Archive | October, 2018

Thin Ice: Coping with the Planet’s Many Demons, Dr. Robert Zuber

28 Oct

Societies in decline have no use for visionaries.  Anais Nin

Civilized people don’t put on airs; they behave in the street as they would at home. Anton Chekov

When humor goes, there goes civilization.  Erma Bombeck

One person’s ‘barbarian’ is another person’s ‘just doing what everybody else is doing.’  Susan Sontag

We are made to be crazy by other people who are also crazy and who draw for us a map of the world which is ugly, negative, fearful, and crazy. Jack Forbes

This piece is dedicated to the memory of the former Ambassador of Palau to the United Nations, Dr. Caleb Otto.  Dr. Otto was a man of integrity and faith, a gentle soul who understood the frailties and limitations of the human condition but who continued to nudge us in the directions of sanity, integrity and health.  He was one of the best diplomatic friends that Global Action has ever had.

I have been sitting and listening to a press conference by some of the officers who had the unfortunate assignment of responding to the carnage from yesterday’s shooting in a Pittsburgh synagogue.  The shooting, predictably, captured a news cycle that had been dominated earlier this week by the mailing of suspicious packages to political opponents of the US president.

It has been a week when what seems as the last, thin layer of wrap which we foolishly believed would keep our demons “in their place” has finally been peeled away.   And now we are experiencing the normative version of a jailbreak – angry, isolated, weaponized people seizing the recently-granted permission to take their long-shunned and often-ridiculed values and ideas into the streets, into our synagogues and mailboxes, into our schools and statehouses.

Despite protests from senior government officials seeking to brush off any implications of responsibility, we have clearly failed the collective culpability test.  Our leaders have taken refuge in a strategy that is sadly all too familiar to the rest of us – cope with anxiety and remorse by pushing blame as far away from ourselves as possible.  It’s never my fault.  I have nothing to apologize for.  It’s them, over there.

As evil genies circle around us like vultures feeding on souls instead of carrion, we have blithely forgotten that a “civilized” response takes into account what our words and actions permit, and not only what we ourselves do.   And what we now permit has crossed the line from appalling to numbing: the shooting that stole the home page from the suspicious packages, that in turn stole the front page from the “caravan” of Latin American people we allegedly “don’t want,” that had stolen the radio news headlines from the butchery of the journalist Khashoggi or the children already forcibly separated from desperately anxious parents.

There is a lot of anger in my country — and not my country alone — but also an epidemic of deep restlessness at our apparent decline alongside what a dear friend has called “preventable sadness.”   We claim over and over to be “better than this,” but it is no longer clear what the “better” entails, what the benchmarks are for civilized living in these times.  We have lost both our focus and our sense of humor.  We justify patterns of concern that are deliberately circumscribed and often self-interested.  We shout out the part of the “truth” that serves our own agendas rather than speak the truth that might better serve the general interest. More and more of us have retreated into private conversations and deepening skepticism guaranteeing that we remain out of the fray, beyond the prospect of direct accountability, ducking the demons as it were rather than daring them to a proper wrestling match.

For those of you who regularly read this post, this is surely beginning to sound like an Advent message rather than a UN reflection.  But it is a UN reflection as well.   As the suspicious packages were being delivered and the Pittsburgh gunman was readying himself to “go in,” the Security Council was struggling with its current “big three” responsibilities – Syria, Myanmar and Yemen.   Each deserves a lengthier dissection than I could test your patience with here, but each also demonstrated some of the limitations and self-deceptions of the times, the way in which issues are maneuvered to conform to national interest and allegedly help to keep everyone “blameless.”

And despite the fact so much of the credibility (and even fiscal viability) of the UN is tied up with the success of the Security Council in these three and other areas of security concern, it remains challenging at times for observers such as ourselves to find kernels of hopefulness amidst the avalanche of tepid policy commitments or half-hearted acknowledgments of responsibility.   The three contexts are different of course:  In Syria the government is now (predictably) balking at a formal UN role in forming a Constitutional Committee.  In Myanmar, the Council struggles with if/how to ensure accountability for state abuses while guaranteeing safe and voluntary return for the staggering number of refugees that have too-long been under Bangladesh’s care.  In Yemen, in many ways the most frustrating of the three crises, governments continue to wring their hands over the staggering humanitarian crisis while refusing to publicly acknowledge the massive arms sales to Saudi Arabia that have thus brought Yemen to the brink of a desperate famine that simply cannot be justified by geo-political references to curbing the regional influence of Iran.

It is not all negative and disingenuous of course.   The UK and France made passionate statements this week on why the UN must play a major role in a sustainable peace for Syria. Bolivia and others continue to remind Council members of mistakes previously made as well as new factors (such as shrinking water access) that influence current security crises.  And the Netherlands raised its voice after a deeply disturbing Yemen briefing to remind Council colleagues that, as essential as humanitarian relief is, their primary task is to end the conflict, to stop the bombing and its violent retaliations.

Nevertheless, it is interesting and often unsettling to watch the ways in which the deep anxiety of these times is affecting Council members and other UN entities in much the same way that it is affecting the rest of us. We’ve collectively become downright prickly and hyper-sensitive, dismissing any and all criticism of our values or directions, but in a larger policy sense reacting to the shrinking spaces for free expression and the application of human rights law by pointing to and attacking only the demons outside ourselves, the ones who allegedly threaten and annoy us, but also the ones who blockade and occupy, who carve up adversaries and rob children of their futures.

But there are plenty of candidates for fits of barbarism now, plenty of leaders and citizens willing to get in lockstep with the worst of our impulses, justifying our own bad behavior by the bad behavior of others.  Our racism, their greed.  Our violence, their indifference. Our interference, their aggression.  And so it goes.  And goes again.

As the late Ambassador Otto would clearly have recognized, we have let so many evil genies out of their bottles in recent times and given them such permission to swirl and confuse that we must no longer delude ourselves – in our living rooms or our policy centers – that we are exempt from the evils we say we contend against.  If we really are “better than this,” then our task now is to define anew that “better,” make sure it’s benefits are available to all, and commit to the struggle to keep our baser instincts at bay.

But the ice we skate on now is still too thin. The “map” towards our human future that we have currently been drawing is, indeed, too ugly, fearful and crazy.  It is past time for all to revoke the permission we have recently lavished on our lesser selves and envision another map that can help us define a higher and more honest calling as prelude to a kinder and more sustainable global path.

Storm Center: The Bookend Messes Defining Modern Armed Conflict, Dr. Robert Zuber

21 Oct



What we are doing to the forests of the world is but a mirror reflection of what we are doing to ourselves and to one another.  Chris Maser

What is the use of a house if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on?  Henry David Thoreau

We’re in a giant car heading towards a brick wall and everyone’s arguing over where they’re going to sit. David Suzuki

Who would want to live in a world which is just-not-quite fatal?  Rachel Carson

Why do they never tell us that you are poor devils like us, that your mothers are just as anxious as ours, and that we have the same fear of death, and the same dying and the same agony–Forgive me; how could you be my enemy?  Erich Maria Remarque

One of the welcome aspects of our work is watching the peace and security agenda expand beyond specific weapons systems and country-specific conflict configurations to examine the spectrum of causes and consequences that bracket the horrors of armed violence.

This is no mere academic exercise.  As we have noted often and colleagues of ours have more recently been emboldened to acknowledge, our task in this policy space is not manage armed conflict, not to soften its often horrific impacts, but ultimately to eliminate it.  This objective may well be the stuff of some fantasy-induced misinterpretation of the human condition – based on an assumption that human beings are actually capable of walking back from the brink of ruin, that we are capable of loving this planet as much as we love our aspirations and aggressions on it — but such is the lot we’ve chosen.

And this lot requires a lot – including a willingness to examine both causes and consequences, to assess and profess the things that we do collectively that compel (or excuse) people to pick up arms as well as the often-devastating consequences to people and planet in conflict’s aftermath.  Indeed, if armed violence and the evermore sophisticated weaponry with which it is conducted are ever to be put to rest, those causes and consequences must be burned into our consciousness in much the same way as the health of our own child towards whom we rightly invest much practical worry, hoping to sidestep illnesses with consequences that can run the gamut from inconvenient to heartbreaking.

The bad news here is that we seem more determined in these recent days to let our predatory nature run wild, eschewing legal and legislative restraints on our acquisitive and competitive dispositions and pushing concern about a possible day of reckoning to the furthest reaches of conscious life.

The good news, though, is that there are pockets of policy resistance to this trend, states and their representatives that both seek to grasp the full complement of causes of conflict and work to highlight the consequences to future generations of “looking away,” consequences both psychological and ecological as our capacity to humiliate and destroy continues to exceed our skill in healing traumatized children and restoring denuded landscapes.

The UN was the scene this week of good faith efforts to explore both causes and consequences of conflict, focusing in this instance on environmental dimensions that attracted considerable and welcome interest.  On Tuesday, Bolivia (current president) directed the UN Security Council on a discussion of how “the control, exploitation and access to natural resources have been a catalyst for the outbreak, escalation and continuation of armed conflicts.”  In a hard-hitting concept note, Bolivia acknowledged the “multidimensional and complex” roots of conflict but also noted the long history of conflict that has been fueled by disputes over the control, exploitation and access to natural resources, highlighting “foreign interests, multinational companies, elite actors and armed groups monopolizing control over resource revenues at the expense of local citizens.”

In fairness, there have been solid international efforts to curb state corruption (through the UN Office of Drugs and Crime and other entities) and apply human rights standards to the potential exploitation of natural resources including with regard to the diversion of profits to organized crime and terror groups, and the forced labor of people fueling the supply chain in ways that mostly serves to make life more comfortable and abundant in national capitals.  Australia and other states are promoting standards that address what have been for much too long abundant violations of rights in supply chains, standards that promise better governance, fairer labor standards, reduced incentives to conflict, an end to the human trafficking and even slavery that have long stoked hostility and frustration at local level.

At the other end of this spectrum are the environmental consequences of the conflict we fail to prevent, the ruined homes and farmlands, the denuded forests and polluted water supplies, the damaged infrastructure and wasted social capital that compromise any reasonable hope of healing and restoration.   The sometimes-devastating “ecological footprint” of military activity – from basing and training to illegal occupation and full scale military assault – has long been a concern of our policy community.  And, thanks in large measure to leadership from Finland and the International Law Commission, this linkage has remained acutely in our collective policy consciousness.

This matter includes but goes beyond remnants of war that include the ongoing impact of landmines and other explosive devices whose lurking presence deters persons displaced by conflict seeking to return home and “save what’s left.”  Indeed, as armed conflict becomes more resistant to legal restraint and more destructive in its creativity and technological flexibility, its environmental and other “human security” impacts are increasingly pushing us across the threshold of remediation in all its aspects.  The displaced have less and less to “save” at home, the traumas of conflict deepen and too-often remain untreated, and more people feel that they have little choice but to turn their backs on their now-contaminated fields and domiciles-in-rubble for uncertain futures elsewhere.

In an all-day seminar this past Thursday, the “protection of the environment in relation to armed conflict” kept a small group (including my interns) riveted for hours.  This event covered environmental impacts across the conflict cycle, including the issue of establishing “liability” for conflict-related environmental harm.  Highly-qualified speakers highlighted the tools at our disposal to monitor and assess environmental degradation related to armed conflict, as well as the degree to which increasingly scarce natural resources such as water and precious minerals – a major conflict trigger in our time – might actually increase the incentive for cooperative discussions on how to manage resources fairly and effectively prior to conflict such that the potential for such conflict is effectively minimized.  And while there were calls to the international community to prepare better for the environmental impacts of climate and conflict threats, there was also a sense in the room that viable, cross-border conflict-prevention measures together with normative principles and legal mechanisms of accountability for environmental damages — including often-grave damages inflicted by occupying forces — is likely to constitute our most productive way forward.

The point of which we must constantly remind ourselves is that the misery of warfare does not end once the guns finally go silent.  No matter how we might justify recourse to armed violence in political or strategic terms, the fact remains that once the missiles fly and the bombs drop, our capacity to address already-strained human and environmental challenges diminishes significantly.  The “mess” of armed conflict perists amidst even our best, good-faith efforts to restore what we have been quick to destroy.

If the UN can continue to shine a bright light on both the environmental causes and consequences of violence, highlighting the degree to which armed conflict is and remains a major inhibitor of sustainable development and human well-being, we will be further along in our quest to create a planet fit for children and other living beings, a planet filled with people who finally and firmly grasp their diverse “contributions” to armed conflict as well as the increasingly scant prospects for healing and wholeness that follow in modern conflict’s wake.

I sometimes worry that too many of us seem resigned now to live in a world that “is not quite fatal.” It is still possible to reverse this pessimistic course, but the brick wall towards which we have been blithely hurdling looms closer than ever. We must quickly slam on the brakes, recover our enthusiasm for what can still be an exciting and abundant journey, and find a safer route to our collective destination.

Bully Pulpit:  Eliminating the Coercion we Enable, Dr. Robert Zuber

14 Oct


  Romero 4

You aren’t those words. You aren’t the shouts and names. You aren’t the awful things spat at you like flavorless gum. You aren’t the punches or the bruises they cause. You aren’t the blood running from your nose. You aren’t under their control. You are not theirs.  Salla Simukka

They could give a number of reasons for why they had to torment him; he was too fat, too ugly, too disgusting. But the real problem was simply that he existed, and every reminder of his existence was a crime. John Lindqvist

Maybe you never considered yourself a bully, a batterer or an abuser before, but maybe you are — to yourself.  Bryant McGill,

Decades ago, George Orwell suggested that the best one-word description of a Fascist was “bully.”  Madeleine Albright

Though the headline event of the UN’s week was probably the announcement that Nikki Haley will step down as US Ambassador to the UN, the six committees of the General Assembly were now fully in swing as diplomats seek to consolidate gains from High-Level discussions recently held and resolutions previously adopted, while forging new paths to address ever-evolving development and security threats to agriculture and oceans,  children and indigenous persons.

This is also a time of many side events, smaller group discussions that focus on topics important to the UN but less appropriate for larger plenary settings.  Unfortunately, these side events often take on the character of “sales meetings” as UN secretariat officials and NGOs show off their reports and their expertise, hoping to carve out a large niche for the issues they represent and, hopefully, interest those funding states in attendance in writing new (or larger) checks to support their work.

Given this “sales” dimension, too many side events are primed to miss the mark, featuring too many “authorized” voices and seemingly operating on the assumption (false in my experience) of vast gaps in expertise between the speakers and audience.  Rarely is there sufficient time for discussion despite virtually every moderators promise to host an “interactive dialogue.”  In most instances, there is barely time left over for reflection of any kind.  Everyone with relevant policy or funding incentives has seemingly pushed their way on to the agenda for the “show and tell” that most side events represent.

But every once in a while there is an event that both ticks the boxes and tickles the imagination, raising issues that are both under-represented in the UN and have broader social and policy significance, bearing implications beyond the immediate report event and its targeted implications.

Such occurred this week at the launch of Ending the Torment,  an excellent report on bullying in schoolyards and cyberspace, with a discussion moderated by the SRSG on Violence against Children Marta Santos Pais, one of the most consistently kind, thoughtful and determined of all the special representatives.  The focus on her remarks – and of the report – is on bullying, the sort we mostly associate with “mean girls and boys” taking out their frustrations and insecurities on each other and, as Pais noted, eroding trust and social cohesion in ways that breed the “social isolation” that is now a virtual epidemic among adolescents, especially in the “west.”  As the UNICEF representative to this discussion noted, too many children dread the start of school each year, not (solely) because of teachers and homework, but because of the violence, intimidation and even loneliness that is likely to punctuate their return.

Another relevant thing about bullying is its implications for so much of what goes on – often behind the scenes – in the “world of adults,” including in our multilateral institutions.   The bullying we do in this policy spaces like the UN, for instance, is perhaps more subtle than what takes place by children in schools (and requires some rather intense scrutiny of UN processes in order to expose and address it), but it exists nonetheless.  We, too, practice forms of coercion that lie beyond our mandates and the limitations imposed by international law. We, too, employ levers of power to coerce and cajole, to remind states and peoples that the world can still be as unfair and unrepresentative as they had long-suspected it was.

The passive aggressive mode which is perhaps our singular specialty here at the UN only occasionally conveys its own coercive underbelly. We don’t talk much about the intimidation embedded in our own policy processes, nor do we take sufficient steps to ensure that member states (especially the major powers) are called out for their bulling beyond the walls of the UN.  In states like El Salvador for instance, bullying by large states, corporate entities and, at times, the El Salvador government itself have long conspired to shed innocent blood, endanger water supplies, denude forests, enable corruption and block inclusive political participation such that only a few could be considered to “have a say” of any consequence.

The “bully pulpit” which former US president Teddy Roosevelt helped to make famous, was considered by him to be a positive development, a way to ensure that he would always “have a voice.”  But people like Roosevelt – and like me for that matter – always seem to find our platform.   If we are serious about ending the scourge of bullying in our multilateral institutions as well as in our schools, we need to ensure a much broader (and hopefully safer) access to existing pulpits.  The voices of the entitled, demanding the microphone over and over when there are so many valuable human perspectives left unacknowledged, can bully in the places where diplomats congregate as they do in the places where young people congregate.

The “solutions” to bullying are elusive, as many speakers at this UN event noted.  In this current “deficit of kindness” moment, where “difference” is exploited for policy gain as it is so often bullied and otherwise humiliated within schools and communities, we need to get back to some very basic truths about how attentive we are to each other, how much respect we are able to demonstrate beyond our rhetoric. As Greece noted during the UN session, we adults must return to “teaching with our practices,” showing children that we are willing to listen, to de-center our views and prejudices, to recognize that the bullying in our playgrounds is simply the mirror image of the multiple forms of coercion that permeate our family and civic life.  Mexico reflected that as bullying seems to be on the rise in our time, especially prevalent in social media, we need to forge a “sensitive and genuine alliance” among all age groups more than we need rigid censorship.  The internet is now the medium-of-choice for our often anonymous and cowardly attacks on each other; but we adults, we officials and erstwhile leaders, we provide the fuel that makes bullying efforts resonate within our children’s increasingly battered psyches.

I am in San Salvador this weekend in part to encourage local participation in the sustainable development goals. But even more I am here to do my small part to celebrate the legacy of Archbishop Romero, once assassinated and now canonized in Rome but never forgotten by the people who grew to cherish his vision for the transformation of human and material conditions. So many in this country grew to embrace Romero’s own transformation from a conservative ecclesiastical caretaker to someone who lived the “good news” of a world still able to dream that all could have enough, a world where humiliation and coercion have been effectively stricken from the human lexicon.

The now sainted Romero had his “bully pulpit,” but he did not bully.  He had a secure space to share his voice, but he was committed to promote the voices of others.  His own status was secured, but he understood that the God he referenced was mocked by a world where some had so much and many others so little.  The thousands who filled the streets of San Salvador in the name of Saint Romero last evening – drum beating young people, indigenous mothers holding their children, people waving support from the stalls in the markets, reporters and photographers by the dozens almost not believing their eyes – were calling out a country that has been bullied for too long and celebrating Romero’s vision for a more just and sustainable world that their many footsteps, hopeful chanting and creative imaging helped bring back into focus.

If we want to end bullying by young people, it will take more vigilance from parents and teachers, more open-ended discussions with young people about their anxieties and fears.  But beyond that it will take a demonstrated commitment from all of us to end our own aggressive and self-serving policies and passive- aggressive manipulation of circumstances, renouncing the subtle and not-so-subtle forms of bribery and coercion that keep too many nations and peoples, minority groups and persons with disabilities, facing a pervasive if worn double threat – the half-hearted attention of the policy community and the full-hearted scorn of too many of their peers.

One of the songs erupting from the groups of marchers who took to the streets last evening to celebrate and pray, to honor and discern, was one about a small bird that, once it learns how to fly, never loses the skill.  Too many of us in these times, it seems, have serially-neglected to flap our wings.  The energy on the streets of San Salvador last evening was a challenge to all those who bully, to all who use their power and privilege to manipulate and coerce, that we will never again mute our voices or misplace our vision, that we will never again overlook our capacity to fly.

Profiles in Courage:  The Heroes we Honor, the Heroes We Know, Dr. Robert Zuber

7 Oct

Hero Images

We are all ordinary. We are all boring. We are all spectacular. We are all shy. We are all bold. We are all heroes. We are all helpless. It just depends on the day.  Brad Meltzer

We need not take refuge in supernatural gods to explain our saints and sages and heroes and statesmen, as if to explain our disbelief that mere unaided human beings could be that good or wise.  Abraham Maslow

I am of certain convinced that the greatest heroes are those who do their duty in the daily grind of domestic affairs whilst the world whirls as a maddening dreidel.  Florence Nightingale

She preferred imaginary heroes to real ones, because when tired of them, the former could be shut up in the tin kitchen till called for, and the latter were less manageable.  Louisa May Alcott

In a building that has seen dramatic increases in policy activity over the past few years on issues from oceans to pandemics, the UN’s scheduling of those activities appears to be almost entirely divorced from the pulse of the system – what diplomats and other stakeholders are most concerned about and how to ensure that those concerns are not competing needlessly for space or time slots.

So often over the past years, events are simply miscast, scheduled for small rooms when interest is high and in large rooms where smallish audiences are urged to “come to the front,” ostensibly for better optics.  In the same vein, events are often scheduled in such a way that diplomats and other stakeholders are forced to make choices that they simply shouldn’t have to make, choices between events on similar themes that, each in their own way, convey information and inspiration that we who labor in this space should not be required to do without.

Tuesday morning was one of those schedule-challenged times.  In the ECOSOC Chamber the Mission of India sponsored an event, Non-Violence in Action, dedicated to a review of the legacy of Mahatma Gandhi, a legacy that as president of the General Assembly María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés noted might be fading in some of its specifics, but which continues to inspire the current “pulse” of a nation clearly on the move. She also insisted on taking “the longer view” on peace, and reminded all that “non-violence should never be confused with non-action.” The PGA was joined by the Administrator of the UN’s Development Program, USG Achim Steiner, who cited the “remarkable leadership that led people to believe that it was possible to change the world without the use of weapons or other coercive measures.”  He also tied Gandhi’s “overlapping” legacy to the UN’s current work on the Sustainable Development Goals, wondering aloud if our current actions are likely to “make conditions of the vulnerable better or worse?”

At the same time, in the General Assembly Hall, a different voice was being elevated, that of Nelson Mandela whose statue now powerfully resides in the Hall’s public entrance. The Nelson Mandela Peace Summit was first convened on September 24 at the opening of the 73rd UN General Assembly and was completed this past Tuesday as part of the UN’s commitment to “sustaining peace.” This resumed session allowed additional delegations to reflect on another charismatic and epochal figure in our collective past, someone whose extraordinary legacy shone a light on our diverse and collaborative responsibilities to peace (and to each other) across and beyond the African continent.

There were some quite powerful statements in this venue as well.  Latvia, for instance, called attention to the “serious wounds” in the world that require us to step up our commitment to conflict prevention.  German (soon to join the Security Council) along with Chile noted the ways in which the ideas and priorities of Mandela’s life can help us reverse current threats to multilateralism.  The Philippines cited Mandela’s commitment to the “power of reconciliation” and noted that “where the rule-of-law triumphs over prejudice, peace is much more possible.”  And Ukraine affirmed that the “power of personal courage and self-sacrifice” can be even more impactful than the power of a country.  This world is, the Ambassador exclaimed, “hungry for action, not words.”

Pakistan made another important contribution, noting that despite the influences and inspirations of these genuine heroes, “conflicts and abuses now abound, the UN Charter is often ignored, and poverty and exclusion remain blights on the world.”   I and my colleagues did not interpret this as a cynical or despairing assessment so much as a reminder that the Mandelas and Gandhis of our world, as fortunate as we are to still enjoy their legacy guidance, have not in and of themselves resolved our multiple human dilemmas.  As such their words and deeds can still motivate, but are not a substitute for our own engagement, for our own heroism, for our own responses to needs and conflicts occurring within our midst, for our own responsibilities to inspire those around us, especially the children, to pursue a higher calling.

Too many of us seem to prefer our heroes dead and distant, “shut up in the tin kitchen” until we have need of them.  But the times call for something else altogether, for heroes we can honor but also, whenever possible, heroes we can reach out and touch; whose lives beyond the legacies we are fortunate to share in all their complexity, who can share the “daily grind” with us and help sort out the nuances of our own potential heroism such that we are able to maximize whatever goodness and wisdom have been apportioned to us.

In this context, it is important to mention newly-minted Nobel laureate Nadia Murad, a 25 year old Yazidi woman who, in a short period of time, went from being a serial rape victim at the hands of ISIL to a frequent voice at the UN helping all of us to grasp the magnitude of abuses committed by some state and non-state actors in conflict situations.   I don’t know Nadia personally, but I have seen and heard her many times and I have been amazed at  how well she has navigated this difficult stage; how she has tried to inspire greater action by states without bitterness; how she has inspired determination rather than despair in the women who have also lived some part of her difficult life story.  Nadia has never, at least in my hearing, claimed the “ruined life” that we in the “first world” often claim to excess.  This is heroism in real time and space.

But to be fully engaged, it must get even more personal than this. We can be so preoccupied with not being taken advantage of, of not being disappointed yet again by human frailties and inconsistencies, that we respond by shutting ourselves down to possibility, including the possibility that heroic practice – referencing but not reduced to our statues and ceremonies — can be our legacy as well.  There are days, indeed, when all of us are boring and helpless, discouraged and distracted, meaner than we want or need to be.   But on those days when we are bold and “spectacular,” when we are attentive and energized, when we are kind and caring, change that we could not otherwise anticipate becomes wholly possible — even in these stressful and mistrustful times.

Our heroes don’t have to embody a perfectly consistent and intentional life; indeed we would do well if more of our “less manageable” sources of wisdom and inspiration were more directly accessible to us, accessible to accompany our journey, but also to lay bare the personal struggles — even the wrestling matches with demons — from which genuine heroism most often emanates.  And of course to insist on our own commitment to accompaniment as well –to do what we can to help others navigate this “maddening dreidel” of a world in ways that bring out their better angels, and our own.