"The pen is mightier than the sword." For nearly a decade, Brahm has used newspaper articles, magazines and authored over 20 books to explain current affairs, reshape stalled negotiations, and provide a communication platform to Asian leaders and policymakers. His writings reveal underlying central challenges facing Asia over the past decades.

One Goal, Many Ways

Written by Laurence Brahm - Published by South China Morning Post on 06/05/2007

In 2001, Beijing was selected to host the 2008 Olympic Games and China entered the World Trade Organisation. Both events represented China’s coming of age and, moreover, its entry into an era of globalisation. But what does that really mean for China? In virtually every Olympic advertisement, the most repeated iconic symbol of China is its Great Wall. Has Beijing’s Olympic Committee selected the right imagery? In Lhasa, Jokhang Monastery’s most senior monk, Nyma Tsering, looks out upon another great symbol, the Potala Palace, while reflecting on the Great Wall, which he sees as an example of isolationism from world realities. “The Great Wall, for all of its architectural ingenuity, failed to keep out Mongolian-Manchurian invaders,” he said. “Built on material foundations, it lacked spirituality, so was destined to fall. The Qing Dynasty Manchurian emperor Kang Xi used to criticise the Great Wall, saying that the Ming Dynasty had money to build such a huge structure to isolate themselves, but that isolation led to their fall.

“Actually, if they had built a spiritual bridge linking them with the surrounding, diverse ethnic groups, then a material wall would not have been necessary. Because of the Ming failure to build this spiritual bridge, the wall itself failed to keep out Manchurians and Mongolians. So, remember, just like with Israel and Palestine, a material wall is useless.”

Clearly, Nyma Tsering feels that building walls, protectionism and isolationism don’t work. So, what about globalisation? Some say it is the only way forward. Others say it is causing most of the world’s problems. What does Nyma Tsering think?

“As a term, ‘globalisation’ has come to mean one singular way of applying things – economic, financial socio-behavioural and political – in an attempt to make the world into one monolithic system,” he said. “How can this be achieved? Our world is about diversity among cultures, climates, people, their way of life and beliefs. So how can everyone melt into one global culture, one economic and political system, one set of values?”

The terms “globalisation” and “anti-globalisation” are probably misnomers. Everyone can support the globalisation of technology, pharmaceuticals, social programmes and disaster relief, for example.

But it doesn’t make sense to globalise one financial system or political ideology and impose it on cultures and peoples where historical and cultural experiences differ sharply. “This so-called globalisation approach of telling other people in other countries that ‘my way is the best and yours is not’ just represents ignorance,” said Nyma Tsering. “Then, when they want to follow their own path, these globalisation types get angry. Why are they pushing their system on others to begin with?”

The so-called “Washington consensus” advocates one system, claiming that if everyone buys into it, it will be a panacea. But really, this approach only has the opposite effect in the end, by antagonising people when a system that is entirely inapplicable to their culture and life is imposed on them.

“Just ask yourself,” said Nyma Tsering, “why are there so many different religions? How can you say that only one system applies to all? In Buddhism, we accept the diversity of all sects, their practices, and all religions, for that matter. Look at us. Are we all the same? Do we all have the same interests, tastes, desires, moods, education, culture or background? Of course not. So, why should we try to put everyone into one mould? Everyone’s acceptability of ideas and motivations is different, so the methods we adopt can be different, as well, in achieving the same goal.”

The point is that globalisation in itself is not the goal, but maybe just a tool – and maybe not the right one. So, then, what is the goal? Nyma Tsering has an answer: “Everyone wants the same thing; happiness in life, with less suffering. Only by reducing suffering can we have happiness. The roll of any political or economic system, regardless of its form, is to give happiness to its people by reducing suffering. One goal, that’s it.”


Laurence Brahm is a global activist, international mediator, political columnist and author. He is the leading advocate of a fresh development paradigm - The Himalayan Consensus - an innovative approach to development.

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