I still have lots of travel stories to write about but I finally had time to finish a book I have been inching my way through for a very long time. It is an astonishing book but it is dense and full of information and philosophy so it is best to read slowly. Since I bought the book Samantha Power became the United States Ambassador to the United Nations.
The research she did for the book definitely prepared her well for the role.
I have always been an idealist but I have grown more pragmatic as the years have passed. I wish idealism worked the way I imagined when I was ten but too many people make their choices based on misinformation and emotion.
The world is a complex place and you will never be successful with simplistic strategies. The book is called “Chasing the Flame” and it is about Sergio Vieira de Mello. It will make you feel bad about your own life and accomplishments and how little you are doing in comparison with Sergio but you should read it anyway 😉
What is really powerful is that Samantha doesn’t gloss over his flaws and presents the world and Sergio in all the complex glory that both deserve.
What was especially powerful for me was Sergio’s comments on how foreign powers need to tackle problems in other countries. They need to listen and be culturally sensitive.
The book really spoke to me because as a child I also wanted to work in the United Nations. I was privileged enough to participate in a model UN at an impressionable age and then, barely 17, travel all over the continent as part of a week in New York City the principal purpose of which was to learn about the United Nations. We even got to sit IN the Security Council Chamber!
It was one of the highlights of my life and has always had me wringing my hands for the UN to matter. I lived in Australia so I know about East Timor. I was trekking through the hill tribe villages north of Chiang Mai when the Khmer Rouge were still killing random innocents. I lived in Europe when the Balkans were being torn apart. The father of one of my friends was a high ranking officer in the Canadian army so he spoke eloquently about Roméo Dallaire so I read his book about Rwanda.
All of this meant that Samantha’s book about Sergio spoke to me in a more personal way.
It also confirmed my own personal experience traveling all over the world even though I don’t unfortunately work for the UN. But I do try to do work that would be worthy of the great ideals the UN concept can represent.
I do what Sergio did – but I do it because my father taught me how. Some of it was his words but I realize now it was also his example. He was like Sergio – a great, flawed man who had an extraordinary impact on the people who met him.
I try to do what they did. I constantly learn things and re-evaluate my assumptions so that I have as broad a framework as possible with which to evaluate the world. Then I listen. I REALLY listen. I don’t wait to talk or get distracted. I listen beyond just the words. One of the most touching experiences of my life was when I was sitting with my computer in Tanzania post-safari editing pictures and I realized one of the shy staff members was fascinated by my computer so I showed him how it worked.
As Sergio said, it’s about dignity. It’s also that simple axiom people seem to so easily forget – “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. Be nice. Be respectful. Be interested. You will learn so much and your life will be so enriched. The only drawback is that sometimes people will develop crushes on you that will make for heartbreaking departures. Maybe flirting and crushes are the real answer to world peace. Perhaps I should tell the UN? 😉