Dear Rotary Members,
It is a special pleasure and privilege to speak to you today as I for one am in favor of preaching to the converted. At times we forget that even the most dedicated among us need to be reminded of our values and principles. It is far too easy to be caught up in the daily routine of one’s life and in the sometimes screeching voices of the media to remember who we are. Religious institutions don’t forget to remind and neither do schools. And certainly service clubs recognize that memories are short and good things are worth repeating and reinforcing—otherwise why have weekly meetings? It’s a brilliant idea!
But meeting regularly is not just important for remembering what we know but also for learning what we don’t know—for updating our information and renewing our commitments at an ever higher level. As we know, the world is not static-it is a dynamic, ever changing mega-organism. We like to think of it as a perpetual work in progress—but in fact it is an ever more complex and perplexing place-so at best progress is slow and erratic. The Greek philosopher Heraclitus recognized that change is central to the universe—that you don’t step into the same river twice. In fact the very meaning of the term “our world,” has changed many times in our lifetime– just as we human beings change, physically, psychologically, socially and culturally– all through life. Our world is our family and our household; our world is our work place and our profession or career; our world is our inner consciousness—our hopes and fears and dreams; our world is our friendships; our world is our local community; our world is our nation, and increasingly, our world is the world—our planet and even our galaxy.
The revolution in information and communication technologies has reshaped our world—as we know about events in every corner of it simultaneous with their happening, and indeed through social networking devices we can not only observe the changes as they occur—we can make the changes occur. In that regard I refer particularly to the serial uprisings that occurred this year in North Africa—referred to often as The Arab Spring. It was set off in Tunisia as a response to the suicide of a frustrated Tunisian merchant when he lost his license to set up shop—and then exploded into an unprecedented series of revolts—people overthrowing dictators and demanding freedom! This in places that never knew or dreamed of democracy—of government of the people, by the people and for the people. They are dreaming of it now and they are demanding it. They are empowered by learning of others who have gone to the streets to seek freedom, and by and large they have done it peacefully, though they certainly have been met in many cases with violent resistance. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that there is a new world order—but that the old world order is gone—and we are in that strange place that philosopher Hannah Arendt referred to as “between the no longer and the not yet.”
In that place then, what are we to do? How can we do our part in fostering democracy and the culture of interdependence? Ten years after 9/11, what are we doing and what can we do better to make terrorism less likely to occur—in our own nation and around the world—in Mumbai, in Tucson and in Oslo—home of the Nobel Peace Prize? Rotary has some answers to that—and I know that it will continue and increase its efforts.
In 2003 a colleague and I co founded Interdependence Day, designated deliberately to be on September 12—a day to reflect on “What next?” What might we do around the world to reduce the likelihood of terrorism in the future? We created a Declaration of Interdependence and set to discussing the moral and civic implications of an interdependent world.
We are inescapably bound to each other—and we need to create a new global notion of community and responsibility. The Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam, all admonish us to treat others as we would have them treat us. Ancient Greece had the Golden Rule. Our own nation has a kind of civic religion that requires us to be responsible for the public good. We must carry those religious and civic tenets to a new level in the 21st century—just because we are inescapably connected to each other—wherever we are on the planet.
I believe that those of us who have access to liberty and justice need to redefine our role in society—because the privileges that we possess give us, on the one hand, more power and more comfort, and on the other, more responsibility. We must address new challenges with some of the tools that new technologies have given us to create what a poet friend refers to as “a new now.” It is really time for a new now—and there is no organization I know that is more capable of making that new now a better now than Rotary.
The values of Rotary speak volumes in regard to international understanding and cooperation—you are the choir; you are the converted; you are the leaders. It might be time to rethink what the Scranton Rotary can do in today’s world in the spirit of interdependence that may be different from what might have been done a hundred years ago or even ten years ago. What does it mean to be a citizen in 2011? What can Rotary do to promote a spirit that goes beyond tolerance and beyond charity, but rather knits together the world of haves and have nots in a strategic progressive future-oriented program.
Environmentalists recognized the interconnectedness of things and systems long before many of us did. They knew that our behavior—let’s say with regard to the excessive use of natural resources, left too little for others; they knew that an oil spill in the gulf of Mexico could and would destroy not only natural life there, but economic and social structures in a much broader area; they knew that an earthquake and tsunami in Japan might very well affect the Pacific shores of California. They understand the civic and ethical dimensions of environmental affairs. Some 40 year ago they created Earth Day and in so doing, marked the birth of the environmental movement. In the spirit of that act, a positive response to a worldwide problem, we created Interdependence Day on September 12, 2003—to launch the interdependence Movement.
In thinking about what to say to you today, I looked at your guiding principles. It is the fourth that sang out to me: The advancement of international understanding, goodwill and peace through a world fellowship of business and professional persons united in the ideal of service. For our purposes today, may I edit that to say that understanding, goodwill and peace through a world fellowship of all peoples—not just business and professional people—and not only united in the ideal of service but rather united in acting upon the realities of interdependence. We need to create a spirit and culture of interdependence in civic, cultural, educational and religious institutions all over the world.
At this remarkable stage in our history, when we have unprecedented challenges and promise, what can Rotary do to advance its cause and help to create the new now? I urge you to show the rest of us the way to become a global civil society, working with other organizations and institutions poised to improve life for all of us on this earth, and possessed of the skills and the will to take leadership in so doing.
And as a symbol of your commitment, may I ask that you take a few moments at your meeting on Monday, September 12, Interdependence Day, to recite The Declaration of interdependence?
I thank you for listening and would be happy to try to answer any questions that you might have.