President Barack Obama began the customary State of the Union address to a session of full Congress and the American people last Wednesday night with the sober recognition of the reality face by his nation over the last year. He chronicled “two wars, an economy rocked by severe recession, a financial system on the verge of collapse, and a government deeply in debt.” Maybe over-optimistically he then stated that the “worst of the storm has passed.”
President Obama did recognize the domestic devastation wrought by the multiple crises. “One in 10 Americans still cannot find work. Many businesses have shuttered. Home values have declined. … For those who had already known poverty, life has become that much harder.”
Speaking primarily to his national constituency, though, the global impact of this superpower’s policies, its actions or inaction, on everyone else warranted too few lines. Obama did say, “Let’s reject the false choice between protecting our people and upholding our values. Let’s leave behind the fear and division, and do what it takes to defend our nation and forge a more hopeful future – for America and the world.”
We cling, as well as our North American neighbours, to worn notions of the past because we fear a future that may demand fundamental change from us. We also let divisions, different perspectives, and other world views prevent us from really listening to one another.
No one vision will unite the peoples of our polyglot, multicultural, sectarian planet but it doesn’t need to. Multiple, non-conflicting answers can be found to common problems. The key for us to take the needed leap of faith and begin struggling towards our varied images of the sought after just, sustainable global community.
Some of the problems before us demand an immediate charity response. If , for example, there are hungry among us, we feed them plain and simple. As the Haitian proverb goes, ‘An empty bag can not stand up.’ However this cannot and should not be the limit of our response.
The next question has to be asked, ‘Why are they hungry?’ Just by asking this question we take an important step towards outlining solutions. These might entail addressing fundamental justice or rights issues in society whether here in the Yukon or in distant lands like Afghanistan or Haiti. Seeking justice based solutions may demand a territorial anti-poverty strategy or a new international fair trade regime.
Ultimately our actions must be considered in a context that crosses the millennia-old divides currently separating us from others in the global community. We must come to recognize all as our brothers and sisters. This solidarity approach will demand planet wide mechanisms that give all a full share in finding the solutions needed to shape our collective future.
As President Obama noted, “Democracy in a nation of 300 million people can be noisy and messy and complicated. And when you try to do big things and make big changes, it stirs passions and controversy.” This is certainly no less true on the global stage. A state of the world address, if we had one, would recognize this reality. In the face of the enormous challenges and daunting obstacles before us all it would have to end as like the president’s address did, “We don’t quit.”
Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.