Aug 10

Tackling "Problems of Staggering Complexity"

by Sargent Shriver Peace Institute | 08/10/2020 12:48PM | Quote of the Week | Leadership

Quote Of The Week 08102020

Our Quote of the Week emphasizes that we must work together in order to eliminate the major threats we face as an international community -- and as a species. As we mark the 75th anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and as we continue to deal with the COVID-19 crisis and the effects of climate change, Sargent Shriver's words continue to have a resonance and an urgency 45 years later.

During a lecture tour in the former Soviet Union in 1975, Sargent Shriver gave this speech about the ethics of science and technology. Using his typical combination of warmth and strength, Shriver asserted that to truly resolve the complex problems of the modern world, we have to move beyond the notion of "détente" (or easing of tensions between two countries) and to fully embrace a notion of common existence. He stressed: 

"Common existence recognizes that even coexistence by itself is not enough – that even though there are proper areas of competition, there are inescapable and increasing imperatives of cooperation."

Collaboration and diplomacy are tools on which Sargent Shriver relied throughout his career to bring people, communities, and even countries together. His civil rights work made possible the integration of schools in Chicago. His vision of the Peace Corps infused volunteers with the spirit of diplomacy and global citizenship. His concept of "community action," which brought local leaders and citizens together to shape the programs they needed in their own communities, defined the programs of the War on Poverty. His efforts as the US Ambassador to France helped to improve the relationship between the US and France during the Vietnam War, which was a time of heightened tension. His work on nuclear disarmament brought political and religious leaders to mobilize behind the notion of "No First Strike," a pledge to remove nuclear weapons as an option in conflict. And even in his role as Chair of Special Olympics, Shriver helped to make the organization truly global, working with world leaders to bring the organization's athletics programs to the Soviet Union and throughout Easter Europe, to China, Tunisia, New Zealand, and to South Korea, among other countries. In fact, his work as a global ambassador for Special Olympics has inspired the organization to continue to appoint designated "Sargent Shriver International Global Messengers" to act as athlete-ambassadors.

It is vital to remember that, whatever differences and ongoing competition there may be between us as nations, there is no way to diminish threats posed by nuclear weapons, climate change, pandemics like COVID-19, and other large-scale dangers unless we do so by collaborating with others. As a species, we currently hold the power to save or destroy millions of lives. Operating in isolation, escalating conflicts rather than defusing them, will only increase the likelihood of mutually-assured destruction. This is not a path we must follow.

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