The poet politician, Vaclav Havel, understood the power of words. I celebrate his life and mourn his death with his words, shared from another wordsmith, Parker Palmer, in a lecture given by Palmer for Campus Ministers in 1990, "Leading from Within: Reflections on Spirituality and Leadership."
Palmer writes, "Tonight I want to begin with the words of one of those people, whose credentials for leadership are far more authentic than mine. I want to quote some remarks that Vaclav Havel (playwright, dissident, prisoner, and now president of Czechoslovakia, made to the U.S. Congress just a few weeks ago. It was surely one of the most remarkable speeches ever delivered on the floor of our national legislative body":
As long as people are people, democracy, in the full sense of the word, will always be no more than an ideal. In this sense, you too are merely approaching democracy uninterruptedly for more than 200 years, and your journey toward the horizon has neven been disrupted by a totalitarian system.
The communist type of totalitarianism system has left both our nations, Czechs and Slovaks, as it has all the nations of the Soviet Union subjugated in its time, a legacy of countless dead, an infinite spectrum of human suffering, profound economic decline, and above all, enormous human humiliation. It has brought us horrors that fortunately you have not known.
It has given us something positive, a special capacity to look from time to time somewhat further than someone who has not undergone this bitter experience. A person who cannot move and lead a somewhat normal life because he is pinned under a boulder has more time to think about his hopes than someone is not trapped that way.
What I am trying to say is this: we must all learn many things from you, from how to educate our offspring, how to elect our representatives, all the way to how to organize our economic life so that it will lead to prosperity and not to poverty. But it doesn't have to be merely assistance from the well-educated, powerful and wealthy to someone who has nothing and therefore has nothing to offer in return.
We too can offer something to you: our experience and the knowledge that has come from it. The specific experience I'm talking about has given me one certainty: consciousness precedes being, and not the other way around, as the Marxists claim. For this reason, the salvation of the human world lies nowhere else than in the human heart, in the human power to reflect, in human meekness and in human responsibility (emphasis mine). Without a global revolution in the sphere of human consciousness, nothing will change for the better in the sphere of our being as humans, and the catastrophe toward which this world is headed--be it ecological, social, demographic, or a general breakdown of civilization--will be unavoidable."
Thank you, Vaclav Havel for your words and a life well lived. Thank you, thank you!
Tuesday, December 27, 2011
After a six-month hiatus, I am resuming this literary outlet. This hiatus was not the result of a loss of words. Actually, there were too many words--too many sensations--too much to ponder. Extensive travel to Europe and China, crossing over 35,000 miles between September 21 and November 16, actually left me speechless in many ways but not without words. Words, like music, are always in the air and in my head. Sometimes, however, I am not able to give voice to them. I confess that I am really so very slow to find the exact match of the words to the emotions of the moments experienced. But now perhaps it is time.
I remain thankful for the opportunity to see historical sites, to meet people from different cultures and paths of life, and to be able to participate in rich global educational experiences on behalf of Wake Forest University.
I remain so very thankful that the use of Mandarin Chinese--the use of Chinese words-- returned in the same way that it was given to me--by gift--sheer gift. That ability, to speak to Chinese students, teachers, and parents in their first language, creates advantage for Wake Forest University and much joy for me after all of these years.
And so we continue to search for those words--English or Chinese, Greek or Coptic, French or German--that define who we are and what we think. Words are very important.