The Parallel Parliament

by Glen Pearson

Tag: humanity

A Noble Share

blog picture

“DO YOU FEEL OLD, POP POP?” my granddaughter asked, knowing that my 65th birthday was coming today, December 26th. Well, Annie, here’s my answer.

I sure look older. I can still run, jump, and play, but not like I used to. Every time I put on my glasses to read I’m reminded of how many years have passed. And yet I now have more friends in my library than back then, and I have relationships with each of them. Yes, I require glasses to read them, but with the wisdom that comes with years I now understand them better than I did when clear-eyed. They are my books, and should I go blind tomorrow I will be no poorer, for I can recite some of them by heart and love the principles hidden within them with more power and intensity than I could in youth. They now help me see with an understanding that only comes with the advancement of years.

I now see things I could never discern in my youth. I hear music in my heart that previously I could only get in some kind of speaker. No, it doesn’t boom and bounce the way the rock and roll of my teens did, but it now aligns the world for me, reminding me that the interior life is as equally to be treasured as an active outer one. Those things I wondered and fretted over in earlier times have found their proper alignment in my life and I can now travel my years guided by my ideals rather than fear or insecurity. As twilight has come to my years, the sky is now alight with stars that I never saw in the bright sunshine of my youth and I find I can be guided by them.

My years are many, but their fullness now transcends the many decades that preceded this moment. I see the wonders and tragedies of life through a kaleidoscope of experience and they are indeed remarkable. I don’t need to relive my life, but build upon all the lessons it has taught me, reaching ever higher in a universe of possibility. The lessons my parents taught me, I can now live and understand their necessity and beauty. I have truly become their child because I have lived their counsel and found it to be sound.

Strangely, I find myself as restless as when I was young, but it is an urge to heal my world, to enjoy its millennia of wisdom, to fulfill its promise of love. There is that fire to do away with hatred in the world, to honour the equality of the sexes, to defeat the forces of poverty, and to forge peace among the peoples of the world. It is not be confused with the blind passions of youth; it is instead the fire of a soul conquered by the abiding values of life.

I sometimes ponder the beauty of my family for hours, their memory and personalities more fulsome and exciting than any Hollywood movie for me. In my quietest moments I am the most entertained. And I pray, thanking God for the quietness and assurance that comes with age. Such is the richness of the accumulation of years.

So, yes, Annie, I feel older. I have wrinkles and I stoop a bit more than I used to. But all those signs of age I have happily traded for the insight of wisdom, a love for God, family, and humanity, and sense that the ethical contribution of every person adds to our collective healing and progress. I have had a noble share in that life that I can only enjoy in these later years. The poet Robert Frost once spoke about, “The afternoon knows what the morning never suspected.” Well, it’s now the evening for me, so just think of how much I have learned. Time physically erodes us all, but builds up character at the same time – nothing is wasted.

I am restless for the completeness of humanity at the same time that I am content with my own place within it – a miracle only possible through the all the years that I have passed through before now. Despite my frailties, I nevertheless feel at one with my ideals. It is enough.

I know you won’t understand these words until you’re older Annie, but you will learn that they come to pass in the life of anyone who wants to live for things greater than herself.  Your journey will be unique, but it will be along a path already travelled by the best of humanity.  I’ll be watching.

 

Standing Still as Humanity Moves

f22-151020-plight-of-refugees-art

THE FRUSTRATION ON HIS FACE SAID IT ALL, and his emotions weren’t unlike our own. President Obama, like other political leaders, is in a pickle – not because there isn’t the need to help refugees, but because their constituencies are divided as to how to respond. The Paris attacks changed everything, filling the refugee conversations with an intensity and sense of urgency that has made dialogue more difficult.

When reminded that Republican governors (three of whom are running for president) claimed they wouldn’t accept Syrian refugees, and that even many Congressional Republicans agreed, Obama showed visible pain on his face, believing that America couldn’t abdicate global leadership at a time he believed the country’s compassion was so required.

The purpose of this post isn’t to delve into the many sides of the refugee situation, but to consider the implications of the refugee phenomenon itself and provide something of a longer view.

When we are informed that the past few years have seen more refugees than at any time since World War Two, we get that, and it’s worrying. But it’s revealing when we consider where many of those fleeing that conflict ended up. Poles, Ukrainians, and Russians fled to deepest Africa to escape the horrors of Nazi death camps and deportation. Conditions were brutal and dehumanizing on the journey. Official recognition of their plight was all but impossible – they were on their own. Abysmal refugee camps were established but were soon filled to overflowing, with approximately 35,000 Polish refugees alone. Many came from other beleaguered countries in Europe.

It was revealed later by historians that a number of Jews were travelling in this group. For Jewish refugees themselves, the need to flee their homes was immediate and, in many cases, death-defying. Those attempting to get to Britain came in for something of a shock when movements of citizens wanted to bar their entry. Historian Thomas Harding wrote that, “In Britain, these Jewish refugees were greeted with a mixture of grudging acceptance by some and open hostility by others.” As more and more landed on British shores, Harding adds, “The British government had become fearful of how its citizens would react to a wave of Jewish refugees from Germany, and had clamped down on immigration.”

We know, of course, how Jewish refugees were refused entry to the United States on a number of occasions, but what of those biracial Americans who attempted to escape slavery in America by fleeing to Paris, France, as refuge? In their midst were some of the great artists and musicians of the age and in Paris they found a home they could never enjoy in Harlem.

This is all a reminder that how to respond to millions of refugees isn’t only complex, but frequently ironic. The flowing movement of a desperate humanity from injustice and death is hardly new, nor does the current merely flow one way. Obama knew all this, of course, and his frustrations only grew as a result.

As did those of Antonio Guterres, the head of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees: “It’s absolute nonsense to try to blame refugees for terror attacks when they were the first victims of such attacks and can’t be held responsible in Paris, Beirut, or elsewhere.” But he wasn’t done. “It’s not the refugee outflows that cause terrorism, it is terrorism, tyranny and war that create refugees.”

There is an essential truth in this insight, but it is unlikely to sway those Canadians speaking out against accepting Syrian refugees into Canada. Our country is under strain from a human dilemma that we didn’t ask for but have been forced to confront. The ability of thousands whom we have never met to divide us is a real threat, but the potential for such divisions have come from within ourselves, not from that sea of humanity seeking refuge somewhere … anywhere. The solutions will not prove easy, but will never be possible should we fail to find some kind of consensus, even compromise. We are Canadians, after all, and like it or not, the world prefers to view us as compassionate and accepting.

Richard Fontaine, president of the Centre for a New American Security, delivered a compelling and unexpected challenge to his fellow citizens:

“Civilized nations should see the violence in Paris not as a moment to question our long-held ideals but as a chance to reaffirm them and embrace the most vulnerable among us. It is not just the ethically correct thing to do. This embrace of humanity’s deepest values is itself a rejection of the tortured ISIS worldview.”

ISIS isn’t going away anytime soon, but their duration will extend as long as we give in to the fear and insecurity that undermines the very best of who we are as a people. It is likely that most of us have a refugee somewhere in our ancestry, as many have discovered in recent years. To turn our back now is to deny our very existence and identity. The decision is now ours to make and it will carry an impact far greater than any bomb.

Can Technology Save Us?

66b3de17jw1dkm6i5rjfjj

SO MUCH HAS BEEN WRITTEN ON THIS SUBJECT for 30 years that it’s become something of a preoccupation for many. But let’s just answer the question directly: no, technology can’t save the world – at least not alone.

But there is potential, lots of it. Everything is in the process of being “connected” to everything else, people too. Almost 90% of the data in the world today has been created only in the past two years. In only five more years, 50 billion devices will be connected to the Internet. The advances in DNA mapping and bioinformatics will turn humans into living data fields to be researched, monitored, and perhaps made healthier. Data in general will grow ten-fold in the next five years, to 44 trillion gigabytes.

And there’s an even deeper pool to draw from in the near future. Almost 99% of the data in the world today is what is termed “dark matter” – information that hasn’t been processed in a way that allows the knowledge and insights within that data to benefit us. That’s likely to change soon, however.

Just this bit of information alone would definitely lend credibility to the claim that technology has powerful potential to affect our future, just as it’s increasingly shaping our present. Yet the deeper we get into the digital domain the greater our challenges seem to become – advances in technology haven’t translated into mitigating climate change, reducing poverty, minimizing conflicts, or winning the battle for human rights.

Queen Noor of Jordan recently wrote about how this disconnect between technological advancement and our progress toward our highest aspirations will eventually stall civilization unless we link moral progress to the other advancements. She rightfully notes that technological progress without moral progress is merely an illusion of progress. She then lists a string of issues going on in our world where we seem unable to create change for the better.

“To go forward, to write a narrative of real and lasting progress, we must go back,” Noor says. She doesn’t mean turn back the clock, but to re-embrace the values we seem to have laid aside in our collective pursuit of wealth and comfort. “We must return to the roots of our common humanity and to the universal values that connect us to each other,” she adds. It’s an odd situation that just as the world is more connected digitally than it ever has been, we are in danger of growing too far apart from one another.

Marc Benioff echoes her sentiments. He’s the chairman and CEO of Salesforce and a pioneer in cloud computing. For all his accomplishments, he’s worried that, “Technology alone isn’t enough to improve the state of the world.” He understands that technology and public policy are two different things and that without proper progressive legislation all the digital advances won’t help us over our steepest obstacles. He singles out how governments have cut back drastically enough in research that we are falling behind in our efforts to solve our deepest woes. In both the United States and Canada, public funding for basic research and to universities  has dropped dramatically and we’ll pay the price for it at some point.

Benioff wonders how such advanced societies that develop and take advantage of the great strides in technology could possibly accept growing poverty at the same time, or how, given the clear damage caused by climate change, governments and citizens seem so enamoured by their technical devices to the detriment of the natural order. He’s a business leader who refuses to see the bottom line as his sole purpose. He writes like a pioneer in business with a broader awareness, as when he says,

“An environment in peril – oceans rising an average of 3.2 millimetres per year – is not good for business. Millions of people lacking in educational opportunity is not good for business. More than 200 million unemployed people worldwide is not good for business.”

Benioff’s solution? “Technology innovation, married with a more compassionate capitalism and civic engagement, has the potential to address these problems in the next decade and make the world a better place for us all.”

No, technology cannot save our world unless it is partnered with conscientious leadership and citizenship commitment. Thanks to modern technical advancements we have the tools; now all we need is the will to use them for the service of the human race and the planet.

The Strange

 

City

FOR ALL OF OUR TALK ABOUT CITIES AND THEIR economic and architectural importance for the future, we must never leave behind the understanding of the human in those places where we live.

Our knowledge is growing that cities have become the context whereby we will largely figure out our future and how we should learn to “be” together. And, as we are learning, they will become the places where we must live constructively or destructively together. As municipalities absorb more and more of human activity, there will be a strong tendency to tear ourselves apart – verbally, economically, socially – unless we find new ways to confront our collective challenges.

Unfortunately, the problems facing our cities have taken on a kind of mechanical nature, as if some economic formula or some overall policy will heal all ills. These are vital to consider, but it will only be as we put the emphasis on how we live in the “everyday” of living that we develop the will to cooperate together for the difficult years ahead. In other words, every city-making exercise must be matched to the vision of who we are as a people if we are to find success.

Many years ago, I visited Brasilia, the modern capital of Brazil, when it was just being completed and as the population moved in. There were buildings without tenants, streets without cars, government offices without public servants, and neighbourhoods without neighbours. It was built in 41 months and stood as a testament to the ambitions of a proud people. Yet they were antiseptic dreams until the people moved in and made it the thriving community it is today.

Most of us will never get a chance to build a city from scratch; we have to design one and live in it at the same time. How we exactly do that has become one of the major challenges of our age. Where we live has a direct impact on how we see the world and our place within it. The intersection between a sense of place and the human narrative that enlivens it is one of the key driving forces for the future of the human race itself. We don’t just live in a city, we form it with values, with a sense of what the world means to us. The more the global structure reveals deep fissures on so many levels, the more difficult it will be to keep such realities, internal or external, from ripping us apart from one another. It will take work … and respect.

At the same time as technology and easier travel have increased the number of interactions internationally, they have also had a hand in revealing frictions long submerged. Social media, while introducing new possibilities to communities, has already developed a propensity to rip apart the fabric of city living, and unless we are careful, it can turn where we live into a place of mere opinions as opposed to shared values.

Who we are at our most human level will determine the nature of place in which we live and it will require spirit and understanding and not just modern buildings and transportation systems if we are to make our cities great. We all require some physical setting in which to pass through the various stages of life in order to securely reach our full potential. But if our cities become fractured by fissures of anger or suspicion, or just plain dysfunction, then it is only a matter of time until they threaten our progress as individuals and families.

Ultimately, our cities need to be built on what is precious to us, and not merely steel, fiber optics, digital domains, or concrete. To be human involves a common life and a common sense of purpose. If we don’t have that, it won’t matter how physically beautiful our communities are. The truly great city is a state of mind that offers a vision of the best we can be together.

That great author on cities, Jane Jacobs, once observed in The Death and Life of Great American Cities: “By its nature, the metropolis provides what otherwise could be given only by travelling; namely the strange. Our cities now bring the world – the strange – to us, and only by discovering our shared humanity will be build places of merit.

None Of Us Can Truly Rest

 

Mandela-superJumbo

SUMMER IS A FINE TIME FOR WRITING AND I’VE GREATLY ENJOYED putting the final touches on a book on the complex life of Nelson Mandela that I began a year ago before his sad passing.

His death brought out worthy global praise and extolled some of those qualities we so came to love about him: reconciliation, champion of human rights, a powerful personality which he used for the public good, international ambassador for peace, and a vast inner life.

Yet we often overlooked how Mandela felt about poverty and the depth to which it moved him. He had felt it in his own life, but, more than that, he placed human want in the broader context of human rights. Given his universal belief in human equity, what else did we expect? And yet in the glow of all his other great accomplishments and beliefs, we often miss this one. We frequently forget that the great South African leader drew a connection between human rights and poverty that could never be severed in his life, nor in his conduct. He remains one of the great examples of a unified life, one where belief has to be matched with action.

After retiring from public life, and due to his advancing years, Mandela cut down on his schedule. But there was one engagement he didn’t want to miss: Make Poverty History’s 2005 rally in London, England’s Trafalgar Square. His reasoning was powerful enough in itself:

“As you know, I recently announced my retirement from public life and should really not be here. However, as long as poverty, injustice and gross inequality persist in our world, none of us can truly rest.”

There is no need to go into depth regarding his attitude and philosophy regarding poverty and degradation because if you watch the video below, you’ll get it all. It is what set him apart, for all too often many of us seek rest in a troubled world. And we require that tranquility just as surely as he must have in his later years. But he couldn’t do it, and in that was his greatness. As poverty grows in our own country, Mandela’s life is a reminder that our rest can come at a price and that our lack of watchfulness continues to erode our collective life. Here’s the link to the video.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1NennMCLG7A

 

%d bloggers like this: