From the Commonwealth Secretary-General

Kamalesh Sharma

Diversity, along with democracy and development, is one of the three ‘Ds’ that guide us in the Commonwealth.

With globalisation meaning that we live and work in a more compact world, respect for and understanding of each others’ differences and the achievements of many cultures, becomes ever more vital if we are to celebrate and build on our commonality. The foundation of secure societies and equity in international relations lies in promoting such mutual appreciation.

As the Nobel Laureate and Chair of the Commonwealth Commission on Respect and Understanding, Amartya Sen, put it in a recent essay: “It is important to facilitate, rather than hinder, the understanding that human beings, with a variety of concerns and affiliations, need not be constantly at loggerheads with each other.”

Our Commonwealth theme for 2012, ‘Connecting Cultures’, advances this idea. Our aim in drawing special attention to this bedrock of our convening power is to celebrate and cherish the cultures that are brought together in the commonality and diversity of the Commonwealth, and to explore how we can use cultural expression to build bridges of understanding, mutual respect and opportunity between us.

Culture gives us an insight into the range of characteristics that make up each individual Commonwealth citizen. We seek to avoid looking at people simplistically or only in terms of their faith or gender or through some other single lens. Each of us is far more complex than that. We recognise that all individuals can be seen through a multitude of lenses at the same time: faith, gender, nationality, family status, musical preferences, sporting passions, reading interests and so on. Our challenge is to find the common points in all this complexity and to build on those fi rst, rather than on the differences.

In order to deepen the understanding and appreciation we have for one another, and to embrace the diversity in ourselves and in others, we are redoubling our efforts to fi nd new and contemporary ways of connecting the cultures and people of the Commonwealth – particularly our youth, who comprise an expanding proportion of our population and in whose hands rest our future peace, prosperity and wellbeing.

In addition to our ‘Connecting Cultures’ theme, this year is also the Diamond Jubilee year of HM Queen Elizabeth II as head of the Commonwealth. Throughout the past 60 years, the Queen has personified and exemplified all that is constant, admirable and important to the association. Her Majesty has been selfless in her consideration and concern for others; active in working to bring together and reinforce the Commonwealth’s rich diversity, potential and values, and committed to the association in an exemplary way.

The Queen is inseparable from the modern Commonwealth. When she became head of the Commonwealth in 1952, it had only eight members; today, there are 54 members, representing a third of all humanity. The Queen’s role has been to symbolise the free association of those member states. By her actions and words Her Majesty has faithfully done that and more. As Her Majesty remarked on Commonwealth Day this year, we in the Commonwealth are “stronger as one”.

The diversity of our global Commonwealth family encompasses member states of every size and stage of development, with vast differences of endowment. All work together to uphold the culture of democracy, the rule of law, human rights, good governance, development and growth, gender equality, freedom of expression and a vibrant civil society. ‘Connecting Cultures’ reminds us that it is by striving together that our goals in these areas are achieved, and our bonds are strengthened for the good of one another and of future generations.

About the author:

Kamalesh Sharma is the Commonwealth Secretary-General


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