New Ideas

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(Host) New ways of thinking about old problems are being explored in some surprising places, and commentator Nick Boke suggests that we may have some catching up to do.

(Boke) In recent months I’ve traveled to Lebanon, Kenya and southern Sudan. I’ve discovered people in these countries who’ve decided that some of the old ways just don’t work any more, and are daring to try new ideas. The results aren’t perfect, but they are encouraging.

When Lebanon emerged from 20 years of civil war in the early ’90s, downtown Beirut had been devastated. Now a new downtown has emerged from the rubble, ready for business, and almost everybody’s working to protect the fragile peace.

In Kenya, the 2002 elections heralded the end of 25 years of dictatorship. Although the new leadership has degenerated into partisan squabbling, the people and the press clamor loudly and clearly for democracy and for programs to improve life for everyone, not just the elite few.

In south Sudan, this summer the rebels and the government agreed to end 21 years of civil war. They initiated a peace process that creates a semi-autonomous southern region, somewhat separate from the Islamic north.

In this area that the UN rates worst in the world for women and for education, I saw teachers who work for nothing. They understand that southern Sudan has no hope without an educated populace. Just as the presenters and participants in the workshop I attended on girls’ education understand Sudan can’t move forward if women continue to be left out of the system.

I didn’t have to visit China to know that things there are changing rapidly. 20 years ago China’s leadership decided the old ways just weren’t working. Now the country booms. I don’t mean to imply that all’s well – just that China is asking new questions about what it means to be China.

And then there’s Europe. After 1,500 years of one part of Europe trying to take over other parts, Europeans are replacing war and conquest with a peaceful process of intentional integration and unification. It’s not perfect, but it’s a really good idea.

Here at home, however, we seem to be asking the same old questions instead of new ones that will move us forward.

We need to re-think our tax policies so they’ll equitably provide the revenue we need to take care of ourselves. We need to figure out how to separate sectarian morality from public ethics, especially concerning things like stem-cell research and gay marriage. We need to reduce our tolerance of big-business cozying up to big-government.

Brave men and women in the rest of the world are asking new questions and looking for innovative answers. They’re willing to take risks aimed at improving the lot of everyone, not just of the few. We need to do the same thing if we don’t want to be left behind.

This is Nick Boke in Weathersfield.

Nick Boke is a literacy consultant, currently creating primary grades instruction programs for southern Sudan.

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