Our Time: Leveraging a More Sustainable Unknown, Dr. Robert Zuber

2 Feb


The good we secure for ourselves is precarious and uncertain until it is secured for all of us and incorporated into our common life. Jane Addams

Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation are people who want crops without ploughing the groundFrederick Douglass

Is it possible that a mass is improved by the improvement of only one part and the other part is ignored?  Mustafa Kemal Atatürk

Every human is fated to have one moment in their lives in which they can change their own destinyTakayuki Yamaguchi

I know that it is hard for one who has held the reins for so long to give up; it cuts like a knife. It will feel all the better when it closes up again.  Sojourner Truth

In principle, therefore, the more dizzyingly diverse the images that are propagated, the more empowered we will be as a societyPatricia J. Williams

As January in New York drew to a (blessed) close, and despite rumblings regarding the spread of the coronavirus, a massive Caribbean earthquake, and the launch of a Mideast “peace plan” more likely to cause than resolve regional violence, we had to acknowledge that this has been a good week for our tiny organization.  We welcomed new interns and re-welcomed older ones; we have fresh evidence that our writing and advocacy (even our media work) is helping people in various global settings find their footing; and we have celebrated the formation of new partnerships with persons and organizations earning newly-enhanced status at the UN and with a demonstrated ability to open doors to policy and service that we could never open on our own.

The week for us was bracketed by a long interview with Global Connections Television on Monday and a Friday evening reception for younger advocates in our small, shared 49th Street office.   In between, there were numerous UN meetings on issues from the unresolved security threats plaguing Libya and the Central African Republic to discussions on appropriate measure for countering terrorist threats as well as how best to integrate our collective commitments to sustainable development and peacebuilding.

As is typical for UN conversations of this sort, the discourse in most of these conference rooms was earnest but not particularly urgent, competent but not particularly determined. Those of us who have had some time at the policy controls have presided over a period of significant successes but have also not done enough to reverse the deficits of trust that continue to plague multilateralism.  We who speak with increasingly frequency (as do current Security Council members such as the Dominican Republic and St. Vincent and the Grenadines) about the need to incorporate more youth voices into global policy continue to experience discomfort when the hands of youth reach out to share the steering wheel, or when young people wave their metaphorical tickets impatiently (often anxiously) in the hope that we older folks will recognize that we’ve used our own privilege to stay on the ride longer than the rules permit, that it is time to make the seats available for a fresher set of “paying customers.”

I get the sense that we who have been in this “business” (perhaps too) long sometimes forget what it is like to face an uncertain future, to prepare to jump into an unknown that is one part scary, one part exhilarating, regarding which younger persons know (as we once knew) that at some level we are simply unprepared to manage (let alone control) what comes next.  Will we experience the start a new war whose outcomes and consequences we can’t handle?   Will we be able to adjust to what are now virtually irreversible climate threats?  Will we have the strength of character to welcome the increasing number of displaced who are likely to show up on our shifting shores?  Do we have what it takes to ensure that “the good we secure for ourselves” can be made available to others? Can we, as Mexico and Ireland suggested this week in different UN meeting rooms, create viable action plans on peace and sustainable development to supplement what is often mere “thinking and believing” on our part?

The young people standing in line waiting for us older folks to get off the ride can’t escape the dizzying heights and unsettling tremors that they are set to experience.   That so many of our younger colleagues are still prepared to have their tickets punched for this uncertain journey is both laudable and gratifying.  As we all shared together on Friday evening, I was reminded of a favorite song, “This is Our Time” by WILD, a tune about finding the light that shines somewhere up ahead in the “open wide,” about running straight into the unknown instead of holding back – or stepping out of line altogether.  If you’ve only heard snippets of this song as background for an automobile commercial on US television, I invite you to have a listen.  In its entirety, it is a lovely reminder of the courage that life requires, now more than ever, the courage to face an “open wide” that seems as likely to swallow young people whole as to set the table for their own great adventure, the courage that we older folks have largely domesticated in ourselves and too-often sought to domesticate in those who will follow.

But as we cautiously prepare to share the controls and ultimately relinquish them altogether, we still have work to do, work to make the “wilderness” of life a bit more predictable, a bit more fair; to open up more space for innovative thinking and determined action by a greater range of stakeholders; even to enable policy relationships that can refresh the whole of the created order and not merely one or more of its constituent parts; policy to help ensure that the unknown to which young people are destined can still yield forests instead of brownfields,  gardens instead of mine fields.

In that vein, earlier this week I was honored to help a friend prepare a talk to be given on Monday focused on the human rights dimensions of sustainable development.   This linkage might seem abstract to some, but as is recognized in policy discussions from counter-terror and peacebuilding to disaster risk reduction and food security, a human rights lens is essential to ensuring that the “promise” of sustainable development results in more — much more — than development alone.   Indeed, we recognize that the sustainability of any development is clearly threatened where social and economic inequalities remain rampant; where journalists and civil society leaders face harassment and arbitrary arrest for doing their jobs; where governments feel free to divert public resources from common to restrictive uses; where impunity for abuses fuels lasting trauma and deep despair; where weapons flow like tap water from erstwhile “licit” uses to instilling terror in local populations; where people of modest means in small island states continue to bear the brunt of lifestyle choices made in the richest nations; where children are denied an education — even a childhood — via the decisions of powerful (mostly) men and women in faraway places.

These and related problems are ones to which older folks can (and must) continue to make valuable, even life-saving contributions. And, yes, we can “agitate” for a healthier planet without “clinging to the reigns” or taking up seats on rides that have long needed to be vacated for others. Moreover, we can keep ourselves open to policy and other innovations that pave the way towards solutions to pressing global problems that have largely eluded us in our own time, solutions that demand greater policy integration together with a more “dizzyingly diverse” array of active contributors.

As the first draft of this post was being completed, the bells of nearby Riverside Church were pealing, calling some to put on their clothes and come to church services, but seemingly calling the rest of us within range to make a more hopeful and sustainable future come alive, to commit to “ploughing the ground” that is ours to cultivate such that we may continue to harvest a range of metaphorical”crops” with which to maintain our own lives and share with others.

Such sharing in all its dimensions must be sure touch the lives of our “younger others,” those whose breathless journeys into the “open wide” are only just beginning.

One Response to “Our Time: Leveraging a More Sustainable Unknown, Dr. Robert Zuber”

  1. MARTA BENAVIDES February 2, 2020 at 3:56 pm #

    saludos and gracias Bob.. good reflection which is a must .. here the tweet: @benavides_marta Our Time:Leveraging a More Sustainable Unknown,Dr.RobertZuber https://gapwblog.wordpress.com/2020/02/02/our-time-leveraging-a-more-sustainable-unknown-dr-robert-zuber/ via @GlobalActionPW In our time we must turn 2 the road less traveled since Columbus was lost in what now are the Americas:”Sustain-Ability” or die @robertovalentun @pontifex @undp @rudelmar @UN

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