What can one person do to make the world a better, safer place?
In a previous blog entry I talked about meeting Nelson Mandela, who is such an inspirational character. On Tuesday of this week I met and shook hands with his predecessor as president of South Africa, Frederik Willem de Klerk.
It is strange that I never really thought much about F.W. de Klerk before – but he is a man who has shown incredible humility, strength, and courage in his role of surrendering power to negotiation while doing away with apartheid as well as what he has been doing since then.
He offered a great speech to a group of students and faculty at BYU about how interconnected we all are in the world now, the role of leadership the U.S. plays in that (whether they like it or not), and the responsibility we all have to eliminate as much as possible the root causes of conflict (poverty, ignorance, repression, and fanaticism).
It is hard to select which parts of my notes to share, but on my plane ride to Toronto I typed up a summary of some of the main points he made.
At the end I ask the question that this entry began with.
Globalization shrinks the world.
We have a more interconnected financial system
In a shrinking world, problems of one region will be problems of another region.
(e.g. AIDS, or how sub-prime loan crises in the US influences the economy all over the world)
Nothing would appear more secure and American than Utah. Yet you all will be affected by the global stage (China, India, Middle East, Iraq, Financial Crises, Global Warming, etc.)
Conflicts can reverberate all over the world.
Who would have thought a few years ago that fanatics in the caves of Afghanistan could pose a threat to the financial nerve center of the most powerful nation on earth?
Root causes of conflict
The root cause of conflict is: poverty, repression, ignorance, and fanaticism.
While we are here, children are starving, ravished – living in unacceptable conditions – so much pain.
2 billion people still live beneath the poverty line, and this unacceptable. Here is the gap which needs to be breached.
The per capita of the wealthiest countries is 84 times the per capita of the poorest countries.
There is laid the foundation of a supranational power, a global interconnectivity – and we can no longer ignore problems elsewhere.
It is less and less possible to ignore how much of the world lives in poverty, ignorance, and oppression.
You need to develop the policy, skill, and will to tackle the root causes of conflict.
There is a symbiosis between freedom, economic development, democracy (rule of law), and a vibrant civil society.
One of the main sources of conflict is the inability of different ethnic/cultural/religious groups to peacefully co-exist.
Only a few of the worlds most significant conflicts have been between countries – the rest are conflicts within countries (e.g. Middle East).
Israel and Palestine must find a way to peacefully live together!
In South Africa [during apartheid] we experienced isolation, restrictions, sanctions and we felt the pressure of it. As a result, we pulled back to reconsider what we were doing and learned there was another way.
We learned we could not dictate in negotiation, but negotiation needed to be inclusive. All sides had to take enormous risks, and make painful compromises.
In negotiation, we must always be trying to see things from the other side as you move forward.
If we could do it (in South Africa), they can do it too.
Role of U.S. leadership
How will the US play the global leadership role in a world full of threats and full of opportunities?
If we are living in a global village, the U.S. is the mayor and chief of police.
Not acting as an elected leader, but as the unchallenged economic, military dominance and preeminence.
Success makes you a target for disaffected groups.
The role of preeminence is always unpopularity. Even your allies are jealous of you. To quote Bart Simpson, “You’re damned if you do, you’re damned if you don’t.”
How should the US lead? Teddy Roosevelt said, “Speak softly and carry a big stick.”
It might be true that Iraq, the Middle East, and the world is a better place without Hussein. But what is the lasting solution?
Military force has a role, but it can not provide a lasting solution.
The US must have an iron will and force, but not in a way that is inconsistent with democratic principles.
In the global leadership role, constantly consider speaking with a “soft voice”
This is not the same as weakness. It involves a multi-lateral approach to international crises. You do not forgo using a big stick, but you have to get more consensuses if ultimately it is to be used.
In the U.S. don’t lose faith, but don’t be overly concerned with what others have accused you of doing wrong.
Focus instead on what you have done great and right, redouble those efforts. You are the most democratic country the world has ever seen.
You, the people of the U.S., are free – and engaging in the 4 year celebration of that freedom – the election of your next president.
You have no idea how much influence your current election is having on the world. So many are watching it with interest, that some feel they should also have a vote.
One of the wonders of freedom in the U.S. is how few restrictions there are for entrepreneurs – there are so little restrictions on them, so they can follow their dreams.
You have fostered a healthy spirit of competition which has inspired excellence in scientific discovery, technological development, etc.
You can also appreciate fostering healthy competition between countries.
The greatness of America is not in its army, but the greatness of America lies in its ideals: freedom of religion, democracy with the rule of law, the faith of the majority of its people, etc.
If the US is true to their ideals, there is no doubt you will succeed in your mission: you must take the leadership in poverty elimination, promoting democracy, in finding peaceful solutions to the conflicts that face the world
The US will have to play a disproportionate role in facing these challenges.
But it is only in speaking with a “soft voice”, multi-lateral approaches, and international collaboration that lasting solutions to the world’s problems can be found.
Whether you are in the 1st or 3rd world, we are all part of the fragile interconnected globalized society.
Regardless of how rich a country is, security can only be handled when the international community works together in concert with each other.
In the Question and Answer session after his speech, one person asked a question that I’m sure a lot of people were asking themselves. It is the same question that a friend asked me in an email a few minutes later.
In light of how interconnected we are, and how we can less and less ignore the poverty, ignorance, and oppression that exists in the world –
What can one person do to make the world a better, safer place?
I think this is a common question that a lot of people ask, and this is my question for you – what ideas do you have? With problems so complex and overwhelming, can one person really make a difference?
(After some responses, I’ll share what Mr. deKlerk’s suggestions were, as well as some of my own thoughts)
Um, I’m going to take exception with anyone who claims to identify the root cause(s) of any general social issue. Just yesterday I had dinner with sociologists from NYU, Yale, U Michigan, UC Irvine, and others. One issue that came up was the contemporary usefulness of certain models that had informed discourse for decades.
I explained to them that ALL models are generalizations and, therefore, some distortion of reality. The more faith we put into the model, the more danger we’re in of missing some key distinctions between what the model expects and what reality provides.
Maybe Klerk meant “some of the root causes” or “common root causes,” but I have seen far too many in the social science use language that is far too definitive.
Jeremy, Clint, I think I understand what you are saying. I am not as well versed as you guys. All I know is that there is one sorce of fixing the worlds problems and that is for everyone to see themselves as a person of value and then to view others with the same set of glasses. I have spent so much time in the crime infested, poverty laden streets of inner city Detroit. You give and give and give and your efforts feel like bandaides on Bleeding, gaping, infected wounds. But even as I offer a hug and loving words to a woman who has just endured rape or a sack of groceries to a family with one can of beans in the house I know this is what I can do. It isn’t the food or the hug that is changing thier lives (all though they are much needed) It is the love in my heart that teaches them so much more than my actions it teaches them that there is love in this world. At first I thought my efforts were lame now I see that Love is the greatest gift we give. I just wish there was a way to give more love in more ways. I sat in Sunday school yesterday by a sister from the city. Clint you met her when you were here. She is a single mother raising her children and her children’s children. She is poor and she has had a brain tumor removed that left her needing to relearn how to speak and to walk. She has trouble expressing herself and gets lost in her words. She is extremely hard to understand. But she loves to participate and share how God has blessed her life. when she raises her had the teacher avoids making eye contact with her pretty much the whole lesson. I have watched this in countless meetings. I ache for the teacher not for my friend. I see the notes my friend jots down, she studies and studies to understand better what she is learning. I can see that she has spent hours during the week trying to learn and internalize what she is taught. My friend is simple but has so much to teach me about patience and love and forgiveness and faith. I have learned more from her than most people I have ever met. She has taught me unconditional love. I hope that my actions reflect what she lives. If we can all be a bit more like my friend Dorothy this world would be an amazing place.
sorry I didn’t proof, I get a bit cought up when I feel these emotions.excuse my run-ons.
On somewhat of a side note, here is something interesting from the World Bank
* World Bank updates poverty estimates for the developing world
New World Bank poverty estimates reveal that 1.4 billion people in the developing world (one in four) were living on less than the revised international poverty line of US$1.25 a day in 2005, down from 1.9 billion (one in two) in 1981. In a new working paper, “The developing world is poorer than we thought, but no less successful in the fight against poverty,” researchers Ravallion and Chen show that poverty has been more widespread over the past 25 years than previously estimated, but also that there has been strong overall progress toward reducing poverty. Looking at the new estimates from the perspective of the first Millennium Development Goal (MDG1), the developing world is still on track to halve extreme poverty from its 1990 levels by 2015. However, performance is uneven among developing regions, with China’s historic poverty reduction accounting for a large share of the global progress.
This poverty update is particularly significant because it draws on much improved cost-of-living information resulting from the 2005 round of the International Comparison Program, a global statistical initiative for price data collection and analysis.
Country-level data will be available September 16 on PovcalNet
(“http://iresearch.worldbank.org/PovcalNet/jsp/index.jsp“), an interactive research tool, and in early October in a special supplement to World Development Indicators.
These papers, and all older papers, are also available using the Document Search
(“http://epublish.worldbank.org/shared/formGenerator/previewNL.jsp?contentMDK=21052980&versionContentMDK=21072330&folderPK=64129626&submitButtonLabel=S&showButton=true&callback=sendForm&topPos=895“) on the Bank’s Development Economics Research website and on the Social Sciences Research Network
I’d say you’re more versed than Clint is or I am in these things. The two of us and Klerk represent various levels of the Ivory Tower while you’re boots-on-the-ground.
I’d say that you summarize it well. Man cannot enumerate the “root causes” of conflict, but there is one solution to all of them: Love. Love your neighbor, and everything else will follow.
Thanks for sharing those thoughts Jeremy!
I love when academicians (or politicians) recognize things like you expressed.
As for what any person can do to make a difference – I think people still want to do even more, if they only knew how.
Does anyone know of the best resources to direct people to who fall into this camp?
Or is it something that still needs to be created?
You don’t know me, but I’m in the IP&T program at BYU, and have heard about you. Anyway, I am South African and attended this forum. I just wanted to say that I think you have captured the essence of what he spoke about really well.
I am trying to track down a copy of this address by de Klerk- any ideas where I might be able to get one?