Jan 262011

Arianna Huffington, co-founder of The Huffington Post, spoke at a recent conference about how to use social media to promote peace and security in the Middle East. She offered a number of different examples of how the use of Twitter, Facebook, e-mail and text messages in the region is helping to tackle issues ranging from election irregularities to the harassment of women.

She compared Jordan’s Queen Rania tweeting that “Technology isn’t just a luxury of the developed world; it’s a crucial tool for the developing world” with Twitter founder Biz Stone’s assertion that “Twitter is not a triumph of tech. It’s a triumph of humanity.”

This reminded me of the series of inspiring and thought-provoking talks I attended in London a few months ago now at TEDxNewSt on the theme ‘Why better human understanding is the future of business success’. The videos of these talks have now been published so that everyone can share the experience.

All of the talks, as well as the people I met during the event, contributed to a fascinating day. All the talks are well worth watching. I particularly liked Peter Sells talking about Marketing behaviour, Jill Bolte Taylor describing her stroke of insight, Thomas Power talking about the future of social networks, Pranav Mistry describing the thrilling potential of SixthSense technology, Brooke Molinaroli explaining how BT has been using social media as a business tool, and of course Gerd Leonhard reflecting on the future of intellectual property and copyright. It was a tweet from Gerd which had alerted me to the event and encouraged me to register.

One of the talks that day was by Jeremy Gilley. He spoke about his campaign for Peace One Day and the impact it has had so far. It was yet another illustration of the power of humanity to tackle a current, global problem.

A still from Chandalika: Prokrithi tells Ananda that she cannot give him water as she is an untouchable

As we near the end of filming Chitrangada, the third feature film in our Tagore dance film trilogy, in Santiniketan, the relevance of Tagore’s humanist message to the modern world is all too apparent. The most obvious illustration in these three works is Chandalika, which tells the story of a social outcast who comes to realise that she too is human. Chandalika was written by Tagore as part of his campaign against the Hindu caste system, which divides people into four main castes, as well as sub-castes within these main castes.

The caste system has been technically illegal in India since 1950, thanks to the campaign led by Tagore and Gandhi. Unfortunately, the social stigma of being born into a particular caste remains.

Of course, it would be wrong to imagine that caste is purely an Indian issue. The origin of the word is the Portuguese casta and there are many European examples of similar social stratification (eg, nobles, bourgeois and peasants). The foundation of such systems lies in basic human prejudice – something which is global and very current.

This is just one illustration of why, as we celebrate Tagore’s 150th birth anniversary, the world can still benefit from the humanism in his works.

 Posted by at 10:01 pm

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