Some weeks show a glimpse of the cosmic order, a coherence that so often eludes us. This week was one of those, with major events that have no apparent link between them, but somehow seamlessly connect nevertheless.

Yesterday, I attended the ceremony of the Human Rights Defenders Tulip, an award for an outstanding human rights activist. I was honoured to be in the jury of this award and proud of its winner: Shadi Sadr, an unrelenting women’s rights activist in the face of hardship and repression in Iran. On the same day, it was exactly 20 years ago that the Berlin Wall fell, starting a cascade of events that brought the East and West together again. Another event had its anniversary yesterday: the Kristallnacht, the cruel attack on Jewish people in Germany, during the night of November 9-10, 1938.

The fact that these three events coincide on one day is more than symbolic to me and sends me a strong message: only through courage, stamina and connections between people and ideas, can the soft powers ultimately prevail over the hard ones. The Berlin Wall ultimately fell because of the acts of many people over a longer period of time. It is only through the continuing efforts of people like Shadi all over the world that we shall finally overcome dictatorship and oppression. 

The Kristallnacht was brutal proof of the danger of division in an era calling for unity: rather than forming an alliance against nazism, the international community continued to talk and argue until it was too late. Even the World Jewish Congress in 1936 couldn’t reach consensus! Acts of the individual are crucial, but so is the partnership, explicit or implicit, that underlies and unites the actions and ideas of the many.

The Earth Charter is one of the documents that inspire such partnership. I contributed from the beginning, and vividly remember the writing process, involving thousands of people worldwide. It was only at the very end, however, that the word ‘hope’ was put in, whereas hope is the central source of inspiration that flows from the Charter’s pages.

Hope brings me to another event of this week: the launch of the Charter for Compassion next Thursday, not entirely by coincidence on the same day that we have organised the Day of Respect in the Netherlands for the last years. During these days, at thousands of schools throughout the country, ‘respect’ became a tangible concept, and so it should be, since it is at schools that we should start to build a respectful, and indeed hopeful, future.

Just like conscience is the tool to bring compassion to life, so has the Council of Conscience been instrumental in developing the Charter for Compassion. I think this Council, which will hopefully grow into a truly world council, deserves to become more important and more powerful than the Security Council of the United Nations.

In a way, it already has: too often, the Security Council fails to act upon all the beautiful ideas of peace it has been founded on. The reason is that it can only act in a big way, whereas sometimes a small way is more effective.  That’s why the launch of the Charter for Compassion is meant to be the start for genuine compassionate acts. These acts don’t need to be on a grand scale: they can happen when nobody watches. Yet these acts, these whispers of truth and conscience, must be amplified, and when they are, they change the world. At this point the Charter for Compassion and the Earth Charter meet: it’s the spirit of connections between people that should create the synergy to make a real change. To build a global partnership that brings the world in motion.

Like the diary entries this week, four events that seem unrelated but fit together like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, mankind should unite. The forces that will be unleashed by that synergy are the soft forces of the heart. They can and should lead to a better world for Iranian women, for Jews, for people in East and West – for all of us. And they will.

The Soetendorp Institute


Jacob Soetendorp Institute for Human Values
Van Wijngaerdenstraat 21
2596 TW The Hague
The Netherlands