16 July 2010

Founding Documents: Guiding Principles.

One of the challenges with wording public and legal documents well is that we don't always know the situations in which they'll be used.

Think of the Treaty of Waitangi or the U.S. Declaration of Independence. Who could have foreseen the situations in which those documents are scrutinised today? Surely not Queen Victoria and King George III. They were just minding their own business while their entrepreneurs and explorers were out creating opportunity and mischief in their name.

And today, we have self-governing former colonies scattered all over the globe trying to sort out the details and get it right for their current citizens.

One issue that strikes at the heart of many conversations is where religion comes in to the picture, or if it does at all. Is religion a determining factor in civil and legislative decision making or is there a real and abiding separation of Church and State?

Is religion a guiding factor only if it is our religion that is dominant, or do all religions have a right to some input on things? I'm just asking.

If we are talking about safe and healthy societies for all people, matters of faith and spirituality have to come in to play.

People are born, live, excel, suffer, overcome, struggle, thrive and die. They develop, love, give birth, seek trusting relationships, desire to make meaningful contributions and leave some sort of a legacy when they depart this place. Sometimes that meaning is in planting a tree, saving a sea star or having a child. Sometimes it is investing in students, creating better ways of living or contributing to medical science.

When we enter the realm of desire, hope, dreams, love, trust and meaning, we have entered the realm of spiritual matters. They need not be religious necessarily, but they are spiritual.

Can we legislate such things? Can we regulate such things? Can we restrict those things to private homes or outside of work hours?

Such elements make teachers better teachers, administrators better administrators, doctors better healers. Such elements add meaning to jobs that we might otherwise think meaningless.

If a street sweeper swept with pride and loved his city and people in it, that pride and love is not quantifiable. He is not just in it for the money. Passion is a quality that transforms everyday life into life-giving and energising participation in the human race. There is something spiritual about it.

Different voices shout for inclusion or exclusion of different phrases as they wrestle with the draft statement, but NZ's Human Rights Commission is trying to get the wording of Human Rights in New Zealand Today right. They are struggling, but it is a good struggle.

Sometimes the questions are more important than whatever answers follow.

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