The Uplifting Power of Human Interaction
Old and New Silk Roads
The Silk Road may have been developed as a network of trade routes connecting regions in Asia, Africa and Europe. But it was not just Chinese silk, south Asian spices, Persian dry fruits, African glassware or European pottery that passed along the route. Ideas, religions, languages, syncretic philosophies, art, science and technology were transmitted. Economic, political, religious and cultural interactions between peoples resulted in faster and greater development of all regions. From before the time of the Silk Road upto the current period of the Belt and Road Initiative, the impact of human interaction has been the same – creative, inspirational and potentially mutually beneficial.
It took the combination of very different personalities – Churchill, Stalin and Roosevelt to win the Second World War; and Gorbachev, Kohl and Reagan to ease Cold War tensions. When different people come together, they bring with them different characteristics, skills and perspectives. The greater the diversity in the group and its characteristics, the greater the collective creative potential. This is also true for cultures. When Nixon went to China, a capitalist country and a communist country dedicated to opposite philosophies found a way to reconcile and initiate mutually beneficial trade. This uplifted hundreds of millions of people and changed the development climate of the world.
Buddhism and the Indo-Arabic numerals took centuries to spread along the Silk Road. But today, the speed of dissemination of ideas has been accelerating with the invention of the printing press, faster travel, improved communications and recently instantaneous transmission of multimedia. American Henry David Thoreau described Civil Disobedience as a means of protest. Half-way across the globe, Mahatma Gandhi was inspired to use the idea to gain India independence from its colonial ruler. Martin Luther King Jr. was inspired by Thoreau and Gandhi to launch the Civil Rights movement in the US. Nelson Mandela took inspiration from Gandhi to fight for the end of Apartheid in South Africa. Protestors during the Arab Spring took lessons from King Jr.’s methods. Malala Yousafzai invoked Gandhi when she advocated girls’ education in Pakistan. Ideas travel across the world today at the speed of thought.