to a harmonious and happy life is by cultivating the virtues of the individuals and cultivating the virtues of political society. So they are virtue philosophers, and they teach us to promote our virtues. In Confucianism, that is Ren, and in Aristotelian thought, it is pronesis, or practical wisdom, and other virtues, such as temperance, or justice or fortitude. But these are philosophers who proclaimed that we need to improve ourselves to do improve society, and we need virtuous leaders to help cultivate the virtues of the citizens. This is a common insight of Aristotle, Buddha and Confucius. I want to emphasize, as you know, these philosophers were very practical people. They were engaged in politics. They were engaged in practice. They were political advisers. They were not only armchair philosophers, as we think of them. And none of them was that successful in their day in political action, because virtues are not easy to achieve. And I recall that of the greatest philosophers, of course, Socrates, was executed by the Athenian state. Plato tried to be a political adviser to the city state of SYRACUSEA and he failed miserably. It gives me great relief, because I'm also an advisor to governments, and you can fail. If Plato can fail, you can fail. So it's very interesting to know that even the greatest philosophers failed in practice. And Confucius, of course, had to leave the Lu kingdom. He had to go into exile. He spoke to the rulers in this region, none of them listened very carefully to him. It was only in the next 2500 years that his effect was so powerful. So philosophy is not easy. Cultivating virtue is not easy, and this is a major challenge for us. I recall finally, I wanted to mention that Aristotle, himself, in the last year of his life, in 323BC, had to leave Athens because his protection was gone when Alexander the Great died in Babylon, and Aristotle had to flee for his life. So the life of promoting virtue is not such an easy life. Sometimes the politicians don't want to listen, but the effect of the philosophers is very, very powerful, and the wisdom is very profound. I want to end with a practical note, and that is the hope for success when leaders understand the need for virtue. And I want to refer to a case 60 years ago, which was a case of the one great United States president during my lifetime, president John F Kennedy. Because 60 years ago, the United States and the Soviet Union almost came to nuclear war. And I emphasize this today, because the same two countries, the US and Russia, are at war again. Because I believe the United States doesn't understand what President Kennedy did understand.  Sixty years ago president Kennedy understood that we needed to find a way through common values to reach peace with the Soviet Union. And he tried to convince the American people that it was possible to make peace with a country that was regarded as an enemy by the American people. And he gave a phenomenal speech 60 years ago that I hope people will study, because it was based on the best of Western philosophy. And it's called Kennedy's Peace Speech. And he talked about global values. And he said in that speech, so let us not be blind to our differences, but let us direct attention to our common interests and to the means by which those differences can be resolved. And if we cannot end now those differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity, for in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breed the same era. We all cherish our children's future, and we are all mortal. When President Kennedy made that statement, his counterpart in the Soviet Union, said I want to make peace with that man. And five weeks later, they had agreed on the partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. They made peace because Kennedy saw that it was possible to make peace. He reached out to make peace. He inspired peace with his counterpart by saying we all share this same planet, almost Confucius’s words when Confucius said, within the four seas, all men are brothers. This is what President Kennedy said. And Nicada Cruzche have heard it. And almost exactly 60 years ago, to this day, President Kennedy said the following to world leaders in the UN General Assembly. He said, Archimedes, in explaining the principles of the lever, was said to have declared to his friends, give me a place where I can stand and I shall move the world. My fellow inhabitants of this planet, let us take our stand here in this assembly of nations, and let us see if we, in our town can move the world to a just and lasting peace. This is what the Nishan Forum is making possible. We are grateful to you, grateful to the Shandong government, grateful to the government of the People's Republic of China, and grateful to the people of this great country for inviting us here to share in this endeavor. Thank you very much.

China News | East Meets WestKailun Sui

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