2013 Hostetter DeFries Presentations by Former Norwegian AmbassadorPosted by Paula Paine on March 18, 2014 in "Academic Programs, Alumni, Community, Events", "Arts of School Sciences", "The College", "Your OU"
Diplomacy - What is it and Who Needs it?Presentation made by former Norwegian Ambassador Arman Aardal during the 2013 Hostetter-DeFries Endowed Cultural Event on November 20. (To view a video of the presentation, click here.)
Hello and good evening, I am delighted to be with you this evening. My name is Arman Aardal. I am a Norwegian diplomat and an OU graduate. I will speak to you about diplomacy – what it is and who needs it. I hope you will find the evening worth your time.
To begin with I want to express my joy at being back at OU and in this beautiful chapel, where my wife and I were married some years ago (yes, dear, I do remember it and the date!). And I want to pay tribute to some very special people. They may not be known to all of you, but they are all special OU people.
If it were not for Stanley and Alice Jo DeFries, I would not be here at all. They encouraged me to come to the US and study and they were instrumental in me coming to Ottawa. If it were not for Carl and Louise Gangwish, whom my wife and I visited last weekend, I would not have been able to continue at OU. Imagine - Carl paid me to be his farm hand - I had no clue of what I was supposed to do and what I was doing – and still don’t, at a farm that is. Jim and Dottie McCrossen were mentors and role models. Reverend McCcrossen was pastor at First Baptist and OU chaplain. When I attended church there, I used to sit behind a pillar in the balcony so he would not see me and make me a subject in his sermon. And - I have tried to forgive him for his deficient sense of humor. The late Dr Averyt, who was the head of the political science department then, could deserve a whole talk by itself. If it had not been for him harassing me for several hours in the student union – those of you who knew him know exactly what I mean – I would have been in that car crash with my good friend Jerry Campbell and his fiancé and not here today. I also want to pay tribute to the late professor Shumway and Dr Billick – splendid teachers and mentors. Dr Angell, who was dean of students, also deserves my thanks for giving in to Averyt’s bugging him and letting me carrying that overload of credits in the summer semester which enabled me to finish school early. And – Dr Mckenzie who asked me how I was, when I was at the point of quitting for lack of funds, and still had not learned that “how are you” is not an invitation to tell people how you are. Well, I told him the truth and he saw to it that I received a Rotary scholarship which kept me in school. And finally - Jim and Carol Springfield who opened their hearts and home and let me stay with them during my studies at Georgetown.
That was more than forty years ago. To illustrate how long ago this was, I would like Lucky, Paula, Jimmy and Karla to stand up….Look at them, they were just little kids back then!
In the years since, I have travelled a lot, experienced much and, hopefully, learned a thing or two, and perhaps become wiser. The King of Norway once said that people told him that wisdom comes with age, but that his experience was that age often comes alone!
It was an honor for me to be invited to speak here today. My wife and I arrived safely a few days ago. I was not so sure that our luggage would arrive with us, when in transit at the Copenhagen airport I saw a sign by a ticket office that said “we take care of your bags and send them in all directions!”
Language is indeed difficult, but a wonderful tool of communication when used and understood correctly. I hope that will be apparent from my talk. I will speak about diplomacy in some general terms, but also based on my personal experience through more than 30 years in the Foreign service of Norway, including as ambassador to Eritrea – that small country on the western shores of the Red Sea, north of Ethiopia and south of Sudan.
Perhaps this quote by president Kennedy sums up what diplomacy is all about:
Our problems are man-made. Therefore, they can be solved by man. And man can be as big as he wants. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings. Man’s reason and spirit have often solved the seemingly unsolvable – and we believe they can do it again.”
Diplomacy is a very important tool in our common efforts towards peace between and within nations. The aim of my presentation this evening is to show that diplomacy is needed, more than ever, and maybe especially by the Western countries, and that it can work – that it requires a long term perspective, ability to listen, humility, almost endless patience, respect for other people and their culture and views, and, most of all, hard work. And I hope to to be able to demonstrate to you that it is not just talk. There is a popular song by Eric Hutchinson called “Talk is cheap”, which is hitting the radio waves these days. Listen to these lines from that song:
“Lately I’m tired of politics and listening to the never ending arguments that just stall And that is what we do, we just talk. And the chorus goes: I’ll go by what you do, cause talk is cheap.”
There is a perception, I think, that talk is all that diplomats do. The more charitable definitions of a diplomat and his or her work are: “A diplomat is a person who can tell you where to go (not to a pleasant place) in such a way that you look forward to the trip, and that he or she is an honest person sent abroad to lie for his or her country.” I admit to being guilty at times of the first, but, hopefully, not of the second. And I often smile at how the former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan defined diplomacy as the art of letting them have it your way!
Another popular misconception is that all diplomats do is to attend cocktail parties, and that they are useless – the parties that is. I have to say that I rather enjoy them! Not for the drinks and food – both of which can be really lousy – but for the networking arenas that they are. When I was a young diplomat in Kenya, my first posting abroad, and never had attended such a function, my first ambassador taught me what they are, how they work and how to utilize them. That knowledge has been a goldmine for me ever since. If you had waited for days and perhaps weeks to see the Kenyan Foreign Minister, you could be certain that he would be at the British embassy when they celebrated Queen Elizabeth’s birthday! So then you seek him out and you accomplish what you could not do the “office way.” And the minister, Robert Ouko, who became a friend and an invaluable guide to understanding Kenya, once said to me. “I see you at so many of these functions, Arman, and you seem to enjoy them!” So much for people thinking that being a diplomat must be boring!
There is nothing mystical or magical about diplomacy. It is the art of finding peaceful solutions to seemingly unsolvable problems or challenges. In my mind, there is no solution to the conflicts between Israelis and Arabs but a peaceful one. That means talking, and more importantly, listening.
Here I want to mention and explain the concept of deniability, and show how useful it can be. At the time when it was not politically accepted in Western countries to have any contact with the Palestinian leadership – to say nothing of even mentioning that such an entity/people existed – journalists were often asking Western leaders if they could confirm that they did not have any contact with, or were speaking to anyone remotely connected to the Palestinian issue. They would answer “we have no contact”, in a very straightforward way. Then some would later criticize such contact. Norway has had contact with the Palestinian leadership for several decades, and we talk to everybody, especially our friends. The knowledge and information we gained was useful for many Western leaders.
Diplomacy means being able to understand and respect the other person’s point of view, to be patient, be courageous and visionary, steadfast and not letting the mistakes of the past become hindrances for the future. Talking, especially to your perceived enemies, is by many taken to be a sign of weakness. I venture to say that it is a sign of strength and courage. As Gandhi said “the weak cannot forgive; only the strong can”. Diplomacy can also be called, as did former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, soft power. She saw the need for increased focus on and use of that kind of power, realizing the limited positive and long term effects of hard power. It is very hard to convince people of the need for democracy and respect for all human freedoms and rights, while at the same time hitting them with hard power.
It is amazing that diplomacy/soft power sometimes is perceived to be seen as being novel. It is not, it goes way back in our history, to biblical times and beyond. Maybe it is because it has been so little used? So why should we talk with people whom we perceive to be enemies? Well, we don’t – and here I hasten to add normally - need to make peace with our friends. What we do so often in the Western countries is loose friends and influence people - negatively, instead of the opposite. I believe there is a saying among the Sioux nation that you should not criticize your fellow being until you have walked a few miles in his moccasins. Which means that you need to understand where the other person is coming from. That requires listening – something we in the west are not so good at. We like to tell others what to do. And often times, we seem to have a hard time learning from our mistakes. Such learning requires humility, insight and patience, qualities which often seem in short supply these days.
I often think about the conflicts that we hear so much about, and about what the future will bring. Let me mention Afghanistan as an example. What will the situation be when western forces withdraw from that country. I wonder how it could have been had we spent more time building trust, understanding their values and culture, and helping them build robust institutions and sustainable development. That is, in a very real sense, not just talking. The criticism we often hear now regarding that situation and others, is that diplomacy has failed. Once that has been pronounced by some authority, it seemingly is accepted by “all” – having worked two years in the media I am always a bit skeptical as to who defines who “all” is or who is an “expert” in a particular field. As Winston Churchill would say, when he was presented with some news or information during the difficult war years, “my friend, consider the source.”
Little effort seems to be devoted to studying why diplomacy has failed. In my opinion, it is because it was not used properly in the first place, and so often used too late, sort of as a last resort. It is like now everything else has failed, so let us try diplomacy. We in the west have not spent enough time trying to understand the world around us. It is just in recent years that we have started to recruit social anthropologists and persons from other “non political” fields of study into our diplomatic services. I have seen a big change in my own country in this respect. When I started out, mastering one foreign language, most often English, was considered good enough. Well, it is not any more. Among my young colleagues there are many who are fluent in French, Spanish, Arabic, Russian, Chinese and other world languages. To be able to understand a country and its people and culture, you need to know their language. I am convinced that the emphasis on soft power will mean increased attention to these factors.
So, with your permission, I want to be a bit more personal. I represent a small country, and at the outset, I would like to get rid of one myth: “Small, in the context of diplomacy, is most certainly not beautiful!” It is often interesting, and always challenging, frustrating and thankless. I will try to explain. Representing a small country, not a member of the European Union, and fiercely independent, not perceived as a threat by anybody and with no agendas – except a very open one, namely a fervent desire for peace – provides us some space for maneuvering and thinking outside the box that others may not have.
Being ambassador to Eritrea was by far the most challenging assignment in my whole career, and also the most interesting one. Having assisted the Eritreans with humanitarian supplies – food, blankets, medicines, surgical equipment and not least important, school books and equipment – during their 30 year freedom struggle with Ethiopa, and being able to maintain friendships and credibility in Ethiopia as well, put us in a unique position with access to the highest levels of government in both places. The responsibility that that entailed, weighed heavily on me every day.
Both countries knew that we were talking to the other, and we kept them informed, while not telling them all we knew and how we got to know it. Transparency is a must in order to build trust. So obvious, and yet so difficult. The President of Eritrea’s most trusted adviser was my regular contact. He would sometimes say; Arman, you guys talk to the Americans. Message: here is something you can tell them. My response? Yes, we have this habit, unnerving to some, that we talk to everybody, we even talk to you. Message: transparency and you might consider the cost of us talking to you vis-à-vis some friends who do not like that we do. The kick in the shin was a side-effect (or should I say side benefit and pay back for all the gruff I received…). It was pointed banter with a clear message.
So what did we do with the message? It might go like this – and often did: a colleague of mine at our Mission to the United Nations in New York might inform a US colleague that our Deputy Foreign Minister (or Deputy Secretary in the US), would be in New York in a couple of weeks, to have talks on issues of mutual concern and interest (not saying exactly to whom). Then his US colleague might come back in a few days and say…since your Deputy Foreign Minister will be in NY anyway, would it be possible for him to travel to Washington and meet his colleague at the state department? Answer: that might be possible (you don’t want to appear too anxious). Why don’t you suggest a date and time. Of course, he would travel and meet his colleague. He, or she at that time, would say that you have a very well informed ambassador in Eritrea, and my boss would of course agree! In that way, the US government would get useful information which they might not otherwise have received. People on the ground beats relying solely on modern technology. What was done with the information is another matter…
Sometimes I wish that the speed of communication were a bit slower than it is today. It is difficult to digest all of it when it is transmitted “instantly”. There could be a middle way between this and the situation during Thomas Jefferson’s times. He had not heard from his envoy to Spain for two years. When his assistant asked him what they should do about it, Jefferson answered:”well, if I don’t hear from him next year, I will have to write him a letter”!
Later, when I read some of the reports from the US ambassador in Eritrea in Wikkileaks, I was grateful for my name not being mentioned; just very well informed sources in Asmara were cited. If my reports to my government had been leaked, my time of service there might have been over; my usefulness certainly would have been. The Oslo process in the 1990’s – by which the Israelis and Palestinians were brought together face to face for the first time – was carried out in deep secrecy, and would have been doomed from day one had it been known.
I had only been in Eritrea a few days when I realized that it was very different from any other African country I knew. I realized quickly the need to use the basic tools of diplomacy; to understand the culture, traditions and way of communication, and that this would determine whether doors would be open or closed. The “round about” way of seeking information- how is the family, how is life back in your village, how are the crops there etc – which had worked well in Kenya, would not work there. A government minister would receive me early in the morning – they were at their desks at 7:00 am or earlier – ask me if I wanted some tea or coffee, and then ask what was on my mind. That was early morning direct talk which left no opening for chit chat. And I learned just as quickly that I always had to be 100 per cent prepared. One misstep and you were in deep trouble. I decided that I had better listen before I talked, and I followed that plan. That caught the ear of the president. I hear, he told his advisers, that the Norwegian representative here listens a lot. I like that, he said. I am convinced that that laid the groundwork for my work there.
I worked hard at seeking out people and information. One sure way of finding it was spending time with the front office managers (in the old days they were called secretaries – so we have made some progress…). I asked many questions and gradually learned a lot about them, their families and their work. One day I walked out of the office of the adviser I just referred to, and slumped down in the chair in the front office. Frustrated, I told her (it is still very often her in that part of the world) that I did not know why I kept coming there, and banging my head against the wall – figuratively speaking. Where are the signs that someone is listening, I said. Well, Arman, she said, as soon as you leave he jumps in his car and takes off. I asked to where? To the president, she said. Talking about what, I queried. About your visit of course, she replied. That gave me hope that some of it would make a difference. Above all, it encouraged me to not give up.
Since we had this access, much of my time was spent briefing colleagues – European and others, even the Chinese ambassador. Imagine that I knew more than he did about what was going on! But then again, maybe I did not. My European colleagues would invite me to their weekly meetings and say thank you when I was supposed to leave, not having received much information in return. So then maybe I did not tell them everything I knew.
Sometimes I had to release my frustrations and the target would be my wife. She, wise as she is, would tell me that it was not my responsibility what they did or did not do ( mostly the latter I felt); my responsibility was to carry on and work as hard as I could, stay focused and determined (sounds better than stubborn doesn’t it?!). So I listened to her and kept on. You know what the late Danish-American comedian Victor Borge used to say…bear with me, nobody is perfect….. except my wife…sometimes…).
So I pose the question if more active and focused diplomacy could make a difference in the world today? I firmly believe so. When you talk, you do not fight. When you listen you may learn to appreciate the other’s person’s point of view and perspectives. And realize that we understand so little, and that we need to be more mindful of and sensitive to the underlying causes of conflict. I hope that in my service I have contributed in some small way to that.
I want to leave you with two quotes which I find very appropriate and true:
“For it isn’t enough to talk about peace. One must believe in it. And it isn’t enough to believe in it. One must work at it.” (Eleanor Roosevelt). And:
“One day we must come to see that peace is not merely a distant goal we seek, but that it is a means by which we arrive at that goal. We must pursue peaceful ends through peaceful means.” (Dr Martin Luther King Jr.)
Thank you for your kind attention.
We Can All Make a Difference
Presentation made by former Norwegian Ambassador Arman Aardal during the 2013 Hostetter-DeFries Endowed Cultural Event on November 20. (To view a video of the presentation, click here.)
Hello and good morning,
My name is Arman Aardal. I am a Norwegian diplomat and an OU graduate. I am here to tell you that we can all make a difference – small or large, for one person or for many.
It is a pleasure being here in this beautiful chapel, where my wife and I were married some forty years ago. Much has happened in those years. I have met some extraordinary people who have made a difference at the global level – and in my life.
My presentation will be brief, and you will have an opportunity to ask questions afterwards. I cannot promise that I will be as brief as president Calvin Coolidge was. He was indeed a man of few words, and so much so that he earned the nickname silent Cal. One Sunday he returned from church and his wife, who had not joined him at church, asked many questions. How was the service? Fine, he answered. Were there many people there, she continued. Yes. How was the sermon? Good. What did he preach about? Sin. What did he say about it? He was against it! When he was criticized for always being so silent, he answered that “when I say just no or sometimes just yes, even that gets people worked up for more than twenty minutes!”
We have all heard it being said that it does not matter what one individual does – that it does not make a difference. That this or that problem, or better put, challenge, cannot be overcome or solved by one individual.
Then consider for a moment what people like Gandhi meant for the peaceful dissolution of the British Empire and rule over India, and for the struggle for freedom and dignity in what we now call developing countries.
Or consider the person of Jesus Christ. Whether you believe in Him or not, there is no denying the impact of his life and teachings through the centuries. A revolutionary at the time – and perhaps he would have been one today as well. His influence? Well, we are now in the year 2013 after his birth.
Or – Winston Churchill, who kept the flame of hope alive in the people of Great Britain and Europe – some would say almost singlehandedly in the darkest days and hours during World War II – when there seemed to be no hope or future. His stirring speeches have become legendary. “We shall fight……and we shall never surrender” – the phrases resonated throughout the world. He confronted the forces of evil and the enormous challenges head on. There were some overriding principles that he was not willing to sacrifice, no matter the costs. Then some people have tried to belittle him and his contribution by saying that he was not a saint, and proceed to enumerate his faults. Well, my experience is that very few people are saints.
One could argue that Churchill only did what was his job to do. After all, he was the elected leader of the nation. That is true, but then consider what a difference his vigor, his unflailing belief in and defense of democracy and human freedom, made.
Then consider some giants from you own history, Abraham Lincoln for one. His Gettisburg address – some 270 words and lasting less than three minutes – which changed the course and outcome of the Civil War. A giant defender of important principles and freedoms. Another, president Roosevelt, and his fight for freedom around the world, and his efforts towards establishing peaceful post-war relations through the United Nations. And the struggle to bring America out of recession and despair. Not a saint, but a human being who saw the challenges and rose to the occasion.
And some examples from our recent history. President Kennedy. He stood fast when the world was at the brink of nuclear catastrophe, and no peaceful solutions seemed in sight. The Soviet Union had placed missiles in Cuba. President Kennedy faced a well armed enemy with the powerful arsenal of human determination and dignity. I remember those days in October 1962 so well; how afraid we were and the tremendous relief and gratefulness for America standing up for us all.
Another person who made a profound impact on the course of history is Dr Martin Luther King. He is remembered and revered around the world. Many schools, as far away as Norway, celebrate Martin Luther King day every year. What a peacemaker – I would say in the league with Ghandi and Nelson Mandela. One could argue that Mandela singlehandedly saved the nation of South Africa from an almost certain bloodbath, by coming out of 27 years of confinement preaching peace, forgiveness and reconciliation. Not a saint – but a very humble person and an extraordinary human being.
Now I want to tell you about some other remarkable people.The first, Cato Zahl Pedersen, is an icon and a role model for many people, not just the physically challenged, and not just in Norway but in many other countries as well. He has no arms and yet won gold medals in swimming in Paralympics, would you believe in breast stroke! He decided that he wanted to ski across the Antarctica to the South Pole. That meant pulling a sled of more than 200 pounds. A special harness was made for him, which he could pull with his chest muscles. He was accompanied by two friends. They were not to help him unless his life was in danger. After 52 days he and his comrades reached the South Pole, exhausted but very proud. When he returned to Norway, his first interview on TV was quite remarkable. He was asked why he had done it, and the person interviewing him must have communicated by his body language that he thought it was a stupid thing to have done.
Cato said that he did it to prove to all people, not just the physically challenged, that the barriers are in our minds. And, he continued turning to the person interviewing him, my handicap is there for all to see. I am certain that you also have things in your life which hinders you and are barriers at times. But, he said, you are lucky, because your handicaps cannot be seen, while mine are so visible. Guess who came out on top from that interview…
I was given the privilege of being the only diplomat in Eritrea who was able to visit the war veterans from two long and bloody wars between Eritrea and Ethiopia. Their barracks and conditions were awful. I saw women and men with no legs and faces scarred beyond recognition. Their wheelchairs were held together with wires and rubber. Their empty eyes stared at nothing. I was asked to speak to them, and I almost panicked. I felt so helpless: what could I possibly tell them to give them some hope amidst apparent hopelessness?
Then I remembered Cato and decided to tell them the story about him. When I finished, I saw some smiles and small signs of hope in their faces. Later I would see them in the streets of Asmara, pulling themselves in their wheelchairs with ski poles. They waved at me. I rolled down the window and they shouted: “ Mr Arman, Mr Cato”, and then they would smile. I waved and smiled back. Then I went home and cried. I told myself never ever to think that there is nothing one can do when faced with something seemingly hopeless.
When I was posted to our embassy in Kenya in the 1990’s I got to know a remarkable woman – Wangari Maathai. She was not known around the world then, but she certainly became known globally when she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004. She started a tree planting movement – called the Green Belt Movement – where rural women organized in cooperatives and started planting trees all over Kenya. To this day, more than 50 million trees have been planted. The organization was about more than planting trees. The women were also taught about their freedoms and rights as individuals. That was when things started to heat up. The government soon realized that she was a threat and started to harass her.
In my meetings with her I quickly realized that I was in the presence of a charismatic powerhouse of a woman. (Victoria – where are you – you read her biography, “Unbowed”. I am sure you understand what I mean).
Her remarkable courage was almost unbelievable. We became friends and I decided to keep an eye on her. I attended her press conferences, where she conveyed her message of encouragement and hope to her follow citizens and to the world, and indeed showed that she was still alive. I stood in the back, with my sun glasses, and thought I was invisible. Far from it! She would see me, smile and realize that her “insurance policy” was there to keep watch and report. That is what she sometimes called me; she knew that if something happened to her, the news would spread like wildfire, from me and others. And her enemies would at all times be reminded, if they should need to be, of the potential costs and damages to them should something happen to her.
The harassment increased, and on one occasion she was beaten and tear gassed. She ended up in hospital, and her enemies might have thought that she was finished. She was beaten and bruised all right, but far from defeated. I decided to visit her, fully realizing the risk I was taking and what the consequences could be – expelled by the government and my career in ruins. She was in her bed, supported by pillows, working on a statement to the press. She was in such pain and shaking so badly, that she could hardly hold the pen. On top of the page she had written the following letters:GUINAO. I asked her what they meant, and she said I had to promise to live by them the rest of my life. It was almost as if she was giving me a farewell message. It means, she says, that giving up is not an option ! After a while I said good bye, and we both agreed that one day justice would be done.
Imagine my joy when I heard the news that she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize! The world had recognized a giant defender of human rights, and not only women’s rights, in Africa and all over the world. Her untimely death two years ago was so sad. I will always remember her, and her charge to me that day in the hospital. I am proud to have known her and been her friend.
What an amazing journey for a young woman from Kenya. She began her studies on a US sponsored scholarship at Mount St. Scholastica College in Atchinson, Kansas, and ended as a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and much more.
Consider the 16 year old Malala Yousefzai from Pakistan. Shot by Taliban for standing up for girls education, but very much alive and active, and known all over the world. These were her words when she spoke to several hundred young people at the United Nations in New York earlier this fall:
“One child, one teacher, one book, one pen…can change the world. And…our top priority should be to educate the next generation… and Taliban can kill me but not the cause”. Imagine, she wrote a blog for BBC when she was only 11 years old. She did a documentary and interviews with world media already at that age. Now she is living in Great Britain with her family. She is busy studying or empowering herself, as she says, and preparing for a future, which might include a role in her home country. That may be some time off. When asked whether she would want to become prime minister there someday, her answer was a firm YES!
In an interview on Norwegian television her father was asked what he had done to raise such an extraordinary young woman. He said why don’t you ask me what I did not do. I did not clip her wings – I let her fly!
You might say “but I am no Gandhi, King or Wangari Maathai. I am just a regular college student. So how can you make a difference? By being involved in what is happening around you – at this university, in your circle of friends, in your church, in your community and in your nation. By caring, and not accepting injustice and unfairness done to other people. It seems so easy these days not to care because we think it does not concern us. By being alert, and curious. Ask hundreds of questions. When someone says something cannot be done, then ask them to give you examples of why they think so, and then challenge them with ideas to the contrary.
Remember the words of Robert Kennedy: “Some people see things as they are and ask why. I see things that might be and ask why not.” And be humble – and kind. When the late Speaker of the House of Representatives, Tip O’Neill, told his father of his election to this prestigious post, his father said: “It is nice to be important, but more important to be nice.”
It is so easy these days to organize through social media and send a message which reaches the ends of the world in seconds.
You may have heard of the tragedy in Norway in July 2011, where one individual bombed the government headquarters and killed 77 people, including 69 young people at a summer camp outside the capital of Oslo. In the hours that followed, we feared that the streets would be filled with screams for revenge and of hatred. Quite the opposite, the streets quickly turned into a rose garden. People placed roses and flowers everywhere. A young woman posted the following message on Facebook: “When one individual can harbor so much hate, imagine how much love we all can muster.” She invited others to join her for a parade of roses in Oslo. In a matter of hours, a peaceful march of more than 200 000 people, each waving a rose, brought the capital to a standstill. The powerful message spread to all corners of the world, and it set the tone for the government response to this terrible tragedy.
Another example of the power of grass root organizing these days, is a friend of my wife and I, an amazing woman, professor Polly Higgins. Once a very successful corporate lawyer in London, she is now a world campaigner for protecting Mother Earth and taking to task those who seem bent on destroying it. Her global initiative is called Eradicating Ecocide. Another example is the “Idle no more” initiative among the First Nation community in Canada, where one person, Clayton Thomas-Mueller, stood up for the need to protect Nature and their rights. Now the initiative started by one individual is spreading to all corners of the world.
I want to quote what professor Higgings says: “Dare to stand up and speak out. We get to determine what the future is. Engage in the big questions of our time, not the ones we already know the answers to. Instead of learning lots of answers, learn to ask questions – big ones that make a difference. Ask how can I make this world a better place. And once you find the answer, go make it happen.” What a contrast – her great uncle Pattillo Higgins, was an oil pioneer in Texas.
Keep learning new things about the world – history, language and culture. I am confident that the motto of the Elliot School of International Affairs at George Washington University – namely “Inspired by leaders of the past – educating leaders of the future – also holds true at this fine university – my Alma Mater.
I want to leave you with a poem which was given to me by an Indian general, the commander of the United Nations peacekeeping forces in Eritrea. During my time there, I became frustrated and at times felt like giving up. Then I remembered the words:
When things go wrong, as they sometimes will,
When the road you’re trudging seems all up hill,
When the funds are low and the debts are high
When you want to smile, but you have to sigh,
When care is pressing you down a bit,
Rest, if you must, but don’t you quit.
Life is queer with its twists and turns,
As everyone of us sometimes learns,
And many a fellow turns about
When he might have won had he stuck it out;
So don’t give up though the pace seems slow—
You may succeed with another blow.
Success is failure turned inside out—
The silver tint of the clouds of doubt,
And you never can tell how close you are.
It may be near when it seems so far.
So stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit—
It’s when things seem worst that you mustn’t quit.
God’s speed on your journeys into an exciting, promising and challenging future. Thank you for your kind attention.