Council of Europe: Handbook on values for life in a democracy (Strasbourg 2009)
Edited by Robert Stradling and Chris Rowe
The Council of Europe’s project on Cultural identities, shared values and citizenship (2006-2008) was launched after the Third Summit of Heads of State and Government (Warsaw, 2005). It was based on the premise that an awareness and appreciation of Europe’s rich diversity of cultures and heritages and how they have interacted with each other over time are essential preconditions for mutual respect, peaceful coexistence, intercultural dialogue, a shared attachment to common values and an emerging European cultural citizenship.
One of the outcomes of the project was the Handbook on Values for Life in a Democracy which is structured around a series of key questions to promote discussion amongst young people about fundamental issues associated with universal human rights and the implementation of core European values.
The authors describe these values as ‘procedural’. By this they mean that these values should guide the way we proceed in our dealings with each other at the level of the individual, the group, the community and the nation. They are the values which enable us to talk to each other, live alongside each other and try to find compromises and solutions, even when we fundamentally disagree with each other, without either resorting to violence or refusing to interact with each other in any way.
This is not an academic book about procedural values. It seeks to encourage the user to apply these values to a variety of issues. The case studies in the Handbook and the accompanying set of discussion cards are designed to promote an approach to discussion where each participant can:
· Develop their own point of view in relation to other opinions and perspectives;
· Think about clashes of values and human rights and how they might be resolved in ways that are fair, balanced, proportionate and peaceful;
· Empathise with others’ points of views (even if not agreeing with them);
· Engage in dialogue over disputed issues rather than in monologues based solely on their own point of view or cultural perspective;
· Set particular issues and debates into a wider historical, cultural and global context.
As the heavy caseloads of the European Court of Human Rights and the highest courts in each European nation clearly demonstrate, states, multinational corporations and individual people need constant reminders that their actions may be violating other people’s rights and treating them in ways which ignore natural justice. These core procedural values need to be practised and upheld not only in the law courts but in our everyday dealings with each other. Otherwise they cease to have real meaning and we will cease to have any real sense of commitment to them. Just as we learn skills by practising them so we acquire these values by practising them.