March 20th, 2014

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#862 – Dick Bernard: An airliner vanishes, Stone Soup, House on Fire, and the 26th Nobel Peace Prize Forum, March 1, 7-9, 2014

Thursday, March 20th, 2014

UPDATE Mar 2, 2014: Video of all speeches referred to below should be accessible here.

Noon today is the first day of Spring in Minnesota. It’s been a long enough winter here.

Bicycles at the University of Minnesota Mar 8, 2014

Bicycles at the University of Minnesota Mar 8, 2014

It’s been about two weeks since the 26th Nobel Peace Prize Forum, convened at Augsburg College. “Crossing Boundaries to Create Common Ground” was the theme; purposely acknowledging and bringing together different voices, different points of view.

The format worked well. Mark your calendar for next years Forum, March 6-8, 2015.

Best as I can count, there were 37 different possibilities of workshops and speakers in the four days.

I attended 14 of the 1 1/2 hour sessions, beginning with the Dalai Lama on March 1. It was a phenomenal, exhausting, enriching four days. I’ve spent the time trying to distill my own impressions of over 30 hours into a brief recap. All the major talks likely will later be accessible on-line. If they do go on-line, they are all worth your time.
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It is also two weeks since Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 went missing early in the morning on March 7, 13 time zones east of here: Airline Mystery Mar 7 14001.

Two weeks later, this first day of spring, nobody knows anything for sure. What happened is speculation, including from “experts”.

Coincidentally, a few hours before Malaysia officially announced that Flight 370 was missing, I was at the Forum, among two or three hundred, listening to Ian Bremmer, an international consultant to the powerful on Eurasia, primarily, talking about shifts in international power relationships, the kinds of things we hear about in the news: China, Russia-Crimea-Ukraine*, etc.

Geopolitically, “times they are a’changin”.

That missing American airliner, piloted for a Malaysian airline by two experienced Malaysian pilots, carrying primarily Chinese passengers from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, was probably a routine red-eye flight. Then it went missing. The world community, countries, volunteers, and others sprang into action to try to answer what might turn out to be unanswerable questions.

The search from the beginning has been a community activity – the entire world, literally, becoming the community.

Yes, there have been disagreements about most everything, and everybody has a theory, but what else is new? Such happens in every nuclear family, incessantly: “yes I did”, “no you didn’t”. Flight 370 is just on a much more massive scale, and it is remarkable to watch the world, literally, working together.

Our world is very different from the traditional sphere we grew up within; so is our nation. It is a difficult change for some to adjust to. I hope Bremmer’s talk remains on-line, or returns on-line soon, at the Peace Prize Forum website. For me, his talk will be worth a re-listen, and this time I’ll pay closer attention to his opinions, now, in relation to Flight 370 and what it means. (When he was talking, there had not yet been an announcement about the missing flight. That came several hours later.)
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Until 370 took center stage, what follows was the essence of my thinking about the just-completed Forum.

There was a general additional tone to the four days of the Forum that led me to think about the below photo of my then-near two year old grandson, Ryan, taken May 25, 2001.

(click to enlarge)

Ryan, May 25, 2001

Ryan, May 25, 2001

In sundry ways, at Augsburg, I picked up the message that we ordinary individuals are the ones who must be the change we wish to see in the world (Gandhi’s quote) and that small groups, as Margaret Mead liked to say, are the key to changing the world for better or for worse.

Liberian Laureate Leymah Gbowee’s keynote at the end of the Forum, March 9, brought things together nicely. Here was a 39 year old Liberian Mom thrust onto the world stage simply because she dared to make a difference in her home country in a time of political crisis. Her then-one year old was folded into her speech. Hers was a practical message, as I would interpret it: “folks, we’re all in this together.”

The day of national or personal omnipotence is past. We’re on this globe together; what happens there, has impact here, and vice versa. There are no boundaries: the internet; portability of disease…. It is a bewildering world for those accustomed to being in control.

There were, I heard, 3200 of us in the hall listening to Dalai Lama on March 1.

He talked, but it is the 3200 of us who have to translate his thoughts and his deeds into action, where we live, that will make a difference.

At the Crowdsourcing session, The classic “Stone Soup” was described…a kettle of water was brought to a boil, and some small stones were the first contributions to the “soup”.

Of course, stones are not edible, even boiled stones. One villager came and dropped in a few carrots, someone else brought beans, and after a while there was a soup for everyone, contributed by everybody…. (“Crowdsource” volunteers with computers and time are helping scour satellite photos of the Indian Ocean for some piece of evidence that may be out there, somewhere.)

Crowdsourcing uses everyone’s talents to get a handle on, and solve some problem or other.

In one of the keynote speeches, Dr. William Foege, one of those considered most responsible for eradicating smallpox as a world disease, talked about a crucial moment in developing a strategy for dealing with the disease in India.

The VIPs were in a community experiencing an outbreak of smallpox, and the discussion centered around whether to target immunize in areas with outbreaks, or blanket immunize entire populations.

A simple villager rose at the meeting, and said that in their village, if a house started on fire, each person would bring their bucket of water and throw it on the fire. It was just common sense. You deal with the fire….

It was a simple piece of village wisdom, made all the sense in the world to the important people there, and Dr. Foege titled his book, “House on Fire”.

Which leads back to that picture of my grandson with the basketball back in 2001.

Ryan obviously had a vision that day – he knew what that hoop was for; his Grandpa – me – had been shooting baskets in that same hoop.

All he needed was a few years, and the patience to grow up a little.

He’s now near 15, loves basketball, is not varsity calibre, but plays actively in the local athletic Association league. He’s fun to watch. He got seven points in one game this year, and he’s learned teamwork in the process: basketball is a great team sport.

#12 Feb 23, 2014

#12 Feb 23, 2014

So it is with us and our world.

We might not be on be on the varsity, but we can play our part, or we can at minimum participate by showing up in the stands. Together we make all the difference. But we have to show up.

In the end analysis, what world our kids inherit will depends on us.

Have a great Spring.

World at Peace Prize Festival at Augsburg College March 5, 2009

World at Peace Prize Festival at Augsburg College March 5, 2009

* – A long, interesting commentary on the Ukraine-Crimea-Russia issue is here.