Text of the speech given at the occasion of the receipt of the 19 th. July Medal, confered by the City Council of São José do Rio Preto, State of São Paulo, Brazil, on December 13 th. 2001, upon the initiative of the Alderman Hubert Eloy Richard Pontes.
Life’s straight and narrow paths have led me -as an attorney, teacher, author and lecturer- to frequent encounters with youngsters of six continents, where I inevitably witness their confusion and frustration with the astonishing phenomenon of globalisation which intends to substitute traditional cultures, which represents societies’ ground values by hollow, meaningless and egocentric concepts and values. In fact, under the perspective of a strategic political and economical analysis, nothing else could be expected from a phenomenon whose cruel purpose is to turn the people into slaves, benefiting a nucleus of countries turned mad by greed with a history of specialising in human exploitation. These actions derive from similar phenomena known as imperialism and colonialism. However, the human tragedy of the individual which stems from this situation and the resultant lack of hope, frustration, depression, self desertion, the escape and search for drugs, sheltering in the periphery of society and in the forced retreat into the squalor of misery, have particularly caught my attention.
All the reflection which resulted from the existence of such an unfortunate situation made me re-examine the cultural values that oriented my childhood and youth here in São José do Rio Preto back in the distant 50’s and 60’s. I must say that my introspective searches were often not self instigated but stimulated by others interested in my education. The first of the said values that occurred to me was by far tolerance. Voltaire used to refer to such value as “mankind’s appanage and nature’s first commandment”. Here in São José do Rio Preto, tolerance was built in response to the great cultural diversity brought in by emigrants from all over the world. I recall vividly that on the very same school benches of Cardeal Leme’s Elementary School and at the Monsenhor Gonçalves’ Educational Institute we socialised with youngsters from various nationalities such as Brazilian Indians, Portuguese, Italians, Palestinians, Africans, Lebanese, French, Norwegians, Dutch, English, Japanese, Spanish and Germans, among other ethnic groups. Their surnames still echo in my memory! The sparkling tenderness of their smiles still warms my heart
We were Catholics, Protestant, spiritualists, Moslems, animists, voodooists, Orthodox, Baptists, Jews and atheists. Together we would sing the Brazilian national anthem, the common denominator showing us how to find mutual respect for each other. Our parents, teachers and religious guides taught us goodwill. The citizen’ s relative economical and social balance discouraged us from the bitter feelings of greed. There was no such thing as the present obsession with consumerism, moderation and modesty prevailed. Ostentation was unanimously despised. Criminal acts were practically non-existent and by no means trivial, as it is today. Refuge was not to be found in the world of drugs, and running away from reality was unheard of. Social and individual solidarity guided our daily lives paving the way towards our progress. Despite all our troubles the kind support of our friends helped us to through our difficult times, making each frustration lighter and relieving us from feeling lost.
Honesty was not a highly valued virtue since it was so commonplace. Simplicity and modesty were considered great values. Corruption was not endemic and austerity ruled within public administration. Our statesmen invested in public, liberal and gratuitous education. Our masters belonged to the same social level as their students, and taught us the philosophy of both our land and root’s cultural values. I recall the text below, written by Dante and quoted by one of my masters, whose memory is dear to me:
“Considerate la vostra semenza;
Fatti non foste a viver come bruti;
Ma per seguire virtú e conoscenza”.
It was this same public education that allowed the friends from my youth and childhood and other contemporary colleagues to achieve their positions both nationally and internationally, in arts, culture, architecture, engineering, music, medicine professorship, research, politics, journalism, publicity, marketing, agriculture, commerce, dentistry, industry, international relations and law. As a personal direct experience, one is able to realise how much education can set us free and how much ignorance can enslave us.
Congeniality was the most highly praised social value. The joy was spontaneous and genuine. And what was such joy, so obvious to the point of being celebrated in our city’s anthem? The happiness came from the good things in life like a sunny day, the flying of the swallow, the conversations with adults, talking with good friends, dating, going for a walk at dusk, watching the Southern Cross framed by a starry night, the singing of the canaries, the screeching of a balm cricket, fishing, harvest parties, the shadow of the mango trees, august’ s fresh nights, the perfume of orange trees in blossom, the slow moving of white clouds in an indigo blue sky, the green of the coffee plantations, the colours of jujube and Surinam cherry at sunset. We dared to be happy!
No matter how much the world may have changed our values remain and still guide us in our quest for a fair and reasonable society, so as to better assist our longings. Such values are tightly bound to our minds and as Ghandi – to whom homage was paid in this House by the initiative of town councillor Alberto Andaló – used to say “everyone who wills can hear the inner voice. It is within everyone.” Unfortunately, our values are not shared by all in the world we live in. Sometimes one encounters tolerance, other times with intransigence, when giving one often comes across pride and when generous many times one has to deal with greed. Our simplicity opposes ostentation, our modesty vanity, our solidarity selfishness, our sense of equity goes against hegemonic forces and our sense of justice is shocked by the arbitrary exercise of other people’ s self interests.
At the present, in our world, values are dominated by agents of evil, lack of hope, misery, inequity, discrimination, agents of darkness and of decay. Such agents have their minds set on taking maximum possible profit’s from peoples like ourselves and by force, and seizing our culture, society, economy, and politics. The type of game in evidence is one of hideous nature once one’s winnings implies someone else’s loss. Their marketing euphemism is called globalisation. These agents are supported by their allies, in Gabriel Garcia Márques’ words “hay una fuerza perniciosa y profunda que si siembra en el corazón de los hombres y que no es possible derrotar a bala: la colonisación mental.”1 The above-mentioned domination derives from the Free Trade Area for the Americas’ (FTAA), in the first place, and also from the multilateral system of laws of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). We must not fool ourselves, should we fail to be very careful, then all that is dear to us, all the precious aspects about our values will succumb before the devastating scenario of calamity and faithlessness which will follow our crash.
It is up to us to vigorously defend our valuable cultural inheritance, our values and our standards, the very same ones that set deep roots in São Jose do Rio Preto, as well as assuring our children of the keeping of all that is precious to us as in a world based upon equity, respecting differences, freedom, Law and Justice. Therefore, if we manage to keep fighting it will be possible to keep our virtue and our freedom so that happiness will continue to be where it has always been, close to God and very close to us.
For what has been said to you, ladies and gentlemen, it is easy to see why it is that the recognition I receive of my birth place is the greatest I could ever receive.Thank you ladies and gentlemen