In recent times, the word "united", what it stands for and the institutions it represents, have endured a serious body blow. Organizations and ideals I used to learn about and pledge allegiance to as a kid, support as a young adult and teach about as an educator, including the "United" States of America and a "United" Europe (EU), are today appearing anything but. Abraham Lincoln addressed this situation in 1858 warning that, "A house divided against itself cannot stand". In view of current events, that house would seem to stand very much in tatters.
All the more reason, perhaps, to believe or hope that the only way, from here, must surely be up. But how? How to change that trajectory?
I don't want to sound like a whining child (although Rodney King is worth quoting, "Can we all get along?" and he was no child) whilst history clearly illustrates all the reasons why we can't (get along). And yet, and yet.
Just days before the election, on 28 October 2016, I attended a seminar amidst the salubrious surroundings of the Palais des Nations, Geneva, "the capital of peace and freedom". I say 'salubrious' (health-giving, pleasant, beneficial, luxurious) because that is what this whole area of Geneva is, though a city of contrasts. Home to the International Red Cross, more than 200 international organizations, and the United Nations, the giant "Broken Chair" stands opposite the entrance of the UN, reminding us that 'getting along' is no easy task. And yet the whole area hums with the intent to work together and to heal, even amidst the chaos, competition, selfish political agendas, and all the concomitant drawbacks inherent within each organization.
The topic of the seminar, which attracted 150 people from a wide range of backgrounds, professions and nationalities, was: "World Good Will, Ethical Responsibility and the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations". This UN initiative, the SDG's, and its 17 aspirational goals which came into effect early this year, are "a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity". They provide targets for all countries to adopt in order to tackle our mounting global problems including poverty, climate change, inequality, international conflict, and the guidelines to address them now. These goals for the future are officially known as "Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development".
In view of the expansion of industrialization and the exponential growth of the population, we know that it is impossible for the present use and abuse of the environment and the earth's resources to continue as it is without disastrous results. As the Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has said, "There is no Plan B, because there is no Planet B".
The keynote of the seminar in Geneva was that we can make development sustainable, but it requires global cooperation and global accountability, the partnership of governments, private sector, civil society and citizens alike to recognize the urgency and put plans in place with an eye to future generations. But, it was emphasized, this action implies the need for social and political will, and behind that is, and must be, a willingness for the greater good as opposed to individual agendas.
Is this a fantasy? I think not. Nothing happens without wanting and willing, not even your morning coffee; it's merely a matter of which direction that 'will' takes us. And, is it for the greater good? (The morning coffee probably is.) And Conflict Resolution 101 teaches that first, both parties have to want to sit down at the table.
So I was reminded at this seminar, in the introductory talk, of something we will never see on the front pages: that Good Will is one of the most basic, better qualities of the human being, "a great untapped resource at the heart of every community". Its power remains "largely unrecognized" although it is in fact "the thoughtful planned action of networks of goodwill that is driving the response to all the problems of our age.... People of goodwill from all cultures are creating a new world where sharing, cooperation and right relations are taking root and spreading". It was stated: "Never before in the history of the planet has goodwill been so active.". Really? A unique thought for today, but one worthy of consideration.
In spite of the regressive politics of the alt-right striking fear in our hearts daily, consider the work of tens of thousands of charitable, international and worthy organizations large and small composed of millions of individuals whose driving force is the will-to-good, progressive social change, a willingness to 'get along', and a better life for us individually and collectively (I toss in here a shout -out for the unsung heroes of the NHS who, to my mind, deserve saint-status for the dedicated work they perform daily under the adverse conditions they endure).
Psychological studies, and all institutions working for rehabilitation and reformation, recognize that we can train and direct our will. In the process, we can continue to hopefully and usefully channel this innate goodwill into groups, actions and systems, and support of organizations, such as the United Nations, with all its failures and frailties, which exist as a format for manifesting the goodwill of us all. With all its imperfections, there is as yet no other organization of such stature as, for example, the UN, to which the world can more hopefully turn, with its sustainable development goals, its innumerable initiatives, and its founding Charter stating the intent of "We the peoples ...to live together in peace".
To bring it home: I am reminded of the unknown gentleman who found my entire set of lost house and car keys in the road, and bothered to turn them in to the local library, seeing a small library tag on the ring, in the off chance they could locate me, thus ending my hours of frantic search. I don't think I'm being Pollyanna when I say, we need some good news, and the good news is that this side of human nature is still alive and well and manifesting in the millions, and in fact making its voice heard louder and clearer in the wilderness, in innumerable ways and innumerable forms, starting with the man on the street (literally) and spreading its way across the world in so many ways.
What can we do? We can will our time, money and attention towards this, this quality in human nature, in our own natures, in these institutions, and the untold and unsung millions working for the greater good. Thus, we and our children may yet see the time when the phoenix rises from the ashes. So, do take that thought into your day with your morning coffee. Where there's a will, we may still find the way.