My starting point and most difficult obstacles to overcome
By Stuart Rees
Director of the Sydney Peace Foundation
Original staring point for action for a better world
My staring point began with my parents' experience of the Second World War and my awareness of the huge human costs of war. From these reflections I developed a fascination for the philosophy, language and practice of non violence as compared to the appalling violence of war, including the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
In that post war period I also learned about the need to treat human beings equally, in particular in terms of their opportunities for education and health care. For example, I could not see why health care services should be based on an ability to pay. I still regard the entitlement to health care as a central feature of a civil society.
This entitlement really refers to a right which should be based on need and not on people's money or other forms of influence. So, when I am negotiating about the goal of peace with justice, such considerations about access to health care, education, housing and job opportunities are central to my efforts to build a better world. From these values one easily embraces the human rights agenda. In this respect I would still regard the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as the most significant document of the 20th century.
Most difficult obstacles to overcome
In general terms I regard people's apathy, their lack of curiosity about the world around them as a difficulty to be overcome. When governments' social policies encourage selfishness and when individuals' personal interests are concerned only with themselves and their immediate family's lives, this is a real obstacle to social justice.
A more specific difficulty occurred when - several years ago, the Sydney Peace Foundation decided to give the Sydney Peace Prize to a Palestinian. This provoked massive opposition from Jewish based groups within Australia and overseas. Arguing the fairness of our case and having the courage and stamina to stand up to the well organized opposition was a real test for me and for the integrity of the peace Foundation.
Courage is a quality which is often absent in public life. Courage ---to work out what you stand for and to be true to those principles --takes practice. If you base concern for a better world as being the same as concern for social justice, you have to express this concern at every opportunity. That also takes practice.