This is a transcript of a speech given by Dr. Mayotte after receiving the Foundation’s Distinguished Peace Leadership Award at the 26th Annual Evening for Peace
Thank you, each of you of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation for the critically important work you continue to do. I am humbled in receiving this World Citizenship Award and do so in the name of the millions of women around the world who work tirelessly to make our world more just and peaceful. Thank you Riane Eisler for your extraordinary life of commitment to world peace.
When I think of the World Citizenship Award, I immediately think of a 1933 quote of one of our greatest 20th century women for peace, Eleanor Roosevelt. She exclaims: “Peacetime can be as exhilarating to the daredevil as wartime. There is nothing so exciting as creating a new social order.” Today, you and I are sitting, with the whole of humankind, on the cusp of a potentially new world order. Hovering between the now and the not yet, we quiver with the excitement that comes with the opportunity to journey toward a new horizon – toward the possibilities to build and create – to re-imagine and re-envision – a world in which the earth and all its peoples can live sustainably and peacefully. At the same time, in our comfort with the status quo or fear of the unknown, we firmly plant our feet in the here and now, hesitant to boldly embrace the challenges of the not yet.
Another great woman for peace, Marian Wright Edelman nudges us towards the not yet in these words: “We are living in a time of unbearable dissonance between promise and performance: between good politics and good policy; …between calls for community and rampant individualism and greed; and between our capacity to prevent and alleviate human deprivation and disease, and our political and spiritual will to do so.”
“We are also living at an incredible moral moment in history,” Edelman continues. “How will we say thanks for the life, earth, actions, and children God has entrusted to our care? What legacies, principles, values, and deeds will we stand for and send to the future through our children to their children and to a spiritually confused, balkanized, and violent world desperately hungering for moral leadership and community?”
“…The answers,” she says, “lie in the values we stand for and in the actions we take today.” (1) “In the values we stand for and in the actions we take today.”
In calling us to be daredevils for peace, we are challenged anew to change the very “borders of our minds.” (2) We are living at a moment when powerful tectonic shifts challenge us as never before to change the way we think about and act with one another and toward the whole of creation.
Historian/theologian that I am by training, I have come to realize that no human-devised historical event has to take place. We are rational people who choose what does and does not happen. We humans can use, and we have used, this tremendous power of choice to create catastrophe on a vast scale as well as to promote those things that bring peace and stability. We can choose to impoverish humanity and decimate Mother Earth or enrich our human family and together “make peace with our planet.” (3) We can redirect our thinking and our choices – reshape our future – for this is our world and the choices for solutions to the world’s problems will be ours as well.
Over a period of years my life took me into the world of “inhuman time,” as George Steiner would name it, where some of the most horrible atrocities against humanity have occurred because some chose to perpetrate them and others of us let them take place.(4) I have entered war zones and camps where people have fled to find refuge in Africa, Asia, and Eastern Europe. In the ruins of towns and villages people once called home, I held children almost dead from starvation, saw people very freshly blown up by land mines, and conversed with women and children left alone, exploited and abused in their search for food. Among the ruins of a number of war-torn nations, I became tangibly aware of the centuries it takes to build a culture and a nation and the few months or years it takes to obliterate the land and split apart the people who gave spirit and life to that particular culture and nation.
With flight, the continuum of the lives of refugees is interrupted. The old is no more, the new, not yet. They carry within themselves, as do we, both peace and war, love and hate, strength and fragility. They are forced to rethink and reshape their lives. Stagnated in the present, they continue to live with hope for a future that does not include bombs, torture, killing, flight, or economic meltdown due to failed and callous leadership. They dream of return to their farms, villages, and towns, where they will resurrect their songs and dances and their lives.
Those individuals, whose lives have been torn apart, suffer physically and spiritually. Listen for a moment to the words of two women. The first voice is that of an internally displaced, southern Sudanese woman, a midwife who did not have even a clean razor blade with which to cut the umbilical cord in the birthing process. When I asked her what message she would like for me to carry beyond her borders for others to understand the plight of forced displacement, she said: “Tell them we are tired of running – running from bombardments, massacres, and starvation. We gather our children and try to find a place to hide. Sometimes we stay in the bush for months. We look for water and try to stay a while. But guns break the silence, and we have to run again.”
The second voice is that of a Bosnian Muslim woman, one of a group who were held in a schoolroom by members of the Bosnian Serb military and raped over and over again. Her words haunt me to this day. She said very simply: “We have lost the picture of ourselves. We have lost the picture of ourselves.”
On behalf of these women and all those who become the detritus of war, the seemingly disposable people, South African Patricia Schonstein in her book Skyline pleads as she gazes on “… the newly arrived, the sad and broken people [who] behind torn garments and the dusty dreams of Africa…whisper: Turn our desolation into something memorable. That it may not have been in vain to lose what little we owned. Make for our lost children a chime of gentle sound that they might follow it and escape, one day, from the plateau of war.”(5)
We have lived long in a war and weapons mentality with tremendous cost in human lives, environmental degradation, and economic waste. Yet, today, in these young years of the 21st century, we are gifted with myriad opportunities to become daredevils for peace and to ring out “chimes of gentle sound” for coming generations. Amid our many pressing and massive problems, we are called to live courageously and practically anew in our fragile yet beautiful world, interconnected with all earth’s inhabitants. As engaged, responsible, global citizens and leaders, we can find solutions through collective, positive action in addressing the world’s common needs and problems. And we can address these issues with a healthy combination of idealism – a vision of what ought to be – and realism, for we have the necessary scientific knowledge and technology as well as keen imaginations. We know there are threats to our global security that loom as large as or larger than a nuclear conflagration or terrorist actions – environmental consequences of climate change that include, for example, lack of access to clean, fresh water, creeping deserts impairing agricultural productive capacity, rampant deforestation, and proliferation of hazardous wastes; then there are the issues of population density, increased mass migration due to life-threatening circumstances, human health challenges, lack of women’s advancement, unabashed racism, disparities in educational opportunities, and a pervasive poverty that has created an underclass of nations to name a few. These threats are the result of human choices on the part of ordinary citizens as well as at the highest levels of government and business the world over. If we are to survive as a species and if we are to live sustainably on our planet, we must tackle these threats. Actually, we don’t have a choice not to tackle these threats.
While there has been controversy over the decision by the Nobel Committee to award President Barack Obama the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize, I believe the intent of the committee was to call us all to live and act in a new way. In that spirit President Obama accepted the award, in his words, “as a call to action, a call for all nations and all peoples to confront the common challenges of the 21st century.” Nobel Laureate Shimon Peres praised the Nobel Committee for its choice in these words: “Very few leaders if at all were able to change the mood of the entire world in such a short while with such a profound impact. [President Obama has] provided the entire humanity with fresh hope, with intellectual determination, and a feeling that there is a lord in heaven and believers on earth.” Peres then urges all of us to move together to create a new reality. President Obama calls each of us to action on many fronts, including to continue the critically important effort of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation to stem nuclear proliferation and more, to bring about nuclear disarmament, beginning with calling on the U.S. and Russia to commit to deep cuts in their nuclear arsenals so that others will follow as well as engaging in nuclear dialogue with Iran and North Korea. Obama calls us to become seriously committed to halting global warming and rescuing the long-term future of Mother Earth and its peoples from a catastrophic point-of-no-return in climate change. Obama calls us to “reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights…” (6) that Eleanor Roosevelt championed through her involvement in bringing about the ratification of The International Declaration of Human Rights and subsequent human rights documents. He calls us to work tirelessly to ensure that all peoples enjoy the most basic human rights – the right to shelter, food, clean water, basic health care, education, and governance by rule of law.
Following immediately upon the Oslo ceremony, President Obama, with other world leaders, will turn vital attention to the Copenhagen Conference on Climate Change. Just as the United States must step up to the plate first in nuclear disarmament, so too must the U.S., with the greatest urgency, lead the way in climate change mitigation and adaptation. Finding solutions to climate change belongs to each of us, so that we can avert climatic disasters such a rising oceans that submerge low-lying islands, cyclones and hurricanes that make cities uninhabitable, and parched, drought-stricken farmlands that fail to provide sustenance. Climate change will loom larger as a factor among the already complex and complicated causes of violent conflict and will cause millions more to be on the move as migrants and refugees. If, however, we garner the moral and political will to act collectively, we will know that polar bears will have solid ice flows, Silverback gorillas will thrive in lush forests, all creatures will breathe fresh air, and “the fragile balance of life on earth will be preserved.” (7)
Njabulo Ndebele, former Vice Chancellor of the University of Cape Town and a committed global citizen, notes of his home country: “Although we have built millions of new houses, we did not build communities.” (8) The wonderful African notion of ubuntu leads us to building community. The lives and actions of both Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu, champions of South African reconciliation and building cultures of peace, have been profoundly influenced by the notion of ubuntu, wherein a person is a person only in relation to other persons. This world-view values affirmation and acceptance of the other, interdependence, participation, openness, and concern for the common good. To live in a world of ubuntu assumes forgiveness, reconciliation, and building cultures of peace within oneself and among all the peoples of the world and the whole of creation. Desmond Tutu, whom you have honored here, in his book, No Future Without Forgiveness, says: “[T]his universe has been constructed in such a way that unless we live in accordance with its moral laws we will pay the price for it. One such law is that we are bound together in what the Bible calls ‘the bundle of life.’ Our humanity is caught up in that of all others. We are human because we belong. We are made for community, for togetherness, for family, to exist in a delicate network of interdependence.”(9)
May we live in a world of ubuntu, joining together as a human community, as engaged, responsible global citizens, so that we might move toward creating a peace and openness that can take root and flourish in our homes, our communities, and our world. May we make “chimes of gentle sound.” We can effect change if we envision that we do belong to one another; if we are willing to be ‘daredevils’ for peace, and if we see, in the words of poet Archibald MacLeish, that “we are brothers [and sisters], riders on the earth together.” (10)
2. Warren Zimmerman, Origins of a Catastrophe: Yugoslavia and Its Destroyers – America’s Last Ambassador Tells What Happened and Why (New York: Times Books, 1996), 238.
3. Ingrid Washinawatok El-Issa in Architects of Peace, op.cit., 102.
4. George Steiner, Language and Silence (London: Faber and Faber, 1967), as cited in William Shawcross, The Quality of Mercy: Cambodia, Holocaust and Modern Conscience (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1984), 13.
5. Patricia Schonstein Pinnock, Skyline (Cape Town, David Philip Publishers, 2000), 9.
6. Center for the Study of Human Rights, “United Nations Charter,” Twenty-Five Human Rights Documents (New York: Columbia University, 1994), 1
7. BBC Film, Earth (2009).
8. Njabulo Ndebele, “Of pretence and protest,” Mail and Guardian, September 23, 2009, 20-21.
9. Desmond Mpilo Tutu, No Future Without Forgiveness (New York: Doubleday, 1999), 196.
10. Archibald MacLeish, Riders on the Earth (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1978), xiii-xiv.