The sight of 152 national leaders streaming into the United Nations headquarters for a Millennium Summit meeting filled me with rejoicing. The leaders were called together by the Secretary General to develop plans for action to move toward lasting peace and a sustainable future for every one on Earth. They endorsed an eight-page plan to deal with the world community’s hardest problems – and the UN staff has responded to the Summit mandate.
That gathering was particularly encouraging for me because it came close to being what I had envisioned thirty-three years ago in articles for the Center Magazine and the Saturday Review. Those articles focused on the signs I saw then of the coming transformation of humanity – when people everywhere would act to meet the needs of every member of the human family. I saw the creative powers of human beings being released in a glorious surge of new achievements.
In the Center Magazine I proposed that the Secretary General should be authorized by the UN to present annual reports on the state of humanity – reports based on information drawn from all of the nations and broadcast around the world each year. I contended that the reports should emphasize the noblest deeds and wisest statements of human beings in every field. These reports should salute Heroes of Humanity – men and women who were highly creative and compassionate, who served one another and helped one another, who broke the bonds that kept others from developing their abilities, who displayed the deepest respect for the inherent dignity of each human person.
The Millennium Summit was certainly based on the transforming principles that I expected to see. Secretary General Kofi Annan asked the leaders there to take every possible step to enable the people of every country to move upward in health and prosperity – and to make a strong effort to reduce the number of people living in dire poverty by 50 percent by the year 2015. His goals were clearly similar to those of an American President – Harry Truman – who declared in an inaugural address in 1949: “Only by helping the least fortunate of its members to help themselves can the human family achieve the decent, satisfying life that is the right of all people.”
The gathering of the world’s political leaders of the UN in the year 2000 must be followed year-by-year by reports to humanity from the Secretary General. Year after year, the people of this planet must be reminded of what wonderful, mysterious, amazing beings they actually are. There must be continuing celebrations of human greatness.
I do not believe that political leaders – even the best ones among them – can adequately represent the brilliance, the beauty, and enormous diversities of human beings. Future Summit Meetings and future reports must involve singers and dancers, choirs of voices, painters and sculptors, novelists and historians and poets, musicians and composers, mystics and spiritual servants, meditators and mediators, theologians, retreat masters, and scientists, homebuilders and architects, craftsmen and teachers, administrators and free wheelers – people from every field. Every celebration should proclaim and reflect the inexhaustible energies of love.
The Millennium Summit revived for many people the torrent of hope with which we began the New Year. On the first day of the year 2000 there were television broadcasts from places we had never seen before — showing people welcoming the New Era with songs and dances, with outbursts of exuberant joy. We felt the kinship of belonging to one human family – but the wave of linkage subsided as the patterns of previous centuries took over again. The new perspectives which we had glimpsed through global communications were not absorbed into our thinking and acting.
But the gathering of leaders at the UN brought back our awareness of the fact that we do live in a Time of Transformation. With all their capacities and their limitations, the leaders made informal contacts with one another that they had never experienced before. When Fidel Castro came close to Bill Clinton and shook Clinton’s hand before anyone could stop him, there was a moment of change that would not be forgotten. And the President heard comments from other leaders who milled around him and approached him as a person. He responded to them and he had a personal impact on each one of them.
The effects of the Millennium Summit will be felt in countless ways. The UN has already gained new vitality from it – new attention from the media, new understanding from people who had largely ignored it. The leaders who mingled there, who talked in the halls and encountered one another unexpectedly, will feel wider responsibilities to the world community as well as to their own nations.
Yet this Time of Transformation goes far beyond the repercussions of a conference of presidents and prime ministers – it has started dialogues in the homes of people everywhere – and around the Earth through the Internet. It calls for a continuous recognition of the creative events occurring in all countries. It demands a wider awareness of the fast currents of change that are carrying us into new circles of conflict and compassion, new embraces, new surges of evolution, tall feelings of Hope that great things are coming.
In July of this year, fifty passionate advocates of long-range thinking and constructive action took part in a three-day Peace Retreat sponsored by the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation and La Casa de Maria, a conference and retreat center in Santa Barbara, with the purpose of connecting their lives to one another and becoming more effective in benefiting humanity and a threatened world. Much attention was given to the ideas of Joanna Macy, a Buddhist philosopher and activist, who believes that many signs indicate a Great Turning in human attitudes. She asserts that many people are turning away from the destructive habits of an industrial society toward a Life Sustaining Society – toward cooperative actions to save the Earth. She believes that this movement “is gaining momentum today through the choices of countless individuals and groups.”
The men and women in the sessions at La Casa cited these goals: “To provide people the opportunity to experience and share with others their innermost responses to the present condition of our world; to reframe their pain for the world as evidence of their interconnectedness in the web of life and hence their power to take part in its healing; to provide people with concepts – from system science, deep ecology, or spiritual traditions – which illumine this power along with exercises which reveal its play in their own lives . . . to enable people to embrace the Great Turning as a challenge which they are fully capable of meeting in a variety of ways, and as a privilege in which they can take joy . . .”
The soaring presence of joy permeated the gathering in Santa Barbara. We danced and we sang, we looked at one another face-to-face, finding deep realities in each other’s eyes; we imagined what the people of the next century might ask us if we were confronted by representatives of future generations. We went far forward in time and in our sharing of our thoughts and emotions. We laughed together and some of us cried. We felt the potential greatness of the human species.
That experience in the beautiful surroundings of La Casa de Maria in Santa Barbara reinforced my conviction that Summit Meetings for Humanity should be held annually or possibly more often. It made me determined again to uphold a Right of Celebration as a human right essential for a full understanding of the immortal power in the depths of human beings.
Walter Wriston, author of “The Twilight of Sovereignty,” has given us a vivid description of the increasing impact of the global communications system which now provides unlimited channels for education and illumination: “Instead of merely invalidating George Orwell’s vision of Big Brother watching the citizen, information technology has allowed the reverse to happen. The average citizen is able to watch Big Brother. Individuals anywhere in the world with a computer and a modem can access thousands of databases internationally. And these individuals, who communicate with each other electronically regardless of race, gender, or color, are spreading the spirit of personal expression – of freedom – to the four corners of the earth.”
Noting that we are now living in what can be called “a global village,” Wriston observed: “In a global village, denying people human rights or democratic freedoms no longer means denying them an abstraction they have never experienced, but rather it means denying them the established customs of the village. Once people are convinced that these things are possible in the village, an enormous burden falls upon those who would withhold them.”
This is the Age of Open Doors – and the doors cannot be closed against anyone. More than fifty years ago, the UN General Assembly endorsed a revolutionary statement drafted by a committee headed by an American woman, Eleanor Roosevelt – the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Assembly called upon all member countries and people everywhere “to cause it to be disseminated, displayed, read and expounded principally in schools and other educational institutions, without distinction based on the political status of countries or terrorists.” The Declaration is now part of the human heritage – an essential element in the aspirations of people all over the planet.
The Declaration proclaims a bedrock fact: “Recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the Foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.” Every Summit Meeting for Humanity in all the years to come should begin with a reading of the thirty specific articles in that Declaration. It encourages us to become intensely aware of our own marvelous gifts – the package that came to us in the process of becoming human. It sanctions the pleasure of trying new thoughts, of taking new steps on new paths, and tossing our fears behind us. In the light of it, we welcome the hunger to know and to grow that we see in all the glorious beings around us.
Many scientists now acknowledge that human beings embody the creative power of the universe in a special way. We are connected with the divine power which shaped the stars and brought all things into existence. We are limited only by the range of our imagination – our visions of what can be done.
Herman Hesse, a great novelist, described our situation most beautifully. He wrote:
“What then can give rise to a true spirit of peace on earth? Not commandments and not practical experience. Like all human progress, the love of peace must come from knowledge.
It is the knowledge of the living substance in us, in each of us, in you and me. . . . the secret godliness that each of us bears within us. It is the knowledge that, starting from this innermost point, we can at all times transcend all pairs of opposites, transforming white into black, evil into good, night into day.
The Indians call it Atman; the Chinese, Tao; the Christians call it grace.
When the supreme knowledge is present (as in Jesus, Buddha, Plato, or Lao-Tzu) a threshold is crossed, beyond which miracles begin. There war and enmity cease. We can read of it in the New Testament and in the discourses of Gautama. Anyone who is so inclined can laugh at it and call it ‘introverted rubbish,’ but to one who has experienced it his enemy becomes his brother, death becomes birth, disgrace honor, calamity good fortune . . .
Each thing on earth discloses itself two-fold, as ‘of this world’ and not of this world. But ‘this world’ means what is outside us. Everything that is outside us can become enemy, danger, fear, and death. The light dawns with the experience that this entire ‘outward world’ is not only an object of our perception but at the same time the creation of our soul, with the transformation of all outward into inward things, of the world into the self.”
As humanity moves from one summit to another, as the deep connections of the human family shift from the outward world to the world within us, as we know one another fully at last, the inner knowledge enfolds all of us. A glorious age is around us and in us, and we will take it all into ourselves.