Excerpt from a Charter for Human Conscience

By Eric Stetson — March 2011

(Note: This is from the statement of principles of a nonprofit organization that was formed in 2011 to promote cross-cultural exchange and a global culture of conscience. Although that organization didn’t receive enough funding to continue its work, many of its visionary ideals are essential for building a better world in the 21st century and beyond.)

From the beginning, people have sought to better themselves and their condition. To this end they have dreamed and imagined, strived and created, given of themselves and taken opportunities afforded by their circumstances, thereby improving their circumstances and multiplying the opportunities of future generations. Leaders have arisen in each age and generation, lifting people’s imagination to greater heights and calling them to make real their visions of a better life and a better world. Institutions have been founded to embody and transmit such visions; and new leaders, visions, and institutions have ascended to prominence and dominance from age to age, according to the needs and conditions of the time.

We call to remembrance the wise ones, the inspired ones, the visionaries of history: they who left the caves, tamed beasts, and became masters of soil and seeds; who built cities and storehouses, invented the written word and devised methods of calculation; who made laws and discovered them, looking to the heavens above and the worlds around them and within them, recording patterns of earth, water, wind and sky, of life, space and time, ordering the affairs of the people in pursuit of justice, righteousness, and the common good, and inclining themselves toward an ever more perfect reflection of transcendent ideals perceived or received. They gave birth to great nations and empires material and spiritual, and their gods went before them in their image, in whose image they created and were created, and fought with them to exhaustion for the transformation of souls and societies. Thus have we expanded our horizons, learned from the mistakes of the past, the triumphs and sorrows, and from each other — until at last all shall be as one, even as envisioned by the prophets of old, when weapons of war shall rust from disuse and fires of hatred die without fuel, in a world reborn in the light of peace universal and unending. To the leaders, the luminaries among our ancestors who brought forth such visions of progress, those which have already been accomplished and those yet unrealized, we pay homage and give gratitude, realizing that our own accomplishments must inevitably rest on a foundation so often taken for granted — a foundation whose every part was put into place only through determined and concerted effort by them who had the courage to question and surpass the ways and standards of their time, reaching for an uncertain future with uncanny conviction borne of inner knowledge that impelled them to action at any price. …

At last all shall be as one, even as envisioned by the prophets of old, when weapons of war shall rust from disuse and fires of hatred die without fuel, in a world reborn in the light of peace universal and unending.

Be it recognized and affirmed that there is truth; that truth may be sought in various ways not confined to but one source or discipline; that it is good to seek truth, that it should become known to its seekers to the fullest degree possible and dispel error and its consequences; that truth discovered should not be ignored, dismissed, or denied, but those who know truth have a responsibility to use it and share it with wisdom for positive ends; that each individual has the right and responsibility to investigate and know the truth for oneself, rather than blindly accepting the knowledge or opinions of others; and that it is always acceptable to question that which is thought to be truth, that further knowledge may be gained and possible errors of understanding corrected.

Be it recognized and affirmed that life is sacred; that all living things are to be respected and treated with a degree of reverence according to their kind; that human beings are not independent of other forms of life, but live within an interdependent web of existence of which every part is important to other parts and to the whole; that our role as sapient and civilized creatures is to be prudent stewards of the ecosystem and preservers and creators of beauty on the planet that sustains us; and that this station is a high and noble calling which is our honor and duty to strive to fulfill.

Be it recognized and affirmed that every human being possesses inherent worth and dignity and must be treated accordingly; that no one may be regarded as possessing greater worth or dignity than another on account of one’s gender, ethnicity, or other accidents of birth, but all are essentially equal in their humanity and should be considered as individuals; that no one may be regarded as a means to an end, but each person’s life and wellbeing are an end in itself; that all people are endowed with inalienable rights, among them the right to sustain one’s life until natural death, the right to receive appropriate care in childhood and old age, the right to receive appropriate medical treatment in illness, the right to be educated, the right to work, the right to keep the majority of the fruits of one’s labor, the right to rest and enjoy leisure, the right to express oneself and one’s opinions, the right to vote for one’s government and its leaders, the right to practice and promote one’s chosen faith unless it would violate or seek to diminish the rights of nonbelievers, the right to communicate in one’s preferred language with fellow speakers, the right to move without unjust and unnecessary restrictions, the right to associate and assemble for peaceful purposes, the right to privacy in one’s activities and communications unless it would put people’s lives in danger, the right to security in one’s person and lawfully obtained property and to defend oneself from unlawful assault and trespass, the right to a fair and speedy trial when accused of a crime, the right to be free from barbarous punishments and inflictions of cruelty, the right to refuse to take up arms against another human being, and the right to pursue happiness in any way that does not infringe upon the rights of others.

Be it recognized and affirmed that justice is the preservation and restoration of balance of the rights of all, that when rights are infringed, the victim may receive restitution from the violator or from society, and the violator may receive correction to prevent further injustice; that the pursuit of justice is one of the highest responsibilities of human civilization, to be invested and carried forth with the greatest wisdom and care by institutions established for this purpose; that among the mechanisms of justice is atonement, whereby the perpetrator of wrongdoing must become a cause of blessing to the one wronged; that when full recompense is impossible or would likely cause new injustices to arise, the need for atonement should be tempered with compassion and mercy, for forgiveness is more worthy than remembrance of wrongs; that the goal of justice is not suffering of the wrongdoer but reduction of suffering of the innocent; and that the ultimate value of justice is the attainment of reconciliation and peace.

Be it recognized and affirmed that the human species is one; that divisions of race, nation, and religion are impermanent and pale in significance to the essential oneness of humanity; that a culture of consciousness of this oneness, and of the glorious diversity that comprises the common human experience, should be fostered and spread until it transforms or supplants all ways of thinking and living that emphasize separation of people into groups in struggle against others; that all humankind shall rise or fall together, and that the surest way to fall and face extinction would be to regard our fellow human beings not as kin in cooperation but as obstacles to be overcome or resources to be exploited; and that together, as one people united, we humans can create a future rich with the realization of the most beautiful dreams we share.

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