Address to Global Leaders of Tomorrow at the World Economic Forum

On 4th February 2002, Rabbi Sacks addressed the Global Leaders of Tomorrow Summit, by invitation of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

February 4, 2002
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Since 11th September, we have lived in the conscious presence of uncertainty. Part of what we mean by ‘globalisation’ is precisely the enormous increase of uncertainty that is now an inescapable feature of our lives – because of the sheer pace of technological change, the volatility of financial markets, the mobility of capital and employment, and the sheer interconnectedness that makes almost every aspect of our lives vulnerable to unexpected developments from unforeseen directions. That is why a dialogue is so necessary between global leaders and religious leaders. The great religions are our richest resource of wisdom and the databases of our collective memory.

What might emerge from such a dialogue? My guess is that we would converge on what I call the 5 C’s that are essential to our shared future:

  1. Creativity: the first axiom of the Bible is that a creative God made mankind in His image, and thus made man the creator. Fostering human creativity will be crucial in the 21st century, in which for the first time in history the most potent form of capital will be intellectual capital.
  2. Co-operation: socio-biology and the ‘iterated prisoner’s dilemma’ have taught us that humanity’s unique evolutionary advantage is co-operation. One man versus one lion: lion wins. Ten men versus one lion: lion loses. Religions create habits of co-operation. The word ‘religion’ comes from the Latin word meaning ‘to bind.’ Religions bind us to one another. Economists nowadays call this social capital, and it too is vital to economic and social progress.
  3. Compassion: Economic superpowers come and go: Venice in the 16th century, the Netherlands in the 17th, France in the 18th, Britain in the 19th, the United States in the 20th. Religions come and stay. Judaism has lasted for 4000 years, Christianity for 2000, Islam for 1400. What makes faith-systems endure while economic powers decline and fall? Because what makes a civilization last is not power but concern for the powerless, not wealth but concern for the poor, not strength but concern for the weak. Civilizations become invulnerable precisely when they care for the vulnerable. Unless that essentially religious message is heard, global capitalism too will decline and fall.
  4. Conservation. According to the Bible mankind was placed in the garden to ‘serve and protect’ it. We are guardians of the natural world for the sake of future generations. Without this religious insight, we will have growth without sustainability.
  5. Co-existence:  Here is a value that business leaders must teach religious leaders. Every businessperson knows that human difference is the key to the non-zero-sumness of trade. If each of us were perfect and complete we would never need anyone else. The fact that we are all different, that we have some things but not others, means that what we lack, someone else has, and what we have, someone else needs. That is the basis of trade: the understanding of the value of difference. That must now be applied to religion. Religious conflicts occur when religious people believe that they possess the totality of truth. In fact, the totality of truth can never be perceived from a single vantage point. That is why each great faith contributes something unique to the totality of knowledge because of its particular perspective. That is what I call the dignity of difference. By being what we uniquely are, we give humanity what we alone can contribute. That means that religions must now value, not fight against, diversity. This is the new paradigm we need if we are to avoid the ‘clash of civilizations.’

If we can develop a shared language around these 5C’s it will be good news for global development, good news for religion, but better still – good news for our children not yet born.