I am pleased to be back at the Kiwanis Club to talk about Interdependence. Interdependence Day is officially September 12—a date deliberately chosen as the day after 9/11—the date indelibly carved into our hearts and minds as the dread day that we Americans, who regarded ourselves as invulnerable—were attacked by terrorists. It was the end of our innocence—and perhaps our arrogance—one could say long overdue. But some of us believed that we had to face this harsh reality not only with the necessary preparations to secure our homeland, but also with an effort to understand how and why these hateful acts were conceived and implemented and what we might do to avoid such violent reactions to cultural, ethical and religious differences in the future. As we look around the world, it doesn’t seem that we have been very successful in our efforts, but more than ever we must not desist from carrying the message that interdependence is our reality—not a luxury and not an ideal– and ask ourselves what the moral implications of that reality are. When we look at the spread of Ebola and at the rising tide of ISIS with its vision of becoming a transnational Islamic Caliphate, we realize that ours is a globalized world—isolationism isn’t a political choice– simply because isolation is impossible. Interdependence is our stark reality, for better and worse.
In that context we must turn our attention to our own country and our defection from our promise of”liberty and justice for all” as evidenced in Ferguson, Missouri. The outrage of African Americans there and people of goodwill all over the country remind us that we have a lot of unfinished business right here at home. Fifty years after the Civil Rights Act was passed, and seven years after electing our first black president we are by no means finished with closing the gap—economic, social and political – between whites and blacks in our own democratic nation. We are a work in progress—as all democracies are. That is a humbling reality.
It may seem counterintuitive to say, “No love needed” in this context, but I’ll explain why—even though it flies in the face of the traditional saying, “love thy neighbor as thyself.”
To prove that I’m not speaking as a curmudgeon, a reincarnation of the despised Ebenezer Scrooge of Dickens infamy, I am following in the path of no less a hero than Martin Luther King, Jr., who in one of his less eloquent speeches said, “We’re not asking them to love us—just to get off our backs!”
Fast forward to the many conflicts that we are reminded of every day. People fighting each other—often because of religious differences –but they may be cultural or tribal too. The key is difference—otherness. We fear and hate the other—it has its own name—xenophobia. It is almost like an illness—a collective mental illness—a plague. And it is, if we care about life itself, counterintuitive. The fact is that we are social creatures—members of society–not just because of friendship, love and sentimentality but of necessity- we cannot live alone—we need each other. The hermit and the loner think that they are doing everything on their own—but they are deluding themselves. Their lives depend on others—who might be invisible to them—maybe even denied by them.
To hone in on one of the most enduring conflicts of our time, let’s turn to Israel and Palestine. The fact—their reality is that they live side by side. How that happened—is a story that probably matches many other stories about the birth of nations, including our own. So the challenge is how to live side by side in peace—with dignity and respect—respect for the rights of others. It means recognizing that peace is better than war—even if it means giving up some land or some practices in order to make it work. In that regard words are —diplomacy is– the most courageous and effective tool that we know of. It’s not about love.
There are many stories of Israelis and Palestinians working together as neighbors, as doctors, as professors, as business people. Having been in both countries very recently—in mid-June—I find that they have a lot in common. They are Semitic people, the live in the Middle East, many of them are well educated and for the most part they are moderates. Unfortunately at this particular time—they are prompted and pushed by radicals—haters—into untenable situations.
At the moment there is no leader on either side who promotes peace, democracy and interdependence—no Martin Luther King, no Nelson Mandela, no Vaclav Havel. No Anwar Sadat or Menachem Begin. Yitzhak Rabin would have been a possibility on the Israel side—he was a warrior who in the end became a man of peace and as prime minister he took on the task of making peace. Alas for his wisdom he was assassinated –not by the outside enemy but an enemy within, a radicalized, fanatical Jew.
Some think that given the array of conflicts in today’s world, it is naïve to talk about interdependence. But in fact this is the time we must talk about it. Because of the revolution in information and communication technologies we are more literally interdependent than ever before. We are interconnected economically, politically, socially and definitely environmentally. What happens in Afghanistan affects us. What happens in Japan affects us. What happens in Africa affects us. And of course what we do affects everyone else–for better and for worse, we are interdependent.
Kiwanis can be a model for others. You meet weekly to discuss matters of significance in your community. You are both local and global. Your mission is to help others in order to help your community and Kiwanis do that around the world. I see you Kiwanis as ambassadors of interdependence. And I applaud you for embracing that mission as your own—every week.