Those Hazy, Crazy Days of UN Summer:  Coaching our Common Future, Dr. Robert Zuber

12 Jun

This is perhaps my favorite time of year at the UN.  The days are long which make it possible to work hard and still find time for summer recreation. The pace of policy is furious, from the protection of civilians in conflict and the rights of persons with disabilities to eliminating illicit arms flows and securing adequate housing for the world’s homeless.  Moreover, during this season ours and other offices are filled with the eager and sometimes bewildered faces of younger people seeking a place at an overflowing (if sometimes undercooked) UN banquet.

Some of these young people have come to us before, but come they do year round with great talents, high hopes, and strong and direct links to cultures and communities far from New York – Cameroon and El Salvador, Afghanistan and France, Korea and Nigeria. They make their way here through word of mouth, to renew previous positive experiences, or through affiliations such as the Bard Globalization and International Affairs program.

They also represent diverse professional backgrounds, from journalism to engineering.   Some come to refresh their passion, others to find it.   But all understand the perils of the times and all seek to find ways to be more than spectators to the grand and sometimes horrific events that will shape their lives beyond personal technology, wedding vows and alma maters.

They are remarkable, each in their own way, and each in ways at least somewhat different than they have been defined by families and schools.   They share what they know with each other. They embrace values of attentiveness and hospitality. They are kind to security guards and café staff.  They accept the profound and almost unimaginable intellectual challenge of wrapping their heads around a system as complex and bewildering as the UN tends to be.

They are collectively more than we have the capacity to handle, and less than we have the responsibility to nurture and befriend.   We can’t do enough for them, but we try to do enough with them.

To be with this diverse group of people is to stare an uncertain future squarely in the eye.   How, they ask, can we care for ourselves and the world?   How do we fulfill the expectations of families and teachers and at the same time respond to urgent needs and circumstances that they have come to know in so many UN conference rooms?

The UN as many of you know does much with youth, a term which it loosely defines and which tends to prioritize packing large and enthusiastic rooms rather than inspiring deep personal connection.  Though we admire settings where large numbers of youth gather to communicate a common conviction, Global Action doesn’t have what it takes to pack a room.  But we can and will do more to keep personal connections alive, to help establish both the passion and the capacity to sustain the long journey towards a sustainable peace and planetary healing.

I often say to our colleagues that “it’s your turn now.”   I’ve had my turn.  My generation has had its turn.  We’re still in the game, but hopefully more as coaches than as competitors.   Whether we like it or not, our time on the pitch is running out.  Essentially, we’re now on “stoppage time.” It’s a younger persons’ game, summer or not.

And so this week a group of talented and eager people will fan out across the system – to treaty bodies and Security Council briefings, to elections in the General Assembly and discussions on sustainable development priorities in the Economic and Social Council; even to negotiations on transitioning non-self-governing territories (yes, they still exist).

And they will move through the building with kind and attentive looks on their faces, deeply concerned about the contents of their future — the impacts of migration, deadly droughts, and mass shootings — but also grateful for the opportunity to, in whatever way they are able, push the world in a more hopeful direction.

Last Friday, one of our younger colleagues from Georgia Tech University penned a blogpost in which she (as a soon-to-be engineer) shared her UN experiences and made a case for why people from careers far beyond the domain of international affairs should spend time in UN conference rooms.   Cathy (Xin) confessed to “haziness” and frustration in those “crazy” policy rooms, to be sure, but also lauded the means to stretch minds and extend worldviews, to see a bigger picture together with the many constituent parts that must function in sync if we are to survive this current, treacherous moment.

Of course, we at Global Action wish for far less global heartbreak, and we will do whatever we can while we’re here to clarify and then ease any complex policy transitions.   But in this challenging race, the current leadership has run about as far and fast as we can.  At least from our perspective, it’s probably time to pass the baton and then spend whatever energy we have left coaching the runners from the infield.

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