I’m in India this week, and today I had the pleasure, and challenge, of facilitating a selection of “Good Society” readings with the Acumen India Fellows.
The opportunity to take a step back and be reminded of the words and deeds of the great thinkers and activists throughout history is a rare one, and I thought I’d share some of my favorite excerpts from these readings.
While these excerpts lose some of their richness when taken out of context, I hope they serve to remind you, as they do me, of the great thinkers we have in our corner as we work to build a future of greater rights and dignity for all.
Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) (link)
“Preamble. Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.”
“Article 1. All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”
“Article 6. Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law”
Letter From Birmingham City Jail (1963) by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr (link)
“I am in Birmingham because injustice is here…Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.”
“History is the long and tragic story of the fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily.”
“I am coming to feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people. We must come to see that human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and persistent work of men willing to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation.”
The Republic, (390 BC) Plato (link)
“He who is to be a really good and noble guardian of the State will require to unite in himself philosophy and sprit and swiftness and strength.”
The Social Contract (1762), Jean Jacques Rousseau (link)
“Man is born free; and everywhere he is in chains.
“The problem [in creating the Social Contract] is to find a form of association which will defend and protect with the whole common force the person and goods of each associate, and in which each, while uniting himself with all, may still obey himself alone, and remain as free as before… [To do so] Each of us puts his person and all his power in common under the supreme direction of the general will, and, in our corporate capacity, we receive each member as an indivisible part of the whole.”
Development as Freedom, Amartya Sen (link)
“The usefulness of wealth lies in the things that it allows us to do – the substantive freedoms it helps us to achieve. But this relation is neither exclusive (since there are significant influences on our lives other than wealth) nor uniform (since the impact of wealth on our lives varies with other influences.”
“Expanding the freedoms that we have reason to value not only makes our lives richer and more unfettered, but also allows us to be fuller social persons, exercising our own volitions and interacting with – and influencing – the world in which we live.”
The University and the Leadership Factor in Nigerian Politics (1988), Chinua Achebe (link)
“Leadership is a sacred trust, like the priesthood in civilized, humane religions. No one gets into it lightly or unadvisedly, because it demands qualities of mind and discipline of body and will far beyond the need of the ordinary citizen. Anybody who offers himself or herself or is offered to society for leadership must be aware of the unusually high demands of the role and should, if any doubt whatsoever, firmly refuse the prompting.”