Human Duties: Saramago's idea for a better world

“With the same vehemence as when we demanded our rights, let us demand responsibility over our duties.” - Saramago

José Saramago

Since the early days in school we learn: the “citizen” has rights and duties that, people say, are equal to everyone. However, when we study a bit more we discover a gradient that ranges from citizens full of duties and few rights to those that can do anything without being held responsible. A situation better summarized by the portuguese writer José Saramago:

"In this half-century, obviously governments have not morally done for human rights all that they should. The injustices multiply, the inequalities get worse, the ignorance grows, the misery expands." - Saramago

This speech, pronounced during the event in which he was laureated by the Nobel Prize in Literature, opened the dinner at December 10th in 1998, exactly fifty years after the signature of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Having so much attention during these moments, José Saramago seized the opportunity to proppose a counterpart to this essential document, he wanted the Declaration of Human Duties and Responsibilities.

Rough for the entrance of a gala event, he made clear that he didn't believed in social improvements coming from the governments due to many reasons, but mainly because the true rulers are the bigcompanies. And that if we wanted something, it would have to be achieved through the people, a fight in which the demands should emanate from a desire to assume the responsibilities that come with our rights.

“Let us common citizens therefore speak up. With the same vehemence as when we demanded our rights, let us demand responsibility over our duties. Perhaps the world could turn a little better.” -José Saramago

Pillar del Río

Saramago died in 2010 without seeing this project finished. But in June 2015 the foundation that carries his name, having the writer and translator Pillar del Río as president, gathered intelectualsand specialists from diferent areas to discuss the creation of the document proposed by the writer. The discussion aims to find the first directions for the creation of the document, even though the project still have to receive many contributions before reaching it's final formulaton:

“We need to change focus and perspectives, to breack with clichês in order to imagine a different world, só we can dare to think of a new utopia. To imagine a world where hunger, ignorance and the preventable deaths find no place, where there's no segregation due to race, religion, gender or economic reasons.” - José Narro Robles, UNAM's Dean.

At this first moment, Pillar del Río occupy a crucial position in the event and opens the debate without concerns with specificity while the objective remains clear. As a specialist in the works of the writer and also due to her personal life as his wife, she's the right person to point Saramago´s intentions, but knowing very well that if it grows it will be much bigger than the ambitions of only one person.

“We'll propose, diffuse and offer our means and possibilities and work as if everything depended on us, but being very conscious that it doesn't.” - Pillar del Río, president of the José Saramago Foundation.

The support or the critic about this attempt still depends on how this documents will be developed and it's content, for now we can only think and search answers to not so simple questions. To qustion the duties of every person, even their existence, can be a starting point to something that can become huge in the coming decades. When dealing with these complicated tasks it's important to remember the defense that Alain de Botton made about the professionals from the humanities and the solutions that can come from this field.