What Values Bring Us Together?

A society may have some values that contradict those of its neighbour, but both may be prepared to abide by a core set of values from which each can benefit.

At first glance, in the Commonwealth there would seem to be little to bring such diverse peoples and nations together in a voluntary association. Yet the Commonwealth has grown and flourished. In part, it works because virtually all its members have a shared history, common institutions and a common language – the legacy of past colonial relationships with Britain, ironically the source of considerable conflict in the history of some countries.

What is interesting is that the key figures among the colonisers and the leaders of the independence movements eventually managed the independence process together in most of these countries. This enabled the common institutions that had once been severely challenged to be accepted, though always in a somewhat new form to suit the new social context. An example of this is the co-existence of formal judicial systems and traditional village justice in parts of the Pacific region.

By themselves these institutions are not enough to keep the Commonwealth relevant and respected as an organisation. There were enormous social and political problems when colonialism ended, such as the existence of the violent apartheid regime in South Africa. In finding ways to deal with these problems without the descent into permanent civil war, the organisation developed crucial principled methods. This approach is what has made the Commonwealth acceptable to its members and important as an example for the rest of the world. These supporting principles make up the Commonwealth values that are the focus of this module.

As we have already mentioned, the Commonwealth was born out of potentially troublesome circumstances. Before we can go further in understanding the impact that Commonwealth values have had in maintaining the relationship between countries, we should also have some understanding of the history or its creation. We will take a brief look at this now.