Massoumeh Ebtekar
stresses the crucial, neglected role of the feminine factor in achieving peace, environmental protection and sustainable development

Our new age is characterized by rapidly increasing, previously unknown, features driven mainly by the cumulative results of human technological advance. The information revolution has permeated human life, thought and consciousness like no previous technical phenomenon. The information superhighway has enabled people worldwide to access knowledge and news, and promoted the awareness needed to make informed decisions and choices.

Trends in global opinion can now be identified which indicate how people generally think, irrespective of their governments’ policies. International reporting and reliable global statistics have evolved to expose previously unknown and underlying trends. The broad anti-war sentiment expressed through the media, mass demonstrations, international forums and organizations, civil-society institutions, and through the arts, is a vivid example.

International reporting and statistics also provide empirical evidence that such worldwide trends as widening economic gaps between rich and poor, tribal and ethnic strife and conflict, and environmental degradation have worsened, or at least not improved. There is general understanding that these tendencies in many parts of the world are leading to a heightened sense of insecurity and a loss of direction for both individuals and societies. An increase in unsustainable trends is confounding our enormous and unprecedented advances in information, and threatening human existence as never before. It is creating imbalances and strife in nature, in human societies and within individual psyches.

Essential prerequisite
Now, more than ever, everyone longs for a world at peace. So much has been said about its importance. Vast treasures have been spent for the rule of peace. Countless politicians have come to power – and too many wars have been waged – in its name. Peace – elusive as it may be – is universally recognized to be an essential prerequisite for sustainable development, the eradication of poverty, the advancement of societies, the enhancement of the quality of life for both men and women, and increased standards of living.

Prominent academic and international organizations are beginning to recognize, acknowledge and appreciate the interrelatedness of peace, the feminine factor and environmental protection – as indicated by the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to a woman environmentalist from Africa, Professor Wangari Maathai.

The current world order has increased the incidence of violence, aggravated instability, and deepened the sense of regional and global insecurity. We need to address the underlying causes of the current global circumstances and opt to improve or change the root factors that have created the havoc. This requires not just a new vision and paradigm in dealing with social, economic, security and environmental issues but a deeper commitment inspired by clear ethical principles.

Underlying principles
Diplomatic and political remedies have not resolved the dilemmas or changed the trends. It could be time to revisit the underlying principles that shape decisions and influence the global order. Politics as usual, and professional politicians in particular, apparently lack the answers so urgently needed. The politics that we have known cannot be those of the future – or there may not be one.

We have set standards for good governance at the national level, while many mechanisms work to promote coherence and order at global and international levels. But the ethical element is the key factor in seeing our responsibilities through, and in ensuring the accountability of governments and major stakeholders.

When we see double standards and injustices at the highest levels of global and national governance, and when we witness a certain arrogant determination reaping the final fruits in many global equations, a crystal-clear reality emerges. It tells us that the root of the problem is within ourselves, and in the way that we have evolved and accepted methods of learning to cope with the requirements and restraints of the post-modern age by denying certain intrinsic traits.

A consideration of C. G. Jung’s analytic psychology could shed some light. His ideas are very relevant to the psyche of the modern materialist man that shapes the world economy and politics – and to how it affects the concept of peace and sustainable development. He held that archetypal ideals of conduct can be defined to reflect personal psychology. The anima is defined as an inner feminine part of the male personality, the animus as the inner masculine part of the female one.

The conditions of modern life – the corporate lifestyle of urban working groups, the rigid and ruthless race for money and jobs, the unequal status of social groups, particularly the marginalized – have created an elite class in every country that governs social, economic, state and corporate affairs. It has evolved to rule, guide and manage, whether in democratic systems or autocratic settings – and shapes the state and mentality of all societies.

Ruling elite
This growing elite adopts control-specific techniques in order to compete, be accepted among its peers, stay in power and manage its affairs. As a rule, these many men – and few women – have learned to manage and suppress their inner anima while strengthening their animus traits to promote themselves in relentless social and economic competition.

Vivid expression of feeling, concentration on detail, looking for the connotation behind phenomena, wondering about tomorrow more than today, and a certain creative moodiness and trendsetting in lifestyles are anima traits that are generally unwelcome in the political and executive circles that govern the world. Women need to deny them to be accepted in social, economic and, particularly, decision-making spheres. The few men who exhibit them are regarded as exceptions and are usually unappreciated in governments and corporations.

Recent studies point to the importance of inspiration and emotional intelligence as motivating factors in organizational management; but, in practice, inspirational leadership – relying on feminine archetypes for management – remains a very remote concept. The reins of decision making are held by the wealthy to increase their wealth, by the powerful to increase their power and by the lustful to sustain their pleasures.

Once politics deny the vibrant and emphatic expression of feelings and the spirit behind life, wars become routine – even against defenceless civilians. Crimes against humanity arouse few reactions in the diplomatic circles mandated to stop them: more energy seems to be spent in denying than uncovering them. Human dignity and life is all too easily and carelessly lost, while nature becomes the foremost victim.
Now, more than ever, everyone longs for a world at peace
Moody and sensitive archetypes bring vivacity and colour to life. Their responses to outrages against society and the environment pulsate with a higher consciousness of commonweal. They create hope and inspire people. Their aspirations are in harmony with nature and with the spirit of life, for the anima is its caring, nurturing and altruistic dimension. Yet the routine software programming of our age and the comfortable refuge of fast-food technologies leave no room for the dynamic tensions of the moody or for breaking the fault-ridden mindsets that have closed in on human life and the spirit of humanity. The rush for ‘doing’ and working has not left any time or priority for simply ‘being’.

To compensate for this outright denial of the feminine spirit, economic and business concerns have programmed the globe for the commodification of bodies, the obsession with looks and the sex trade. The aspects of feminine traits that convey instant pleasure and appeal have been increasingly advertised while the anima that may arouse the sleeping conscience in both men and women is avoided and frequently denied.

The crucial details that make the whole picture – the scent of the cedar, the humming of wetland birds, the passive anxiety of urban children and the brutal treatment of wildlife – have become irrelevant to the ruling elite. They have to attend to the more important affairs of governing and ruling the world, sorting out economic conflicts and establishing the promised global order. News of civilian killings and acts of terror and violence have numbed the sensory receptors of those who profess to advocate democracy and human rights. The alarming rates of corruption in many governments and corporations point to a morally impoverished ruling elite that denies its anima in order to promote its priorities.

The relentless human spirit has been denied for the sake of a predetermined and largely unquestioned school of reasoning – and the narrowly contemplative mind it begets. One of its commandments is that all beliefs are confined within the material and tangible. Another is to deny the feminine traits that are the secrets of life and motivating factors for individuals and societies – and to bar critical discussion of the enormously high price paid for this singular contradiction. The multidimensional anima archetypes have given place only to the animus, upsetting the inner equilibrium of individuals – and hence societies. Our selfish pleasure-driven self has led us to deny eternity for the sake of the moment.

Government and business leaders need inner peace to promote peace among societies. Lacking inner peace and equilibrium, we seek in vain to make peace, prosperity and security work in the world. We have denied our inner selves, our natural god-given traits, and so find ourselves at war with nature, with the laws and regulations of creation. Our environment is responding negatively to our inner restlessness, to our selfishness, greed and arrogance. Even as we struggle for peace and security, the outcome does not measure up to the effort. Sustainable livelihoods are at risk until the vicious cycle of poverty and environmental degradation is eradicated.

Inner peace
Throughout history, leaders, Eastern philosophers and thinkers have pointed to the need for inner peace. Nahj-ul Balagha – a compilation of the eloquent words of Ali Ibn Abi Talib, the outstanding Islamic leader after the Prophet Muhammad (SA) – makes a direct reference to the forces and temptations which shape the human psyche: ‘The ego is like unto a wild stallion, if not tamed and guided by wisdom, it will take itself and its rider to the depths of an endless chasm.’ This description of the need for a balance between inner forces and taming them with the reins of wisdom is the key to inner peace in Islamic ethics.

In the words of the 12th century Iranian philosopher Sohrevardi, human betterment and advancement is based upon reasoning and knowledge, as well as on spiritual uplift and purification. Both the realms of reason and knowledge and of the spirit must be strengthened to achieve inner balance: a coherent tie between them could enable the inner peace that humans seek.

Women decision makers in global affairs may be able to contribute to peace, security and sustainability if they appreciate their profound potential as educators, mentors and role models in promoting peace of mind and heart. More important is a return – in men and women alike – to the balance between anima and animus, between the body and the spirit, between the heart and the mind, and between inner temptations and ethical concerns. Inner peace is elusive while the corporate powerful and wealthy only pursue their profits in global equations and media policy. We need to work to define and promote a culture of inner peace and equilibrium, through the media, and through effective cultural and international mechanisms.

The need to prevent confrontation – whether ethnic strife, aggression against a neighbour, occupation of a homeland, or blind and ruthless terror – is tied to the need to promote inner peace and understanding among people. The concept of ‘Dialogue among Civilizations’, proposed by President Mohammad Khatami, rests on the need to turn the imminent confrontations between the East and West, between the North and South, between the wealthy powerful and the poor and weak, into balanced relationships of just distribution of wealth, protection of natural resources, dialogue, tolerance and understanding as opposed to force and oppression.

Can we help women, men – and, particularly, youth – to recognize the incredible and indispensable role they have in promoting sustainable development, peace and security?

Those who enjoy peace of mind and heart can bring the anima and spirit back into government governance structures. They can restore balance in global policies. They can ensure the sustainable aspect of development. They can provide inspirational leadership to change decision-making processes, to shift and change parameters and mindsets, and to create a fresh vision for young people who aspire to live in a better world

Massoumeh Ebtekar is Vice-President, and Head of the Department of Environment, of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

PHOTOGRAPH: Surasau Chopsaneob/UNEP/Topham

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