Upsides to Shudowns

Jan 3, 2019

I’m home again today.  Normally I would have gone into the State Department as I usually do on Tuesdays and Thursdays when I am in town.  I’ve valued the chance to remain engaged; to work with new Ambassadors as they move through the confirmation process and prepare for their new assignments.  The chance to talk with them about why we serve and about the quality of leadership is rewarding and I hope that my own perspective, shaped by three Ambassadorial assignments, gives them something to consider as they develop their own understanding of the job.

I like to remind them that ultimately, it is their judgment, their values, and their understanding of the oath of office that will define their service.   When we pledge to protect and defend the constitution of our nation our oath matters and there are times, such as now, when we really do need to decide what those words mean to us.  What are the fundamental values and beliefs that define our founding documents and what is it that we commit ourselves to preserving?  That is what each of us is called upon to decide.

But, of course, I won’t be going into the office today because we are in day 13 of the government shutdown.   I am not going to go down the rabbit hole of bemoaning the dysfunctionality of our government – it is a problem that has been becoming ever worse over the past decade and I know my ranting and railing about it won’t make the difference.  So instead I am taking advantage of these days to finalize my lectures for the cruise ship.

I’m far from an expert on any of the topics I speak on but, as in my work with the Ambassadors, what I can do is offer a perspective against which the audience can measure their own understanding of the issues and the world in which we live.  If, in the process, folks open their apertures a bit, if we spark discussion, and if we encourage dialogue, then I am content.

On this cruise, the lectures focus largely on a world in change.  God knows, all we have to do is to look around us to realize that the pace of change, and the magnitude of it, is incredible.  For many, it is frightening, disorienting, and troubling.  I think this is part of the reason why many have sought to hold tightly to their “story” of themselves…whether defined by national identity, faith, race…whatever it may be.  We want to hold onto the narrative that has given shape to our sense of selves even as the narrative is being redefined every day.

And, whether we’re willing to acknowledge it or not, our narrative about ourselves as Americans is under ever increasing pressure.  Our firm belief that we are nation founded in values is shaken daily as we see the anger, the divisions, the hatred, all come to the fore.  Racism, misogyny, antisemitism, are painfully apparent and, sadly, far more common than we want to believe in a nation that has put itself forward as a beacon of hope and a proponent that all people have the right to live lives of dignity and freedom.  I hope that we can lay claim…rightfully….to that narrative again.  Right now, I’m less certain that it reflects our nation as it is today.

But I digress…on the ship I’ll speak about climate change…sea level rise and ocean acidification and what it means to the people of the Pacific Islands we’ll visit.  I’ll talk about how diplomacy changed over my 3 plus decades of service and why the issues of climate change, global health, youth engagement, and redefining how we see the world matters to us all.   I’ll talk about the challenges posed by the biotech and AI revolutions and I’ll look at the issues of cyber warfare and cyber crime and try to make some sense of problems stemming from a world…the cyber-sphere….that didn’t exist when I, or most of the folks I’ll be speaking to, were born.

And I’ll remind them in the last lecture that despite these changes and challenges, despite the fact that world is shifting far faster than we can adapt and learn, we can still control how we will engage the world in which we live and we can define what values will drive our engagement.

My talks on our first cruise last January were well-received.  These lectures are an outgrowth of conversations I began then and I think that they are better, but who knows.  I hope that they will engage, intrigue and spark discussion.  We’ll see.

It’s amusing to me, though, that I am doing more and more lecturing…me…a guy who thirty years ago quailed at the thought of public speaking.  Proof, I guess, that we are capable of change and of growth.

So, its back to work on my lectures.  And I’ll still have time to cook, to practice piano, to walk the dogs and tackle other challenges around the house.  There are upsides to shutdowns.  I’ll take advantage when I can.





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