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)