FOCUSING ON HOW WE TREAT EACH OTHER
The Power of a Poster in a Digital World
by Paul McKenna
Scarboro Missions in Toronto, Canada first published the Golden Rule poster in 2000, and by the time we had an official ‘launch,’ there was already considerable excitement, as detailed in Leslie Mezei’s 2002 profile of the project, republished in this issue. Since then, Scarboro’s poster has been translated into more than 20 languages and inspired the creation of a number of multifaith posters featuring themes such as children, welcoming the stranger, diversity, peace-building, ecology, and unity. Interest in the golden rule continues to build, as does the need for it globally.
Its appeal, to me, comes from its simplicity, universality, and power. The notion of respect and kindness for all comes through in each of the 13 sacred passages from different traditions featured on the poster. Having it in multiple languages adds another layer of universality. A poster is more than an idea, is something tangible, something to fit somewhere on the walls of our lives, not to be filed away but absorbed each day. It is an excellent jumping off point for teaching about diversity, multiculturalism, interfaith relations, and world religions.
The Digital Supercharge
That said, without the internet and all the other digital tools now at our disposal, this poster and its globalist, universalist, interfaith, ethical message would have remained confined to parts of Canada. To move beyond our borders would have involved a larger staff, more front-end expenses, and huge mailing costs – resources we didn’t have at our disposal. The internet, though, has enabled the poster to go both viral and global. It is posted on websites all over the world and in different languages. You can buy a professionally printed one, or download it and print it yourself. People are forwarding it, posting it, and printing it – sometimes in large volumes.
Digitally, of course, as noted in Mezei’s article, the poster is accompanied by a library of golden rule web resources produced by Scarboro’s interfaith office to enable people around the world to use the poster for interfaith and educational purposes.
The Golden Rule in Africa
Of all the responses to this poster, the most remarkable comes from Africa, generated by Mussie Hailu, an Ethiopian interfaith activist who has committed years of leadership to building bridges of peace among and within the nations of Africa and, increasingly, around the world. He was one of United Religion Initiative’s founders.
He currently serves as a Global Envoy of United Religions Initiative, the continental director for URI-Africa as well as URI’s representative to the United Nations in Nairobi. Mussie was inspired by the Scarboro poster to create an African version and used his connections to pan-African groups to distribute it. Two and a half million posters have been distributed within Africa and now abroad. Most recently he created one in his own native language, Amharic.
Amharic has the distinction of being both a Semitic and an Afro-Asiatic language, since its roots can be traced back 2,000 years to the Middle East. In fact, it’s the second-most spoken Semitic language in the world, after Arabic. Amharic is the official working language of Ethiopia, where approximately 17.5 million people speak it as their first language and many as their second. Outside Ethiopia, an estimated 2.7 million emigrants speak Amharic. Known as Ambassador Hailu for his peacemaking work, the Ahmaric version brings it back home for him.
One might ask, “a poster is a poster is a poster ... does it make a difference?” It does in a number of ways, starting with the discussions and projects it can provoke. Through these projects, such as the one Mussie inspired and promoted, all sorts of good work can be done. Mussie was instrumental in establishing April 5 as International Golden Rule Day, an excuse to take time out and consider the quality of our relationships with one another, a day that 700 organizations in 165 countries now celebrate.
In a letter Mussie sent to colleagues at Charter for Compassion and URI, he wrote:
I just got back to Ethiopia from my peace mission in Burundi. I am so happy to inform you that I met with mayors of Bujumbura in Burundi and Juba in South Sudan. Both mayors proclaimed the Golden Rule Day, agreed to join us in the work of Charter for Compassion, and want to make a compassionate city program. I have also support for the Golden Rule Day from the President of Ethiopia, President of Burundi, the Deputy Chairperson of African Union and others....
In Nigeria interfaith activists have celebrated Golden Rule Day for the past five years, holding up peacemaking, youth training, and climate change programs as a part of the process. Similar programming is developing in the Ivory Coast.
On the other side of the globe, an interfaith project in Phoenix, Arizona persuaded the state legislature to produce and make available special Golden Rule Arizona license plates for a fee. A percentage of that fee goes directly to interfaith activities and has become a considerable financial support for work that is typically underfunded.
Scarboro Missions closed its door a year ago, but the stewardship of the Golden Rule archives continues at Regis College, a Jesuit school at the University of Toronto. This library of resources is still available to download for free. Working on interfaith relations at Scarboro for more than 20 years has been my joy. Retiring now, that joy has been magnified in realizing that the digital gifts we took advantage of now allow the work to continue around the world.
Header Photo: Art4TheGlryOfGod by Sharon, C.c. 2.0 nd