Archive | February, 2019

Speech Therapy: Cultural Expressions and Healthy Communities, Dr. Robert Zuber

24 Feb

IMG_0026                                                             photo by H. Hanafin

I feel a sadness on me, Dane. That’s how the Irish people say it. In their language, you can’t say, “I am sad,” or “I am happy”. They understood what we English have long forgot. We’re not our sadness. We’re not our happiness or our pain but our language hypnotizes us and traps us in little labeled boxes.  Grant Morrison

The totality of utterances that can be made in a speech community is the language of that speech community. Leonard Bloomfield

English, unlike Arabic, was not a poetic language. English had been cobbled together by too many unknown parents, too many unsure users. English lacked the single word that differentiated an attacking lion from one at rest.  Aminah Mae Safi

Languages, just like people, are worlds within themselves. They have the incredible ability to provide us with a clearer, more profound and detailed perspective of a culture and its views on life, nature, and death.  Orge Castellano

Yes, the structure of language both expresses and stretches  the culture to which it is joined, and the replacement of one language form by another is more than just an inconvenience, more than a mere strategy for achieving “fluency” in the expressive forms most characteristic of “modern” societies.  Such replacement represents, if we are not careful, the substitution of one worldview by another that is, in the end and in its own isolation, no more adept in guiding us on a more peaceful, sustainable path.

We all know that the UN is full of high-sounding jargon which sometimes allows us the luxury of forgetting how superficial such language can be.  We are all busy “leaving no one behind,” “promoting resilience” and “building back better,” while employing endless acronyms to describe institutional responses to complex challenges that sometimes confuse even regular UN observers. Moreover, we traffic almost exclusively in what are known as the “official” UN languages, mostly “official” in the sense that they appear on UN “letterhead” indicating that UN business will essentially be conducted only in these languages (with occasional accommodation for foreign dignitaries).

Moreover, these official languages are utilized unevenly while reinforcing a certain brand of cultural hegemony.  Only the Chinese delegation speaks Chinese in UN conference rooms.  Only the Russian delegation speaks in Russian.  However, senior Secretariat officials from Russian and Chinese backgrounds speak mostly in English and many delegations have no choice but to forsake their own official tongues in favor of those “favored.” Indeed, the “mostly in English” signs should be hung throughout the building, for this tongue (with all of its mostly unexamined cultural assumptions) has become the “lingua franca” of UN Headquarters to a degree that actually might shock outsiders.

Such linguistic hegemony works out well for people like me who have failed to benefit to any degree from more language courses than I care to count.   Were English not such a dominant mode of expression inside UN headquarters, my own (and my office’s) presence probably wouldn’t add much of any value at all.  I am especially reminded of my own linguistic privilege when finding myself in rooms where important ideas are being discussed in languages other than English and without interpretation, places where my language skills are (far-too- often) simply not up to the challenge.

One such occasion took place this week at a workshop in Mexico City put on by the Humanitarian Encyclopedia, a project co-sponsored by the increasingly prestigious Instituto Mora and represented by Dr. Lucatello Simone. Through workshops conducted in several global regions, this project smartly seeks to “collectively question” how humanitarian concepts evolve over time, geographical contexts, cultures, disciplines, and professions. This particular workshop space was filled with some truly remarkable people, including leadership from Mexico’s highly-regarded civil protection and relief sector, key figures from the UN office in Mexico City and a few highly committed NGOs.

What most attracted me to this event, ironically perhaps, is the contention of this project that “existing narratives and concepts of humanitarian action still largely reflect the values and practices of long-established organizations of high-income countries.”  Moreover, the project fully embraces the important critique that the jargon we toss around within the often-stretched humanitarian sector (and within the rest of the policy community as well) – such as this “resiliency” we now seek to spread – can constitute a stubborn barrier to a “clearer, more profound and detailed perspectiveon the local cultures we seek to serve. Such perspective is essential if we are to truly “accompany the localization of humanitarian knowledge” as key to the success of the vital and urgent action undertaken over and over by the broader humanitarian community.

Unfortunately, I was able to grasp only a small portion of what were apparently rich technical and community-contextual discussions in Mexico City.  For I was stuck yet again inside my own “labeled box,” a limitation largely of my own doing; someone functioning in a singular language structure that cannot easily distinguish between “an attacking lion and one at rest,” but also someone reinforcing a system which now expressly privileges his language and both its conceptual contexts and limitations. Such participation leaves me (and many others) trading in concepts that only incompletely explain the world we inhabit while virtually (if inadvertently) demeaning much of the full range of cultural expressions, passions and feelings which continue to breathe life and urgency into our collective human strivings.

The Swiss leadership of the Humanitarian Encyclopedia Project clearly understands better than most the alienating nature of much of our policy jargon, those words we routinely employ in our important humanitarian (or peace and security) spaces as though our short-hand has become something other than the “blurred messages” that we so often extend towards each other and towards communities in need.  Certainly we “experts” in this Mexico City space — groupings similar (I suspect) to other rooms in other global regions — have perhaps also become a bit “hypnotized and trapped” by our own expressive limitations as evidenced by the “heady” language we often use with peers, funders and in polite culture, the nomenclature of policy that impedes as much access at community level as it invites.

As it turns out, this Mexico story had another chapter. At the end of this week in the remarkable Zócalo of Mexico City, a different (unrelated) type of linguistic critique and cultural representation was being staged.  “Lingüística Indígena” brought together thousands of people (its final day is today) largely from the southern regions of Mexico (especially from Chiapas) to speak the language forms of their forebears more than the colonists, to share their food, crafts, poetry and dances, and to place in this very public domain the unique and deep challenges faced by the region’s indigenous peoples.

Some of these challenges are a function of government suspicion regarding the unwillingness of peoples in the indigenous south to abandon the language that expresses their lives and relationships for a language closely allied with colonial occupation and, perhaps more importantly, “fit” for modern economic and bureaucratic life. Amidst the colorful dance, indigenous poetic forms and some unusual (for me) food offerings, there was also a palpable sadness directed towards the memory of those martyred trying to defend the rights of indigenous persons, including their right to linguistic and cultural expression. The crosses demanding attention on the Zócalo, with wilting flowers and palms placed nearby, served as a reminder that language is not only a means of expression but is an embodiment of community values and cultural significance, the struggle for which costs some advocates their very lives.

It was the television personality Trevor Noah (of all people) who noted that if you talk to people in a language they understand, that message goes to their head. But if you talk to them in their own language, “that goes to their heart.”  In the UN “Grand Bargain” of 2016, key donors agreed to expand pooled funding to address seemingly-endless humanitarian crises including from armed violence and climate threats.  Moving forward, we need another “bargain” but this time one that both embraces and transcends the sensitive “accompaniment” advocated by the sponsors of this Mexico City workshop, a “bargain” to protect and honor the “totality of our utterances” and those who dare to express the heart-felt visions and aspirations that remain essential to a healthy and responsive human community.

 

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Future Shocks: Participation-Related Impairments of Conflict-Affected Children, Dr. Robert Zuber

17 Feb

Being a child in a war zone is more dangerous than being an armed combatant. Save the Children UK

We will not learn how to live together in peace by killing each other’s children. Jimmy Carter

I could taste the fear, and I could see that my mother was frightened, which I had never seen before, and this made me even more frightened.  Alfred Nestor

As long as war is regarded as wicked, it will always have its fascination. When it is looked upon as vulgar, it will cease to be popular. Oscar Wilde

War-making is one of the few activities that people are not supposed to view “realistically”; that is, with an eye to expense and practical outcome. Susan Sontag

Children and youth have been on my mind and in the news much this week.  A year after the Parkland (Florida) school massacre, we recall both the horror of that incident and the degree to which the massacre revealed some passionate and quite remarkable leadership skills in the student survivors, students who refused to give in to the fear they obviously experienced and “gave it” instead to older persons, including a few media personalities who dared question their sincerity or their right to an opinion about current social policies that helped to cut short the lives of their peers.

I was also moved by the sight of young people in different parts of the world taking the risks associated with school truancy to voice their displeasure at the pace with which we adults are taking action to reverse the climate change that threatens to interrupt any alleged school-to-career pipeline with drought and flooding, coastal erosion and massive storms, even decisions to embark on dangerous and vulnerable displacements because “home” is no longer hospitable.

Such bold and defiant young people seem to have already grown tired of waiting for what appear to be complacent adults to rescue their future from the destruction of armaments and climate events.   Despite what might be implied in a Guardian report that the Australian Prime Minister was actually urging protesting students to “be less activist,” these are not the youthful voices of social anarchy but of legitimate impatience with political leadership that seems to be taking its sweet time silencing the guns and bringing our planetary health back from the brink of utter dysfunction.

This past Monday at the UN, Belgium hosted an Arria Formula discussion with the UN office on Children and Armed Conflict on how to protect children from the consequences of armed conflicts in settings of “shrinking humanitarian space.” Focusing on the children of the Central African Republic, Security Council members and others wrestled with the many ways in which insurgency and other armed conflict inflict undeserved (and often untreated) misery on children, the “expense and outcome” of armed violence including implications regarding the ability of conflict-affected children to manage the “shocks” of what is likely to be an unstable future in their later years.

Children’s events at the UN, including the recent meeting of the UNICEF Executive Committee, tend to be a mixed bag – generally well attended and enthusiastically engaged while offering only bits of soul-searching on the part of we-sometimes-irresponsible older folks. The trauma in this world to which children are routinely subjected – children as precious as our own and with every bit as much innate potential for leadership and productivity in the global commons — are beyond any excuse or rationale we might wish (or need) to suggest.  By shortchanging these children in the ways we have, we also (if inadvertently) compromise their common future, robbing it of some of its capacity for healing, its creativity for solutions that have not yet crossed the thresholds of our collective mind.

I won’t bore you with facts and figures on children victimized by the world’s violence, most of which you have no doubt heard before.  The diplomats, NGOs and UN officials have heard them also, almost to the point that they cease to sufficiently trouble our consciousness let alone shock us into ratcheting up our collective response.

And yet there is a basic (and often hopeful) consensus evidenced in UN conference rooms where children’s issues are raised that is unlike deliberations in other conference rooms.   There may still be insufficient action at present on child protection, insufficient attention to the disastrous long-term effects of childhood trauma resulting from malnutrition, armed violence, displacement and a host of other ills that must surely cause children to wonder – if they dare – just what kind of world they have been destined for? What kind of planet welcomes these children and then abandons them to circumstances that would drive most of the parents we know to utter despair?

But there is no delegation which would dare to utter indifference to the recruitment of child soldiers or deny the need to improve access to basic educational and health services. Few would question that children must be better protected from the armed violence that claims too many young lives and sends even more on dangerous journeys in search of something safer and better, only to find themselves locked down in holding cells or taken in by criminal gangs.  There is virtual diplomatic consensus on the need to generate new forms of meaningful employment for this large and uneasy generation (a topic also raised this week at the UN by the International Labor Organization); or that we must do more to guarantee better access to educational opportunity and health care, all in the context of a recovering planet that has sufficient bees to pollinate our flowers and crops, birds with something in their stomachs other than plastics, and a climate that stops warming faster than its remaining life forms can possibly adapt.

We also know that time is not on our side, that it will take more skill and energy to solve the problems that threaten futures than we now have at our disposal.   And every child recruited into armed groups or snatched up by traffickers; every child whose growth is stunted by infectious disease or malnutrition; every child whose mind is denied creative engagement in quality schools; every child who must watch the fear in their mother’s eyes and wonder if circumstances are really as vulgar as they sometimes seem;  virtually every one of these children will struggle mightily to take their rightful place among those young people “fighting for their lives,”  fighting for a world of greater health and equity, fighting to silence the guns minus any incentive to carry guns of their own.

In the generally-excellent Arria Formula event mentioned above, a representative from the well-respected Geneva Call  noted that we must do more to ensure that “boys and girls are not forgotten” when we start to talk seriously about peace.  But it seems obvious that any peace that could possibly “forget” – even for a moment — the diverse and negative impacts of war and armed conflict on children is surely less than the peace we need.  For all the life-saving work that the UN is doing on behalf of children, for all who are immunized against disease or provided access to schooling or freed from servitude to traffickers or armed groups, our collective, “adult” response to the world’s children is still and too-often more vulgar than mindful, more tactical than determined.

I suppose it is true, as we often say here, that “children are our future.”  But more than that, they are their own future, a future that promises to be better for some than others, but which is nevertheless threatened for all.  If this generation of children is to pass on a healthier more sustainable planet to those who will follow, if they are to successfully manage the shocks that are sure to come their way, then all capable and responsible hands must be on deck. Those who have survived school shootings and now seek a saner policy on guns; those skipping class to rally for stronger measures on climate health; these and other youthful voices need assurances that their global peers are ready and able to help “save what’s left” and forge a more peaceful, sustainable path.  We older folks can and must try harder to provide those assurances.

Relentless:  The UN Doubles Down on a now-Familiar Foe, Dr. Robert Zuber

10 Feb

Desert

The melody of your ears must not be the cries of the powerless.  Shahla Khan

Morality, after all, had fallen with society. He was his own ethic. Richard Matheson

Many also bear their cross of imagined deprivation, while their fellow human beings remain paralyzed by real poverty.  Anthon St. Maarten

Yet we must choose each step we take with utmost caution, for the footprints we leave behind are as important as the path we will follow. Lori Lopez

In the desert, the only god is a well.  Vera Nazarian

One of the things that our interns notice quickly about life inside the UN is the extent to which issues are often raised but not routinely resolved.   From development financing and ocean health to efforts to restrict the production of small arms and the recruitment tactics of terrorist groups and criminal elements, most key issues on the UN’s agenda are certain to “come around again” before too much time elapses.  This tends to frustrate onlookers, especially the young, who yearn to see greater levels of intentional movement towards more reliable resolutions to today’s multiple threats, some of the “footprints” which we older folks would do better not to leave behind.

However, given the degree of difficult associated with many global problems, this doubling-down is mostly appropriate.  As any good therapist (or parent) knows, naming a problem accurately is only the first stage in a successful outcome, not to be confused with the solution itself.   Many problems we confront in policy, much like problems within ourselves and our families took a long time to evolve into their current forms.  Like a ball of yarn, we wind ourselves and our societies into tight, if destructive habits that cannot untangle overnight, if at all.  If they are indeed to untangle, such will require us to engage over and over in a complex “dance” that includes elements of sometimes-painful honesty, careful assessments, legal accountability, and a continual renewal of our intent to see these processes through to a healthy conclusion.

And yet we in this UN space habitually seem to over-simplify what it takes to sustainably resolve global challenges.  We pass resolutions, year after year, without attaching assessments of why so many of these resolutions have so little impact.   We continue to raise the right issues in diverse conference rooms without also raising the stakes on success – integrating honest and careful analysis of what we’ve learned since the last time such issues came up for consideration and what we now must resolve to do differently.   In essence, we “double down” on our consideration of global challenges without also doubling down on both our reflection and our resolve, as though the solution to our current stable of grave threats requires little beyond ratcheting up a bit of additional political will to do more of what we’ve already committed to doing.

One of these “come around again” threats was examined on Friday during a Security Council “Arria Formula” on how accountability for crimes can serve as a contribution to prevention.  The specific context for this Arria is the often-horrific violence perpetrated mostly against women and girls in situations of armed conflict.  Led by Germany with the endorsement of most current Security Council members, the event was a reflection of a problem to which much energy has properly been devoted, but where progress has been elusive (or even non-existent) as was reinforced by prosecutors of the Special Court established to deal with such abuses in the Central African Republic.  Women especially remain the “currency of conflict” as claimed by Ireland’s Ambassador noting that we must refuse to separate the physical security of women and men abused in conflict zones with what she referred to as “other forms of security” including of the social and economic variety.  In a similar vein, the director of the Global Justice Center reminded delegations that the genesis of much abuse can be laid at the feet of our persistent and toxic inequalities, including of gender, reinforcing our own view that we must do more to “level the playing field” before it can properly be groomed.

This broader security must also integrate accountability for abuses already committed, as several states and the always-thoughtful Tonderai Chikuhwa of the UN Office on Sexual Violence in Conflict duly maintained, underscoring the importance of ensuring that, however painful it might be for some, such crimes must never be stricken from the “historical record” of states.

But if we must, as Chikuhwa and others insisted, double down on accountability for these humiliating crimes, Council members and others insisted that our lens must also focus on related matters, specifically the call by Germany and other speakers for more victim services to help minimize prospects for “re-traumatizing.” Indeed, states including Côte d’Ivoire and Chile, insisted on the priority need for “healing” — in part a function of services and reparations but in part a function of ensuring that there is a “cost” for such abuse, a “cost” that can be made consistent across states and that can be employed to help citizens remain mindful of the deep trauma suffered by far too many.

In listening to this good discussion with one of our interns, two things came to my mind.  First was the “relentlessness” of the dehumanizing abuse which casts a fog over human life that never quite seems to lift.   In the relative triviality of my first-world bubble, I have encountered only episodic stalking – by a few people who wanted things from me I was unwilling to give them or through exposure to online hackers demanding ransom in exchange for keeping silent about alleged behavior which, thankfully, never took place.

And yet even within these limited and mostly modest bouts with our sometimes frayed and predatory social system, one now defined by a largely “fallen” and self-authorizing morality,  I could revisit some lessons about the unrelenting nature of more grave abuse, specifically the degree to which external violations leave “footprints” within us that continue to hijack our best selves long after the physical or psychological violence stops: those remaining in hyper-vigilant mode for signs that stalkers might be close at hand; those refusing to communicate unless completely sure who is on the other end; those dreading turning on the computer because of yet another virus ready to inflict mayhem in ways much like the “virus” of conflict-related abuse — doing its dirty work now from inside the systems on which we must rely and changing how we engage the world in ways that we are more likely to defend than to carefully examine.

And the second, related insight comes courtesy of the 2030 Development Agenda which is filled with positive implications for those who might otherwise risk humiliation in conflict zones, but which insists to all who participate that we must not only “leave no one behind,” but that we must reach “those in greatest need first.”  It is difficult and at times counter-productive to create priority lists for human need, and yet there must be some special dispensation, some special accountability in situations where grave crimes have been committed against women and girls, men and boys in too many conflict zones, crimes more akin to slavery than to the “first world” dramatics that we far too routinely indulge.

I confess that my own patience for “first world problems” is now even lower than before, not because growth and change in own my life are no longer needed (they are), but precisely because I acknowledge more deeply an unearned privilege allowing me to trust (albeit with gratitude) that my own fog is destined to lift, my “well” is largely close at hand, my erstwhile “deprivation” is almost entirely imaginary.  The “cries” of the powerless don’t always penetrate my thick skull as they should, but neither have they become the “melody” that transforms sexual violence as a tactic of war and other traumatic circumstances from something preventable and accountable to something that we simply accept as part of the price tag for getting on with the “world’s business.”

The “paralysis” of many trapped in poverty or in cycles of dehumanizing despair must never become acceptable to those of us ensconced in the policy world, including “accepting” that the drama of our own lives constitutes some rough equivalent.  We at Global Action were deeply appreciative of the reminder provided to us on Friday by Germany and other Security Council members, a reminder that while many windows of opportunity seem always to be open to us, such windows are still largely and even serially impaired for persons humiliated or otherwise traumatized at the point of a gun.

Fort Worth:  The UN Presents Diverse Lenses on Human Potential, Dr. Robert Zuber

3 Feb

Mother Earth

Most of us must learn to love people and use things rather than loving things and using people. Roy Bennett

We know that we are the ones who are divided; and we are the ones who must come back together, to walk in the Sacred Way.  Ojibway Prayer

Isn’t it sad that you can tell people that the ozone layer is being depleted, the forests are being cut down, the deserts are advancing steadily, that the greenhouse effect will raise the sea level 200 feet, that overpopulation is choking us, that pollution is killing us, that nuclear war may destroy us – and they yawn and settle back for a comfortable nap. But tell them that the Martians are landing, and they scream and run.  Isaac Asimov

Cover my Earth Mother four times with many flowers.  Zuni Prayer

And certainly, the mistakes that we male and female mortals make when we have our own way might fairly raise some wonder that we are so fond of it.  George Eliot

Teach us to walk the soft earth as relatives to all that live.   Sioux Prayer

We think we know what we are doing. We have always thought so. Michael Crichton

In beauty it is finished.    Navajo Chant

As many of you have gathered from even occasional readings of these Sunday missives, the UN offers what at time represent an equally dazzling and frustrating lens on global policy but also on the people who, among other things, establish its norms and responses.  This week alone, saw government experts convene to establish the basis for a framework to address the growing threat posed by the militarization of outer space, a well-organized briefing on Yemen to “hold the fort” on humanitarian response until a viable political process to end the conflict can be established, and a joint presentation by the presidents of the General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council respectively in an attempt to ratchet up both funding pathways and diplomatic urgency to keep our collective commitments to the 2030 Development Agenda at least somewhat on track.

We do lots of “holding the fort” at the UN, trying to maintain global attention on the difficult (non-Martian) issues that cause many constituents to turn their gaze away or “settle back for a comfortable nap,” but also to gather resources within the UN and in member states to support “good faith” responses to what are at times ugly manifestations of the human condition. The UN does what it can, in many instances keeping the focus on often-ignored matters of planetary urgency while organizing competent and strategic responses in the hope that various forms of “reinforcements” — of funding, capacity support and political will — do not lag too far behind.

Of all the “ugly manifestations” of human conduct that the UN highlighted this week, perhaps the most discouraging was an event on human trafficking organized by the UN Office of Drugs and Crime.  The event itself was very well done, focusing on the launch of two related reports, UNODC’s full assessment of global trafficking and a second report covering much of the same ground but focused specifically on trafficking in the context of armed conflict.

The latter report was directly requested by the UN Security Council and is perhaps more germane to Global Action’s organizational priorities; but both “booklets” paint a sordid picture of the willingness of human beings in diverse circumstances to contribute to brutality, abuse and “exploitation” that contexts of armed violence merely magnify.  Highlighted within booklet 2 is the recruitment of children into armed groups to serve as everything from porters to suicide bombers, and victims trafficked for purposes of forced labor and sexual exploitation.  In addition to copious statistics on trafficking demographics, law enforcement responses and conviction rates, mention was made often of the particular vulnerabilities of displaced persons — including those many thousands displaced by armed violence — and the often-desperate people, mostly women and children, who sign on to what are certain to become exploitative arrangements in the complete absence of viable options, arrangements perpetrated by those who, at the very least, “love things and use persons.”

One can (and we often do) laud the efforts of law enforcement, peacekeepers and UN officials to provide urgent perspectives and high-quality data on this soul-crushing issue. At the same time we also lament the “blows” inflicted by traffickers to any sense of optimism about the ability of human beings to do any better than to “hold down the fort” as our norms of international order prove themselves “thinner” than we imagined and predation in many forms continues to flourish; traffickers, yes, but also an economic system that allows some to build massive wealth casting dismissive shadows on the many millions resigned to running (if they can) from people and institutions content to treat them mostly as “things” to be used, rather than beings to be cherished.

For many younger people, even those around Global Action’s orbit contemplating careers in international affairs, one can perceive a pervasive sense of cynicism about the human condition, a sense that self-interest is fully entrenched as our collective guide-star, that narcissism has become a social expectation and, moreover, that there is really not much that people can do – UN resolve notwithstanding — to “turn this tide” characterized by too much ugliness, too many people content to sleep through crises or turn a blind eye to the inequities that are actually within their power to change.

This assessment of “human nature” – less a science-based lens for exploration of both our warts and potential, and more an excuse for not changing what we are able to change – must also be countered.   After all, the forts we “hold” will not stay held forever.  We see evidence throughout that the walls are cracking, that provisions are scarce and unequally distributed, that communications are increasingly vexing, that promises of reinforced capacity are too-often unreliable. We simply cannot go on the way we are, cannot reverse our current slide while simultaneously enabling (often unintentionally) the forces committed to an unequal and rapacious exploitation of what little is left to exploit.

As the gorgeous group of quotations above makes plain, there is another path that integrates honor and gratitude, that upholds the dignity of human beings while rejecting indignities directed towards our natural home. The UN also knows this other path.  On Friday in the General Assembly Hall, the UN launched the International Year of Indigenous Languages, an event that included powerful statements from President Morales of Bolivia and the President of the General Assembly Maria Fernandez. The event also highlighted indigenous representatives who spoke directly to the multiple benefits of indigenous language preservation – not only the safeguarding of indigenous culture itself but the life given to forms and depths of expression to which indigenous languages are particularly well suited – expression that links people to each other and to the many blessings of creation, that reminds us of the power of beauty to inspire our better selves, that urges us to cover our “mother” with flowers of her own making rather than with bulldozers and space weapons of our own.  As Ecuador’s minister affirmed, the words of indigenous languages “have a soul, a memory, a heart.” They tie together those who live where their sounds are uttered, binding the human and non-human, ties of gratitude and what the PGA called “symbols of belonging,” all held together with pledges to walk more “softly” on a planet that too many of us have conspired to treat much too roughly for much too long.

This event was not designed to romanticize indigenous culture, to promote the soul-energy embedded in indigenous languages as the singular antidote to modernism’s excesses. Indigenous leaders are all-too-aware of the “divisions” that need to be reunited in their own communities, the many sources of pain (including the self-inflicted variety) that require a more robust healing response.  And yet there is so much richness embedded in these language forms, so much beauty, connection and “will to cherish” that culturally-homogenous modern societies — too comfortable in what they “know” and too resolved to “have their own way” — need much more of.

An aboriginal woman from Australia told the diplomats in the GA Hall of the joy it brings her to “whisper into the ears of her grandchildren words from my ancestral language.”  We owe our children and grandchildren more than smart phones and foolish owners, more than forts buckling under the strain of assaults coming from predatory humans in many forms.  We owe them, as one indigenous speaker on Friday noted, the chance “to sing the songs of the earth,” songs that in too many corners of this planet “have simply grown silent.”