Publicado em 10 de dezembro de 2005
Traduções disponíveis em: français (original) .

Social Learning as a Source of Responsibility: An Austrian Trainer’s View

Following is the report of an interview with Thomas Mann, 36, sociologist and trainer involved in trans-European citizen networks.

When I met Thomas, I explained to him the general approach for the facilitation of the Charter process, but due to lack of time, he completed the questionnaire through electronic channels.

The interview was based on the questionnaire written by the Charter’s European Facilitation Committee but was also deliberately focused on the European Union’s specific responsibilities to its citizens and the rest of the world.

The concept of human responsibility suggested to Thomas the idea that a human being is not an isolated creature but a social living being, who must therefore integrate his or her social and natural environment into his or her thought processes and courses of action. This attitude is to be expressed both as an individual and in a context of social interactions.

Thus, human responsibility involves being mindful of nature, animals and other human beings, thinking about their situations as living beings and their interrelations, adapting to these latter, and optimizing our natural and social environment by acting within the social sphere. In this sense, young people and more experienced ones can share their knowledge. Thus, human responsibility is closely connected to social responsibility and to (social) learning.

The very expression of human responsibility suggests thinking, being mindful, listening, fighting for common rights, helping one another, caring, being patient, not forcing others, dialog, cooperation, understanding.

In personal terms and in daily life, Thomas assumes his responsibilities by keeping informed on environmental and social factors, and thinking about how he acts with regard to others, animals, and nature in application of the saying, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

Not to waste money, not to pollute the environment on every occasion of interaction with the natural and social environment derives more from a rational choice and the non-exclusive search for personal advantages more than from an emotional reflex.

In professional terms, for every project for which he is solicited, Thomas evaluates whether he can assume a part its responsibility by sizing up his capacities and limits. He makes sure that in the working process, consideration of his own professional faculties is guaranteed. If he gets involved in the project, he either fulfills his role or he has to be honest and allow his partners to modify the working process by informing them in opportune time that he cannot get involved any further. This means that work relations must be based on respect, on being able to count on one another, and on democratic communication procedures.

Thomas has sometimes been prevented from acting this way in his professional environment, and has sometimes had to resign. This entails facing social pressure and the fear of being excluded from the labor market. Indeed, the media and employers, whether in the private or the public sector, produce a social environment of "silent obedience," where possibilities of personal expression are disregarded to the benefit of integration into a so-called fixed chain of command in the realm of work and power.

Does Thomas feel responsible for problems (racism, pollution, war in Iraq, etc.) that are not immediately dependent on his professional and personal life? For him, the main idea is to be willing to learn, i.e., to obtain information and be aware of the complexity of the social and natural world. Thus, if he decides to do or buy something, he must have in mind, insofar as possible, the consequences of his acts on the environment and on the producers. This principle applies to all dimensions of daily life, private and professional. Positing free will as a given for human beings, the latter can also decide to waste and buy artificial objects, but if this leads them to suffering the consequences, they must assume them and not play naive.

We then broached the issue of the European Union’s (EU) specific responsibilities to its citizens and the rest of the world.

Thomas completely approves the subsidiarity principle in force within the EU. For him, the EU should therefore concentrate on environmental protection (especially in Eastern Europe), and guarantee social rights, labor rights, and political rights (freedom of speech, freedom of circulation). Without attempting to impose ideological values other than those of democracy, the EU should also concentrate on supporting local and regional communities so that they can develop their living conditions as best they can, through democratic and non-discriminatory means.

The power of the EU as an international player seems important to him but should be distinguished from that of the large powers and embody a diplomatic, democratic, educational, and social force. More specifically, the EU must contribute to improving the living conditions of non-EU countries. Indeed, the international correlation of forces invites the EU to help political and social communities to organize their vital interests at a higher level of governance and to guarantee for them the most efficient legal framework possible.

The largest irresponsibility of the EU is the centralization of all political power, the evacuation of local governance, and the total deregulation of common goods, such as water.

Thomas does not think that European citizens have to assume a particular responsibility to their fellow European citizens. On the other hand, they should work together for solidarity and democracy, and respect each community’s local cultures and values. This type of intra-European relation is also to be expressed internationally: through democratic communication among cultures, knowing that the culture and mindsets of the EU derives from the Enlightenment, democracy, and individual rights for men and women.

On the process for the enhancement and circulation of the Charter, Thomas thinks it is preferable to use the Charter as an awareness-raising tool on the field, to consider it as a text in the process of construction, which could be modified through citizen panels and transnational study circles, for instance.


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