A week ago, Right Livelihood laureate Alyn Ware opened the Basel Peace Office. Speaking on behalf of the Youth Future Project, we took a closer look at the kind of impact our lives can have in this world.
“Iran not cooperating on nuclear Weapons Probe”
“Inside Israel’s nuclear wargames”
“Pakistan rapidly expanding nuclear weapons arsenal”
“North Korea ready to conduct nuclear missile tests”
These are newspaper headlines from the past months.
Does this sound like the kind of world you want to live in? Does this sound like a world in which you can feel safe? In which people can pursue their own happiness, and become the kind of person they want to be? To me, it really doesn’t. To me, it describes a world, in which people are afraid. Afraid of each other. Afraid of the unknown.
Whether it is states that threaten each other with nuclear missiles and atomic bombs, or whether it is the individual who uses violence to solve a personal conflict… the underlying dynamic is the same: The insecurity and instability of the modern world that is spinning around faster and faster, causes us to seek protection in the form of power. And particularly in the form of power over others instead of with others. We begin to build walls when we really should build bridges.
Often, we become so pathlocked, so trapped in this race, that we no longer question what awaits us at the finish-line. We no longer see the world we wish we would have and we lose sight of what could be.
We let go of the idea that there could be a world in which the peaceful settlement of conflicts is the norm rather than the exception. We let go of the hope that democracy can be more than an empty word. That it could truly mean an active citizenry, involved youth, and participating elders.
We also let go of our determination to resolve climate change and find a sustainable lifestyle.
And in the end, we let go of the person we could become. A person, who has the courage to speak up when injustice is done to others, who does the right thing, not because it is easy but simply because it is right. And most importantly, that person would know that fear and insecurity are not overcome through a race for power. Power over others is a zero-sum game. You can’t win, unless the other side loses. And so we’re building higher and higher walls, we keep seeking a false sense of security, without realizing that the walls we’ve built to feel safe, are the very walls that make us prisoners of our own fears and that prevent us from realizing our potential as human beings. And it is so easy to become caught up in this race. But remember, there are already people who stopped running this race.
People like you. People like us, and people like the young activists we at the Youth Future Project work with. People who look at the world as it is, who see the fear and the insecurity behind those walls, decide that this is not the world they wanted, and who then go about and change it.
But change it how? It’s a pretty big world out there, with some pretty big problems. Changing the world is easier said than done. By now, you might actually question my sanity, or at least accuse me of being incredibly idealistic. I tell you what: you’re right. I am idealistic. And I don’t even think that that could ever an “accusation”. In fact, it should never ever be an accusation! Because it means that you’re willing to stand up for an alternative. That you not only question the race you’re running, but actually think about setting a different finish line, a different goal post. So yes, I do stand here before you as an idealist. But I’m also honest with myself. Far too often, changing the world is one of those lofty goals that make a nice speech but don’t actually hold anybody accountable! When was the last time you have been asked about your progress in changing the world? In other situations, people may have questioned you when you missed a deadline, when you didn’t deliver on a promise or when you didn’t fulfil their expectations… But I honestly ask you: Have you ever been held accountable for the impact you have in this world? Did anybody ever blame you for not changing it, or for not succeeding in improving it?
I didn’t think so. And that is because everybody assumes it to be impossible. It would be insane to ask something like that of another person, right? But we ask that! We ask that of others, but more importantly, we ask that of ourselves. There is no use in lamenting that the politicians don’t get it right, or that governments or “society” aren’t doing enough. The world has never been changed for the better, by people who were bystanders in their own lives or by people who always see the responsibility to act with others, but never with themselves.
*A transcript of the full speech will soon be uploaded to http://www.youthfutureproject.org