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Address at the Sixth National Conference of the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO

San Francisco, November 7, 1957.

Mr. Chairman, it is high privilege for me to be standing here today in response to your kind invitation and at the friendly behest of Dr. Luther Evans, who, as you know, is our esteemed Parisian cousin in the international family of civil servants, to which both of us belong. Apart from that, it is always pleasurable to be in San Francisco. Approached from the West, it is a very attractive and captivating introduction to this wonderful country. Coming to it from the east coast, as I do now, it is at least a welcome relief.

Two or three times during the addresses last evening and perhaps this morning there has been mention of Asians - in most flattering terms, I might add - who are to participate in this conference. I believe it would not be out of order for me to surmise that I was included amongst the persons so referred to.

It is, however, not as an Asian that I should like to share my thoughts with you this morning. It is true that I cannot, even if I wished, which I do not - I cannot shut my eyes entirely to the light that I received from the skies, the rather distant skies, under which I was born. Much less, however, can I deny the many benedictions that have fallen upon me from other skies during the rest of my life when I strove and struggled for maturity. Besides, it would, I think, be perfectly in tune with the purpose of this conference as indeed with my own disposition, if I did not dwell too much on rooting myself in any particular land.

I rather think that as you and I, for the moment, meditate spacelessly (though, alas, not timelessly) we might remind ourselves this morning not of countries and continents but of the middle of the strange century in which we are privileged to live. For it would be, I think, more than a mere truism to say that ours is a unique period in the history of man. I should like for a moment to feel with you the reverberations of these tremendous times. For there are many momentous things happening today which have never happened before.

First, there is the prodigious annihilation of distance. There are people and things and forces that come together today that have never come together before. Ours is the era of novel and gigantic contacts. Scientists and scholars and searchers by the thousand roam around the globe. If one could see them from the point of view of the medieval student, one would see, on a much larger scale, no doubt, but somewhat in the same spirit, thousands of enquirers crossing the seas and traversing the continents. Ours is the age of questioning. There are more questions to ask and more people asking them than in any previous age. If people do not get the right answers, they will work with the wrong ones and breed ignorance, bewilderment and unhappiness on a scale hitherto unknown to men.

It is important, therefore, that we should try, as far as the human mind can achieve it, to seek and find the right answers. Today we must all become students of (to use Toynbee's phrase) "the psychology of encounters" because today the annihilation of distance and the telescoping of time have "brought face to face, at point-blank range, half a dozen" (if not more) "societies, each of which, until yesterday, was living its own life in its own way almost as independently of its neighbours as if it had been marooned on a planet of its own."

That is not all. There is available today what I think Mr. Andre Malraux would call an "imaginary museum" whose contents are daily becoming more rich and more varied. The technique of reproduction has made available to those of us who care, the art, life and thought of distant lands and remote peoples. To mention only two such techniques: the reproduction of sound and colour photography have brought within our hearing and within our sight strange and exciting stimuli from which we were once so impenetrably isolated, and have created novel and exciting urges in the minds of men in general and the artists and writers in particular.

There is another factor yet which has given shape to the new and complex world in which we live today. For this, we must pay tribute to the scientific anthropologist who has brought remote and exotic cultures close to us and taken away from us the feeling of suspicion or superiority with which we used to view ways of life that were strange and foreign to us. Today we approach them in a spirit of humility or at least open-mindedness. It is possible today for a sophisticated European artist to immerse himself in an exotic culture like the Polynesian and to find his spirit not soiled or corrupted but enriched by the experience.

Such is the colourful vibrant world we live in. It is new and we have to understand it, for as we roam through it, questions raise their head at every turn. We see strange faces, strange ways, strange art, strange aspirations. We hear strange voices. We must give all this some meaning.

That is our problem today: how to give meaning to God's plenty which has increased so rapidly. We cannot continue to grope about in the darkness. But our world is crowded and unless we open the windows of the mind we shall be suffocated and live blindly in a mental and spiritual night of our own making.

Last night Dr. Luther Evans gave us an extremely lucid address outlining. the great task that UNESCO had undertaken. In tones that were manifestly sincere, he informed us of the devoted attention that the secretariat of the organization, of which he is the distinguished head, were willing to dedicate to this great project.

We heard Mr. Christian A. Herter, who assured us that the support and the goodwill of the American Government were behind this great venture. We heard the inspiring words of President Eisenhower, one of the sincerest of men alive, whose personal enthusiasm we felt was with us.

This morning we heard from Dr. Henry Heald a very heartening account of what private effort, particularly that of the leaders of business in America, was doing to help and stimulate this vast undertaking.

I am glad, very glad indeed, that the Americans are associated with it because in some ways they have unique qualifications for the task that lies ahead.

I am sure neither Dr. Evans nor Dr. Heald will misunderstand me as in any way belittling their efforts if I were to say that, devoted though their organization are to this effort with the sense of a great mission, all of us in this worldwide team of workers and leaders are like windmills which grind for the welfare of man but which themselves derive energy from the winds that sweep across the skies. They are giving direction to history as well as drawing inspiration from it.

I say this to emphasize that participation in this exhilarating project is no less than an eager response to the great challenge of our times. I am glad, therefore, that Americans, whose conference this is, are associated with it. If the Americans cannot take up this challenge, I don't know of any people who could.

Firstly, your nation is amongst the leading nations of the world. Leadership is a very simple role to discern but an awful responsibility to live up to. I know that this position is not of your seeking, but it is your destiny and you have to fulfill it. Escape it you cannot. All that remains is for you to decide whether you scribble a few dim lines in the chronicles of our times or add a glorious page to them. That is the decision you have to make.

Secondly, this movement, as it must (and I hope will) spread round the world, is of gigantic proportions. It has, as we know, started well under the most distinguished international auspices. Where it will end no man can foretell. But we know that it requires a great deal of organization. It will be the greatest cooperative effort of its kind in history. As we know, as De Tocqueville knew a century ago, - in cooperative effort lies the very special genius of the American nation. If you begrudge it in this field, you will belie your own traditions and be untrue to your best selves.

Thirdly, this is exactly the kind of trust that attracts the kind of leadership American citizens temperamentally find rewarding. In most civilizations, leadership generally came, and in some of them still derives, from a particular class of people: the aristocrats, the priests, the warriors, the intellectuals, the feudal landlords, and you who know more history than I do will find other examples. In the American nation, leaders rise from all levels and classes and specially from the great fluid reservoir of enterprise, the business community, from captains of industry and commerce. The business world of America has a curious mystique not always easy for a foreigner to comprehend, whereby the profit-making motive is almost indissolubly coupled with the idea of service to the community. Because in the inner recesses of their souls the business leaders of this nation can follow the profit-making motive and at the same time sustain a high moral level of service to their community, whether it be in a small town or in a state or on a national scale, the business leadership of America is different to that of the rest of the world.

All that you, therefore, have to do is keep in step with the times increasingly to make your civic leaders more and more realize that your "community" is now no less than the entire world to which you can, and I hope will, turn with the same feeling of mission and service. And although I knew that your new enthusiasm was rapidly catching up with you, Dr. Henry Heald nevertheless startled me when he told us a little while ago that there were in this country as many as 600 organizations of private citizens engaged in the task of studying or intellectually cooperating with various countries of Asia. That is an example of world-mindedness of which any nation might be proud.

There is a fourth qualification, too, which you have and which is rare. In the past, the conquerors, the imperialists, the colonialists, the expansionists, have always hugged this dream to their bosom, that if they could spread their culture to other lands, this would somehow reinforce their political domination also. History belies this belief, but such is the blind vanity of the expansionist that he remains unconvinced. We know that men rebelled most and struggled most to be free in the very countries in which colonialists of the last three or four centuries had taken most pains to spread their culture. Not only that but that, of the rebels in any given country, those who had learnt most of the ways, the philosophy, the art, the history and the language of the rulers fought the hardest. I hope no one today is deluded by the perilous ambition that by spreading culture one is spreading something else. Culture is enrichment, and enrichment of the mind could only lead to freedom and yet more freedom.

That is why I think Americans are eminently fitted to spearhead this task, for as I stand here today, it is my belief that America has no territorial ambitions. What may happen half a century or a century or more later, neither you nor I can foretell. The ambitions of a powerful country need eternal vigilance, most of all by the nationals of the country itself, but because there are no such ambitions today you will be able to roam freely and perform this task as in the past it would have been given to very few other nations to do.

You are also lucky in this, that you are not burdened with too much history. You can, therefore, take a more objective and a more detached view of the world than many other nations. You have no great load to carry, nor many clouds of glory or of sin to trail across the world. That should give you a further advantage.

There is one more qualification you have which gives me a departure point for another thought in my soliloquy to you, and that is that your language is English - of sorts. In the task that we have before us language is very important. I do not believe that anyone people can spiritually comprehend another people without knowing their language. I have no doubt that learning new languages and providing translators will be a very important part of the programme. But sooner or later the world will begin to feel, as it has never felt before, the need for a widely understood language; not a set of devised symbols which could at best be crude and could only be useful for low-level communication not touching the soul, but a language which would express the mind and the soul, the fears and the loves and the hates of a nation, of a man, of a human being. If one such language has to be chosen in. the world, I cannot think of a better language than English. My distinguished friend, Dr. Vlttonno Veronese, said it was a difficult language to master, but how much more difficult would it have been if every noun and every adjective in the English language, including the article, had also to have gender and number. So let us be thankful that you possess at least one wonderful instrument with which to carryon this great task that we have before us.

A word about the Asians and the great importance this project has for them. Earlier this morning we listened to the wise discourse of a sophisticated and cultured European, Dr. Vittorino Veronese. I have sat at the feet of many savants in Europe, and what he said did not come to me as a surprise but rather as a reaffirmation of what I had known. He gave a very clear account of how Asia appeared to him - how he evaluated its new aspirations and what his view of Asia's new responsibilities was. I am glad he said this for his speech provides a useful text which Asians would do well, in a spirit of humility, to ponder. May I on this occasion, however, give you the other side, the better to understand and tackle the problem of our times.

I will read to you an excerpt from the pen of an Asian diplomat which will at least give you a fresh, if not the final, point of view. He says:

“There is perhaps one thing in which Asia differs significantly from Europe... It is a matter of attitudes, of expectations, and the best way to explain it may be by refuting a commonplace of Western thought about Asia, the rhetorical device, taken as fact, that describes Asia as 'ancient'...

In most of Asia, of course, the crust of ancient custom still remains. But it is only a crust, and what is underneath is very new, at least for Asia. It is as new for Asia as for Europe, in their time, the break-up of the Roman Empire, the feudal crusades for faith, silks and spices, and glittering crowns for the bold, the intellectual ferment of the Renaissance, the moral trials and adventures of the Reformation, the eager ruthlessness, the restless experimentation, the misery, the optimism of the Industrial Revolution - all of these, three-fourths of Europe's history, merged into one for Asia.

The word I should like you to remember is 'optimism.' Because ancient Asia is reborn, because she is young again, she is full of hope. She is everything that the young are: enthusiastic, quarrelsome, idealistic, impulsive, intolerant, generous in sacrifice, sanguine in expectations, and often divided in heart and confused in purpose by the discovery of reality.

By contrast, it is Europe that seems ancient. To the traveller from Asia, Europe seems old and weary, tired of so much history, tired of making it and enduring it, tired of having so many things happen to her. Europe just wants to be left alone. But young Asia has a lot of history before her; she wants to get so many things done that the past left undone. In terms of history, it is the Asians who are the new Elizabethans, sure of honour and glory, reckless of the odds, enchanted by self-discovery, feverishly impatient of success. ”

I submit that between this view and the European, there is a parallax that we must try and get rid of. Here is a difference in vision which, to say the least, is disturbing. In Asia, these and many other divergences, deeper and more significant, from the very stuff of mental and social conflicts, for this age has brought many torments to Asian minds also. If you travel through our lands, you will find institutions, educational and cultural, which might still bear the hyphenated names, Anglo-Islamic, Anglo-Arabic, Anglo-Vedic, signs of the strenuous efforts made by educationists who felt the powerful impact of Western civilization and sought a synthesis which should quicken, not retard, the pulse of their life.

It was a great problem for them and remains a great problem for our generation. Long have they cogitated and many a night have they kept awake trying to find out how to amalgamate with this new and strange civilization with its technological wonders that has come to them from the West with such momentum. It is not a small problem. Arnold Toynbee, who is conversant with so many civilizations, ancient and modern, knows it well. Let me give you his words:

“The reception of a foreign culture is a painful as well as a hazardous undertaking; and the victim's instinctive repugnance to innovations that threaten to upset his traditional way of life makes the experience all the worse for him; for, by kicking against the pricks, he diffracts the impinging foreign culture-ray into its component strands; he then gives a grudging admission to the most trivial, and therefore least upsetting, of these poisonous splinters of a foreign way of life, in the hope of being able to get off with no further concessions than that; and then, as one thing inevitably leads to another, he finds himself compelled to admit the rest of the intruding culture piecemeal. No wonder that the victim's normal attitude towards an intrusive alien culture is a self-defeating attitude of opposition and hostility.”

To undertake this major project is no less than to exercise all our powers of understanding and appreciation in order to get rid of these global antipathies, pains and confusions. There is a great deal to be done in both directions. For the moment, I would only like to leave this little reminder with you that the East has studied the West a little more closely than the other way around. There are more people in the East, illiterate and uneducated though millions of them may be, who have read the Bible, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Shakespeare, than there are in the West who have read, say, the Quran, the Upanishads, Sa'di or Confucius. I am not talking of the scholars because in scholarship now, as in the centuries gone by, Europe sits at the high table. In fact, in the preservation of Asian cultures we owe much to European scholars, their erudition and their perseverance. I am talking of the general level of awareness among the people. It is important that the general level of awareness of cultures other than one's own should be raised in all countries.

Please bear with me if I try and suggest one more reason why this should be done. This is important and it is about the last with which I will burden your ears. There have been in the past quite a few occasions when the East and West have encountered each other. We have known the Greeks to march up to the Panjab, the Tartars to sweep up to the heart of Europe, the Arabs, carrying everything before them, to drive right across the Mediterranean to the Atlantic. And during the last three or four centuries we have seen European nations sail the oceans to the shores of Indonesia and beyond. All these have been encounters of war, of domination, of conquest. All these have been aided by the sword. Now half the population of the world, which is Asia, and two hundred millions, which is Africa, are either free or on the verge of emancipation. People who for centuries have held their heads down, being able to see nothing but the shackles on their own feet, now hold their heads up and look at distant horizons and bright visions. If this does not create a situation which is full of trepidation, promise and anxiety, hope and fear, enthusiasms and doubts, then I have read history in vain.

I know that in this country many people think, and think understandably and very seriously, of the great human crisis that is indicated by communism versus anti-communism. But I put it to you that this is not the only crisis we have to be aware of. The gulf between East and West, the great cultures that concern us in this conference, as seen, for example, in that mirror of contemporary history called the United Nations, is something that we can only ignore at our own peril. Below many a political struggle in the international arena there seems to lurk a sense of geography, of race, of colour, which does not forebode good and unless the wise men of the East and of the West sense this danger before it assumes ominous proportions, we should have a bigger human crisis than the crisis in which our minds most of the time are engaged. We must lend our efforts, however small, knowing the goal is big. We must bridge the gulf, dispel the ignorance, remove the misunderstandings for the sake of human welfare, no less, and in order to pass safely, perhaps gloriously, through a period in human history which is full of portents.

A year ago, an Asian scholar, speaking at a seminar in this city, said:

“Certain basic values are common to all humanity though there may be differences of emphasis. Most fundamental is life itself. Others are goodness, expressed in goodwill, justice, love, brotherhood, exemplary conduct, and character as embodied in developed personalities, social services, law courts, and churches. Beauty, expressed in taste, appreciation of nature, and aesthetic activity as embodied in the arts. Truth, expressed in wisdom and knowledge, through schools, libraries, research institutions, and universities. Happiness, expressed in uninterrupted pursuit, discovery, invention, and relief from pain. Leading to these ultimate values are certain instrumental values. These are peace, hospitality, liberty, mutual trust, and cooperation. Also equality, private property, social security, and public service in the fields of health, education, communication -indispensable to the advancement of ultimate values.

Peculiarly American are such values as wealth, industrialization, mechanization, free enterprise, a high living standard, dignity of the individual, choice of occupation, efficiency of work, recreation, material comfort, equality of sexes, emphasis on the factual and secular, pragmatic adjustments, and Political alliances - a mechanistic view of life. The main direction of American life is the conquest of nature for the benefit of man.

Peculiarly Asian are such values as family and home, mental peace, derived less from material comfort than from intellectual and spiritual sources; simplicity of life; contentment; sex morality; emphasis on the ideal rather than the pragmatic; a reliance on universal love and justice rather than on political alliances. The Asian view is. melioristic rather than materialistic, purposeful rather than mechanical, and directed more to the development of human personality than to the conquest of nature. Both value patterns cast shadows.

To synthesize, if possible, the best values of East and West and to devise the ways and means to a culture free of the shadows which darken each seems a worthy objective.”

It is this worthy objective which now has to be pursued alike by governments, by international organizations, and by peoples.

The distinguished Chancellor of the University of California will forgive me if I quote some of his profound words but twist them to suit my purpose on this occasion. "The danger is not that loyalties are divided today, but that they may be undivided tomorrow... I would urge each individual to avoid total involvement in any culture." "Organization" is what he actually said, but does it matter in what context man achieves breadth of vision so long as he learns to expand both his horizon and his love? It is this that we are seeking: a new comradeship, a universal fellowship, a world communion, a deeper understanding, and, if I may say so, the peace that passeth all understanding. May your efforts be blessed.