Voices

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                 2020   -   YEAR OF CLARITY, DECADE OF PEACE

Our voice is the liaison of our life, our distinquishing tune, our touch one to another  –  be it spoken, written or sung; gestured, danced or played; offered on still wings of silence, in the intimacy of eyes or the invocations of a dream.

Since 1989, to honor humanity’s most inspirational voices, we have culled through hundreds of commencement addresses (dating back sixty-five years) and presented the very best. 

But now  –  on the dangerous heels of a disintegrating and distrustful decade, not to mention the onslaught of a worldwide pandemic  –  we are engaged in a world-wide revolution of consciousness. So beginning January 1, we are presenting voices known and unknown that urge us to act now on the understanding that we are profoundly, inescapably and urgently in this Earthly struggle together. 

                            ~  Tony Balis

p.s. Please share your thoughts:  peace@humanity.org

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March 31:    Here’s the all-too-rare voice a true leader, Angela Merkel, addressing her country (and, by definitive proxy, all of us) about the covad crisis and the challenges of self-responsibility. She hardly ever appears on TV and she shies from drama. As N Y Magazine stated: “What gave her address its force was her tone, which was direct, honest, and searingly empathic. She laid bare not just the test we all face but also the solace that leadership can provide. Without accusations, boasts, hedges, obfuscations, dubious claims or apocalytic metaphors she did what a leader is supposed to do: explain the gravity of the situation and promise that the government’s help would flow to everyone who needed it.”

March 23:      How about the felicitous combination of strong Italian Mayors in no uncertain terms confronting citizens who are not obeying their mandate to isolate at home. 

March 17:    The best of voices often are those full of easy grace and high humor. Here’s Barack Obama’s final White House Correspondent’s Dinner speech, an instant classic, from 2016. 

March 14:    Venezuelan cartoonist Reyma Suprani uses her voice as a “barometer of freedom.” She illustrates truth to power, ignoring personal consequence, determined to defend freedom and democracy from the scourge of dictators. “A cartoon is like a Rosetta stone. If we throw it into outer space, a future alien would be able to know with certainty that in the past we once had a civilized world with free thinking.”

March 9:    Here is a man whose voice is his hands and his heart. On what was once a barren sandbar in India’s Brahmaputra River, Jadav ‘Molai’ Payeng, beginning in 1979 at age 16, has planted one tree every day since, creating a thriving, 1600 acre forest featuring four Bengal tigers and pure oxygen. “All the plants and trees here are my sons and daughters. They live peacefully.”  

March 6:    From Western Kenya, Musimbi Kasaryo, CEO of the Global Fund for Women, explains the tradition of isirika, which confirms our common humanity. She celebrates the existence of 168 women’s funds across the world. “If you want to solve the world’s biggest problems, invest in women and girls.”

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February 29:    Along the same lines as our previous voice, Norwegian psychologist and economist Per Espen Stokes dissipates doomsday narratives in an amusing fourteen minutes and helps make caring for the earth feel personable, do-able and empowering. “Our brain loves stories…We need more stories of the heros and heroines of all stripes that are making real change happen.”

February 26:    Science storyteller and broadcaster Britt Way, from Canada, explores how climate change affects us socially, mentally and economically. “Right now, students around the world are screaming for change in the piercing voice of despair.”

February 21:    Perhaps there is no one better to remind us of the voice of animals than Dutch wildlife photographer Frans Lanting, as in this spare and enthralling presentation. “I like to get past the fur, the feathers and the scales. I like to get under the skin.”  

February 17:    And also from Scandanavia, how can the downtrodden voice of a piano keyboard encourage humanity to stay in shape? Here’s the answer from The Fun Theory in Sweden. 

February 14:    As reminded by this message from Denmark, may we ever use our voices to see each other more clearly and more kindly. “It’s easy to put people in boxes.”

February 10:    And of course the voice of Earth itself calls to us every moment, every hour, not least in a trillion incarnations of breathless, visual beauty; hosting every species, precious and vital one to another; offering  -  most poignantly to humankind  -  joy and wisdom and endurance.  

February 6:    This riveting speech by Adam Schiff in the Senate chamber yesterday likely will be long remembered and referenced as a seminal moment in American history. Way more than concluding argument, it is a profound call to character for the nation. 

February 3:    Voices use words, primarily. Here is Oprah Winfrey introducing Dr. Maya Angelou, speaking on the power of words. And here is Ms Angleou reciting “I’m a Rainbow in Somebody’s Cloud” and the “The Mask”, with a few trenchant comments after. “No human being can be more human than another human being.”

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January 31:    Poet and teacher Clint Smith of New York City, in four compelling minutes of legato rap, urges us to speak up against ignorance and injustice. “Who has to have a soap box, when all you’ve ever needed is your voice.”

January 30:    In the midst of this erratic era of self-centered leadership, may it be revitalizing to listen to this ten minute interview with a head of state who: brokered lasting peace with long-term terrorists (52-year civil war with FARC); shared a 2,000 mile border with a disastrous dictator; was profoundly involved with the war on drugs; and yet made substantial social, economic and environmental progress, winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 2016: Juan Manuel Santos Calderon, President of Colombia from 2010 to 2018. 

January 29:    From social responsibility to healthier products to increased environmental activism, the corporate world has increasingly embraced positive change, often leading the way. Here’s one recent TV spot from Mariott that they call Human, the Golden Rule. “It would be great if human beings were great at being human…”

January 28:    With the words “wander” and “wonder” tattooed on her travelling feet, artist Charlotte Bassin of Colorado creates enchanting world maps that remind us of the profound beauty and vulnerability of our Earth, each map without political borders, each an invocation for us to treasure and protect our only home. 

January 27:    Time for some truly extraordinary music, voice of the gods. Johannes Brahms, in a letter to Clara Schumann in 1877, described Johann Sebastian Bach’s famous Chaconne (the last movement of his Second Violin Partita in D Minor, as played here with phenomenal grace by Jascha Heifetz) like this: “On one stave, for a small instrument, the man writes a whole world of the deepest thoughts and most powerful feelings. If I imagined that I could have created, even conceived the piece, I am quite certain that the excess of excitement and earth-shattering experience would have driven me out of my mind.” 

January 26:    Let’s attend the concerned eloquence of a professor and an actress who, in highly complimentary videos only a few years apart, offer stark insight on the diminishment of democracy and how we, you and I, still might rescue it  –  as Charlie Chaplin so ardently urged us in 1941. Lawrence Lessig (2015) and Jennifer Lawrence (2019). “We have a political system that betrays the fundamental idea of a representative democracy.” 

January 25:    Further to understanding what kind of nation each of us lives in, here (speaking, in essence, not only for the United States) is Robert F. Kennedy on the night in 1968 that Martin Luther King Jr. was shot. Towards the end of these few, soft-spoken minutes RFK frames his hopes in the words of Aeschylus: “To tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of the world.”

January 24:    Do you live in a in a generous, selfless, outward looking country, one that cares about humanity and the planet? For 20 years, Simon Anholt, policy advisor to Presidents and Prime Ministers in over 50 countries, has been thinking about what living in a “good country” means.   “…the only superpower left on the planet: global public opinion.”

January 23:    Imagine.

January 22:    Consider the words that George Washington  -  concerned for the safety of our eight-year-old Constitution  -  left us on September 19, 1796, in his Farewell Address, first appearing in a Philadelphia newspaper. It was composed with the help of Alexander Hamilton and written to guide and inspire future generations. Here, as sung at The White House a few years back in front of our 44th President, is “One Last Time” from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical, “Hamilton.” (Here’s the song on Broadway.)

Perhaps the most resonant extract from the original Farewell Address: “So likewise, a passionate attachment of one nation for another produces a variety of evils. Sympathy for the favorite nation, facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest in cases where no real common interest exists, and infusing into one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into a participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter without adequate inducement or justification….And it gives to ambitious, corrupted, or deluded citizens (who devote themselves to the favorite nation) facility to betray or sacrifice the interests of their own country without odium, sometimes even with popularity; gilding with the appearances of a virtuous sense of obligation a commendable deference for public opinion, or a laudable zeal for public good, the base or foolish compliances of ambition, corruption, or infatuation.”

January 21:    January 19. Rinse. Repeat.

January 20:    “The fierce urgency of now”   –   so well highlighted by Martin Luther King Jr. in his profoundly moving “I Have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963   –   also must be applied, in the currency of 2020, well beyond solving racism into the even higher crisis of preseriving sentient life on Earth. Could now get any more fierce? 

January 19:    To mark the onset of the impeachment trial, we wish each Senator could absorb this persepctive-rattling speech first thing Tuesday morning as she or he begins to parse truth from falsehood, to put constitutional principal over personal gain: Charlie Chaplin’s powerful exhortation to defend democracy in The Great Dictator (1941). “We think too much. We feel too little. More than machinery, we need humanity.”

January 18:    Women lead us to a more empathetic, more sustainable, more equitable and more peaceful world  -  especially women like Nobel peace laureate Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, speaking here at Wellesley College’s African Women’s Leadership Conference in April, 2018, soon after serving for a decade as the first democratically elected female head of an African state (Liberia). “But I have always been a dreamer. Age is the latest in a series of limitations in my life. I was raised by a single mother; I was a young bride; I endured domestic violence; I survived politcal persecution; and yet still, I rise.” 

Janaury 17:    The BBC announced yesterday a major new effort called Our Planet Matters, dramatic and precise coverage of the climate crisis. In two stark minutes, lead spokesman David Attenborough nails it  -  and the accompanying text, links and charts obliterate complacence. “The moment of crisis has come. We can no longer prevaricate!”

January 16:    Tim Minchin is essentially indescribable. Stay tuned at the end of this hilarious and highly iconoclastic 12-minute commencement speech at the University of Western Australia in 2013 and you will see what we mean. Don’t seek happiness. Happiness is like an orgasm: if you think about it too much, it goes away. Keep busy and aim to make someone else happy, and you might find you get some as a side effect.”

Janaury 15:    Here’s a man who knows how to talk and forever speaks truth in the process, actor Paul Scofield as Sir Thomas More in A Man For All Seasons. In this scene from the 16th century, he lays down a powerful marker about laws, one that in this fraught season we would do well to remember. “Do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the devil benefit of the law, for my own safety’s sake!”

January 14:    Do we each really know how to talk? And how to listen? Well, check it out in regard to what writer and radio host Celeste Headlee has to say in these eloquent, well pronounced, amusing minutes, so deeply relevant to most every aspect of our lives. “There is no reason to learn how to show you are paying attention if you are in fact…paying attention.” “You’re just two people shouting out barely related sentences in the same place.”

January 13:    May we now recommend a thoughtful cup of our Ahimsa Tea as you settle in for seventeen minutes with the brilliant, Taiwanese-born inventor and astrophysicist Tom Chi, co-founder of Google-X, as he relates (in 2018) the profoundly amazing ways in which we are all connected scientifically through our heart, our breathing and our minds. “The palette of being says that the way each of us is in our life helps transform the lives of our friends and family…and the universe.” (You may want more of Tom’s genius, as applied to dramatic positive change.)

January 12:  Our apologies, Lord Russell, but yesterday’s video was a bit too English sober; so today, let’s shake everything from shoulder to shoe with some Brazilian sassy! Stiff upper lip to loose upper hip in We Are One! featuring Cuban-American rapper Pitbull, Claudia Leitte, Jennifer Lopez and futbol“Mi mundo, tu mundo, el mundo! And we invite the whole world to play!” 

January 11:    In 1959, Bertrand Russell, Nobel Prize-winning philosopher, mathematician and peace activist, left a message for future generations. “For love of domination we must substitute equality; for love of victory we must substitute justice; for brutality we must substitute intelligence; for competition we must substitute cooperation. We must learn to think of the human race as one family.” 

January 10:    Nelson Mandela on leadership. Enough said. (But witness too the ANC’s enthralling “welcome back!” after Mandela’s release from Robben Island in 1990.) “For anybody who changes his principles depending on whom he is dealing, that is not a man who can lead a nation.”
 
January 9:    In this brief and gorgeous film by Louie Schwartzberg, Brother David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk of Gut Aich Priory in St. Gilgen, Austria, shares a mindful invocation of gratitude for life. “Do you think this is just another day in your life? It’s not just another day. It’s the one day that is given to you today.” 
 
January 8:    Honoring the clarion call of Silent Spring, Rachel Carson’s trenchant warning way back in 1962 of chemical interference with nature, English author Neil Gaiman recently wrote “After Silence”, the poem read here by Amanda Palmer. “Nothing is ever over / life breathes life in its turn / Sometimes the people listen / Sometimes the people learn.”

January 7:    Aboriginal artist and activist, Bruce Shillingsworth, at an October 2019 seminar in Sydney, speaks truth to power about the rapacious seizure of all water from the rivers that First Nation people have depended on for thousands of years. “Why are our young people dying? Corporate greed has killed our rivers and our communities…putting profit over life!

January 6:    “We are demanding a world movement and there’s never been anything like it before.” So spoke Sir David Attenborough, 93, to Greta Thunburg, 16, when they met over Skype at the end of December. The links here are to their most heart-felt calls to action on the planet-altering threat of the climate crisis. 

January 5:    With piercing words and images that call for each of us to step up, Claire Dubuois of England, founder of Treesisters, confirms we are alive for a reason. “We are made of this planet. She is in us. We are her. We are breathing her. She is breathing us.”

Janary 4:    No matter what is transpiring in our world and in our lives, may we never abandon the complex, myriad joys of being human. With every enthralling move, Ephrat Asherie (from Israel and Italy, now New York City) and her dance company offer us transcendent confirmations of joy.  

January 3:    It seems a perfect moment to consider our tomorrows. Perhaps there’s no better place of inquiry than MacBeth’s final soliloquy, no more eloquent an analytical moment than Sir Ian McKellen instructing a workshop at the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1979. “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow…”

January 2:    Here’s an all-too-brief video of five reknowned quilt makers way down in the heart-land of Alabama USAEssie Pettway, Mary Lee Bendolph, Rita Mae “Rabbit” Pettway, Lucy “Toot” Mingo, and China Pettway“It’s okay now but not like it should be.”

January 1, 2020:    First up, with equal parts good humor and inspiration, is Luna Mufleh, a Jordanian immigrant and Muslim of Syrian descent who founded the first accredited school for refugees in the United States. “We have seen advances in every aspect of our lives  -  except our humanity.” (Hear also David Milibrand, head of the International Rescue Committee, offer details about aiding the world’s 68 million refugees.)

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