Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Colin Powell on Diplomacy

I had the privilege of hearing former Secretary of State, General Colin Powell, deliver a talk on diplomacy Tuesday evening (Nov 3) at a local university. Hopefully I can convey his message for those that might not have been able to attend. My thoughts mixed in with thoughts from the talk:

The United States of America is a diverse nation. Throughout the country there are pockets of various cultures - Black, Hispanic, European, Asian, etc. My parents are immigrants. Most of my friends's parents are immigrants, and many people I have met in school have immigrated here. Sometimes for a better life or better way of living, and other times to escape turmoil. And sometimes it's just for a visit to complete schooling or 'see the world.' Whatever the cause, there exists, for whatever reason, a plethora of differences, and, amongst those differences, similarities.

On September 11, 2001 the US was attacked by terrorists. I will put aside any discussion on Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, or Afghanistan, as that diminishes what the point is today. The point being that for however long, we, as Americans, became afraid. We became afraid of people that looked a certain way (Middle Eastern) or were a certain religion (Muslim). And the more ignorant people acted on this fear in ways that are not commendable. Some Americans became prejudiced, almost racist, against Arabs/Muslims/whatever other cultures fit into this box and turned very unAmerican. We got nervous on airplanes if someone fit this description. These people were the ones being 'randomly' searched at the airport. Each. And. Every. Time. I know, I have friends whose last name fits the bill. And this fear caused other countries and people to even wonder if they should come to the US; to think that maybe they wouldn't be welcome.

Add a couple of wars on top of this, and 'those' people killing 'our' soldiers, and the tension and anger increases. And now, 8 years later, where are we? We are in a much safer state than when we started. Safeguards have been put into place to protect us from the threats that were so prevalent before. Powell remarks at how he too was thoroughly searched at the airport. And as annoying as it may be, it is just another way for the government to ensure our safety. Passport and visa laws have been restructured and made more strict. The list is endless. And so now, we, the people living in the United States, can stop worrying about trying to be our own detective and just move on and embrace the American way of life we had before 9/11. And this American way of life includes welcoming others of different culture and backgrounds, and opening up our minds to think of "us" as more than the United States of America, but as a world.

Which brings me to the 4 E's Powell talked about. The first E is empowerment of wealth. I hate money, but lets face it - money makes the world go 'round. We need money to buy food, for transportation, education, clothing, anything you can name. It shouldn't be that way, but that's the way it is. Powell talked about China and how they were a relatively poor country 30 years ago and now are backing one of the most industrial countries in the world (the US). There was chatter a couple of years back about China going to war with, or at least opposing, the US. He said - no way. With nearly every toy in Walmart being made in China, there's no way that they would give up that market. That brings up a pet peeve of mine that the US has lost the toy-making trade, but that's for another blog.

So you have China making toys and gadgets, coffee from Columbia and countries in Africa, oil from the Middle East, and much much more. So there is there huge import/export relationship going on with a ton of countries. And the driver for all of this is - you guessed it, the cha ching ($). So if we want to understand our neighbors and be more diplomatic, we have to understand how everyone makes their living and apply fairness to that.

The second E is for energy. As we (as a collective whole) become more wealthy we are bound to use more energy. More transportation allows us to travel further, using more fuel, more light, more energy in the form of work, more labor to get the parts needed to assemble the vehicles, and just more of everything. We are in a technological age where everyone and their brother is on some type of social media, has a blackberry, and/or has a bluetooth capable cell phone. We are always accessible. We have to dial 10 digits on our phones now because they needed to create more numbers. The satellites and servers are being bombarded with information. This transfer of information requires energy. So the circle of life continues - in order to progress we need to better understand our actual energy needs (versus wants) and become more socially responsible.

This is especially true for the US. We are the highest user of energy in the world, consumer more than our fair share. And changing that has a lot to do with changing lifestyles and mindsets. I don't know how many times I have heard "well I don't have to pay for it" in response to turning off a light switch or faucet. I'm not flawless on this either, but we DO have to pay for it. Whether it's your great grand child, or the extra carbon emissions you've just produced (we won't even talk about stupid carbon credits yet, another blog), you have affected the world but you lazy choice not to do something. And when it's 2 billion people and they just have to have the tv, computer, ipod, blackberry, and cappuccino machine running all at the same time we're making a bigger dent faster than is ever necessary.

The third E is education. I am very adamant about this cause as well, because it is near and dear to my heart. We have too many kids who do not finish high school. Way too many. Everyone should have a basic level of education - even if college is not for a kid and they decide to pick up a trade or something, they should at least be equipped with certain tools needed to live. The high school drop out rate is even worse for minorities. You have more kids becoming statistics than graduates. And society ends up paying for it one way or another - whether its in early teenage pregnancy, or paying to put up another convict in a high security prison, or paying food stamps for the kids who's parents went to jail - so why not pay when you can be preventative, rather than reactionary? Kids need to go to school, parents need to stop blaming teachers, and communities need to have more options than the street and gangs.

The fourth E is for the environment. This goes along with the first two E's pretty well. As we become more industrialized and begin using more energy we need to limit our emissions and be careful of what we are doing to the environment. The earth is changing, and it's becoming more and more noticeable. It's pretty self-explanatory.

So that pretty much summarizes Gen. Powell's talk. I went on a couple of tangents that I hope to expound upon later, but the gist of it all is - war is not always the answer. Oftentimes it is not the answer to solving the violent problems. Violence ensues because of fear. When a dog is fearful of his territory being taken he gets defensive. When countries have their defenses up it is much harder to talk - similar to the fall of the Iron Curtain. We have to meet people where they are so that we can have a more diplomatic approach to resolving these issues. A lot of political problems can be solved by social change, i.e. healthcare reform, and education. If people are more educated they will statistically be healthier (cost less in health insurance), and less likely to commit crimes (cost less in judicial fees and police departments). So one 'simple' change can have drastically positive effects.

I could go on forever, but at this point the choice is yours. What are you doing to be a part of the solution and not the problem? If only 20% of the people do 80% of the work, the world will look very skewed.

Monday, November 02, 2009

What do you Want?

I am forced to answer this question, not because I want to, but because in the long scheme of things it really is the deciding factor in the path I, or one, choose to take. I feel like we have to know what we want and keep that in the back of our mind, or we will be inclined to settle. If you don't have an idea of the magnitude of what it is that you really really desire, than you are bound to accept just anything.

Case in point your first house: if you have never dreamed of what your first house; your first home; would be like then you don't already have the french doors picked out, you have no idea of the fabric of the couches, or that corner seat in the kitchen, or the wood floors in the living room. You would not have imagined having grass in the back, but not in the front, etc. If you have no idea what you want, then you are likely to take what you can get. Sure, you'll look through the housing ads and see what's out there, but you'll probably pick from the pile, rather than holding off and waiting for the one that you really want.

Life is much similar, if I may expound. If you go to college without a major then your whole purpose in that first year, or couple of years, is to see what's out there and what peaks your fancy. However, if you are the kid that wanted to be a lawyer since they were 5, you have a clear-cut vision of where you see yourself. Your first year will be attempting to realize that goal that you had. So we have two very different scenarios. At some point the wandering college kid should be come the focused college kid and have an idea of what they want. If not, then they may be likely to have their major chosen for them, perhaps by teachers who tell them they are good at something, or by grades that indicate the same.

And then there's love. It seems all paths lead to this at some point. You need to have some idea of what you want or don't want so that you don't end up settling. I feel like today's society is all about what they can get quickly, rather than waiting on what they actually want. And I think a lot of that has to do with people's inability to articulate what they actually want. As if defining such a thing binds you to only selecting people whom match you entirely.

Somewhere online I read that there were some main components of compatibility: intellectual, spiritual, social, family, and lifestyle. Compatibility by no means says they have to be on the same page as you or be into the same things; it just means that you both have to be ok with the choices the other person has made in that category. So if I am a rocket scientist and I only want to be with rocket scientists, then what's the point of going out with a lawyer, if I know that it's always going to bother me that they may not understand the physics behind rocket science? That is where you have to decide what you really want. If it really matters that they be a rocket scientist, then you need to pass, but if it's not that important, maybe you were being too specific, and you just wanted someone you could hold an intellectual conversation with, then you have just opened up the doorways while still maintaining your standards. Similarly if you are a huge introvert and you don't want someone to push you to do things or go out, then why, by all means, go out with a club promoter? It is just destined to fail.

Obviously I am dealing with extremes here for the sake of a good example, but the same is true on the non-extreme end. Whether it be the smoking, drinking, swearing, nail-biting, or tattoo-addiction, if there is something inherently against your 'standard' in the compatibility categories than you might be in a losing battle. But if you can live with this person's constant need to eat when you constantly want to exercise and it does not bother you, than by all means go for it.

It's all about what you really want/need. I think it's important that we define that, at least to ourselves. If someone wants to gain 20 lbs by eating more protein and exercising more they have defined what they want. If someone wants to run a marathon they will need to train, because that is ultimately the way to get what they want. We can't run around all nilly dilly and hope that we get what we want. We need to know, or at least have a faint idea of, what we want and then take the successive steps to get us where we need to be. And at the same time not accept anything sub-par (for lack of a better term) that comes along just because it's there.

That's the tricky part, because if I'm hungry and we're going out for lobster, but the cheeseburger is right there I am so tempted to ruin my appetite for the quick fix that wasn't what I truly wanted.