My First Words as the World Turned

Around 4 o’clock this morning, as I was keeping my 1 year-old son entertained during his newly shifted sleeping hours (7pm to 3am), a message bubble appeared on my phone. With Trump’s victory still fresh in everyone’s heads, a former student of mine dropped me a line asking, “Written your thoughts on 2016 yet?”

I quickly replied that I’m still reflecting on it and in the meantime shared a piece from The Guardian on the death of globalization and the triumph of racism. I indicated that its ideas were something that were bouncing around in my head only that I haven’t pinned them down on. He then continued that he was interested in what I thought since he vaguely remembers me as being “big on the promise of globalization, and an avid consumer of the so-called liberal commentariat.” Moreover, this now personally affects him as he is in his 20’s and an immigrant into the US.

Watching over my son, I began typing a response. Then it started to feel cathartic. Here was I sent —

In some way I’d say there had been an evolution that came with having to put on the years. A lot of my optimism for globalism then was hinged on the potential of technology as a ‘flattening’ force but even in my work in education I came to see how that wasn’t really true. I am now a staunch advocate against e-learning, for example, in the sense that there is this notion that technology should replace the teacher. But even topical projects such as providing tablets in schools or building computer labs for indigent communities — sadly I’ve seen more failures than successes and have come to see that the way to approach education is to go back to the basics — the teacher student relationship — and innovate around that to make it more effective overall.

My politics has moved on to a similar direction. Whether it be market failures or governance failures, what I look for then is how the institutions propped up to respond to those concerns have failed and how they can be made better. I’m not against globalization per se, but now I’m cognizant that perhaps we don’t have the institutions ready and running to make the most of it, to manage the risks and to maximize the gains. Government and the market are not there yet.

So in a broad sense, I get Brexit. I get Trump. I get Duterte. I may not like it, but I know that so many dominoes had to fall first to get those guys to where they are. At the least, there has been a breakdown in the institutions and they simply caught on the anger and rage against that.

At the end of the day, liberalism is about how we, collectively, allocate justice. And that is the work of the social contract. At my most optimistic, I’d say that we’re still perfecting that work but what these events are also telling us is that there is a cost to waiting and taking our time. And this leads to injustice, and this means liberalism has failed. So we have work to do, and urgently so.

And now as I look at it 12 hours later, there are a few more things that come to mind by way of clarifying and closing the loop on some ideas.

On technology in education — I don’t dismiss technology as a tool in the classroom; far from it. What I dismiss is the notion that a teacher can be not present and that screens or computer prompts would suffice. At least in the context of basic and secondary education which I worked on, I would still hold that the imparting of values, civic virtues, and the formation of character cannot be outsourced to technology. But by all means, there can be laptops, tablets, smart screens, or what have you. However, this comes with a caveat: that such projects must come with a plan to keep them sustainable, effective (read: students learn and teachers use them competently and confidently), and reliable. There are great projects where technology is successfully deployed in the classroom. The challenge is scale given the intensive capital, training, culture shifts, and continuity costs that come with the endeavor. My approach has been to always start with the teaching relationship, appreciate its unique dynamics and needs, and identify ways to enhance and strengthen it with tools and technology. And then it hit me: I surmise that this tension is what industries on the verge of globalization and liberalization struggle with, some more violently and even more painfully.

On what Institutions I refer to — Broadly speaking, all social structures shared and held in public to support the social contract. We start with the family. We consider faith communities and school. Then there is government, its many agencies, units, and departments. And then the market — any place where buyers meet sellers and exchange — civil society, and the media. I view institutions as organic entities that are rooted in social context, culture, and norms. They can change, they can be challenged, they are always developing and shifting even if at a pace that we don’t easily see or realize until they do — like our planet’s shrinking polar ice caps.

The cost of change — It must be such a privilege now to say things like: “Change doesn’t happen over night.” “Change takes time.” “Change begins with each one of us.” Brexit, Duterte, Trump — these are all revolutions from the peripheries. There are elite elements to them, yes, but the tide that rose came from the countrysides which have been long neglected by the imperiousness of the cities.  For far too long, wealth, privilege, education, comfort, and technology have been overly monopolized by the urban areas, concentrating power and opportunity in the many at the expense of the more. The change we’ve seen these past months did not come from the hip, the connected, or even the millennial. It came from those who have been forgotten but wish to be no longer.

The work that is to be done There is much for all of us to unlearn and learn if we are to make sense of the world that is emerging. There are no easy answers and it seems that there are to be more disruptions and upheavals in how things used to be because we can no longer afford business as usual. I, too, am humbled at the rapidness of the change we’re seeing. It is questioning a lot of models and beliefs about how we thought the world worked. But as an anchor we look at the ideals and structures that have withstood the test of time, and that for the longest time mankind only sought one thing from one other — to belong, to be connected, and to be loved.

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Why We Are Here

During my graduation from the Asian Institute of Management last December 8, I had the honor and privilege of speaking on behalf of my class. These are my remarks.

President Steven DeKrey, Chairman Nazareno, Dean of the Institute Ricardo Lim, Dean of the Center of Development Management Juan Miguel Luz, Mrs Winhoffer, Faculty and Staff of the Asian Institute of Management, fellow graduates, our dearest parents and friends, good morning.

It is my honor and privilege to speak on behalf of the Masters in Development Management class of 2013. Our class thanks the Institute, especially CDM, for bringing all of us together and guiding us throughout these past eleven months. To our professors and all the program staff, we convey our deepest gratitude and love. Moreover to Dean Luz and Dr Paragua, the class extends its congratulations, excitement, and fullest confidence as the school moves forward as the Stephen Zuellig Graduate School of Development. Let us all give the great people at CDM a round of applause.

The class appreciates that what we’ve had in the past eleven months is something that happens once in a lifetime. Coming in after having had years of experience in the field – whether as a soldier or a nurse, a teacher or a police officer, an NGO worker or a priest — we recognize that we may never find ourselves in an environment as safe and diverse as AIM again. Knowing the scale of the challenges ahead, we embrace this day with both a sense of fulfilment and a call for courage.

Of AIM’s many gifts to us, perhaps one of the most powerful is insight — the ability to see something that we did not see before. As we move forward, it feels apt to simply wish everyone well on their respective journeys. But now after eleven months, the word ‘journey’ seems to fall short; I feel that what we are about to begin can be better described as a quest.

A journey is solitary; a quest can be shared by a group as diverse as that between a man, an elf, a dwarf, and a halfling called a hobbit. In The Lord of the Rings, one of my favorite stories of all time, Tolkien masterfully brings together the elements of a quest, the concept of which I feel serves as a good metaphor for what it means to be in development work.

For starters: nobody does it alone. To rid the world of the accursed Ring of Power, Frodo needed a fellowship. After all, what is the competitive advantage of hobbits? They do not have the empires of man, the sorcery of elves, or the industry of dwarves; hobbits are instead seen as too small and insignificant, and hence perfect for bearing an artifact that would tempt so many others to evil.

But one third through the epic, the fellowship was broken and readers are made to follow two stories that run parallel to each other: on one hand we have the hobbits taking the ring to Mt. Doom, and on the other hand a coalition of man, elf, and dwarf bands together to restore a lost kingdom. What is noteworthy here is that despite their geographic separation, the two journeys maintained a profound impact on each other. The quest to destroy one ring has led our heroes to different trajectories and yet they maintained the same hopes and aspirations, believing in each other until the job was done.

I remember a conversation I had with a professor in economics about halfway through MDM. Class was already out and I was consulting on a paper my learning team had to finish off. Somehow he ended up interviewing me about the work I’ve done for nine years and soon we were talking about the state of education in the country and how it can be a catalyst for change and inclusive growth. He then talked about Harvard, Stanford, and Oxford — universities which began as college towns in the middle of nowhere but eventually served as nexuses of development. What if we took the same approach to the Mountain Provinces, Central Visayas, and the Bangsamoro region? Instead of concentrating schools in Manila, why not bring the best and the brightest to the middle of nowhere, spurring the rise of competitive centers throughout the country? After he concluded his pitch, I thought about how business and government will have to be mobilized, how access to markets will have to be established, how much the attitudes and mindsets of students and teachers will have to change. I simply replied “I think that’s too big, sir.”

And he said, “That’s the problem. I haven’t seen a big idea in this country in the past fifteen years.” What he said next made it worse. “That’s why you guys are here.”

I was overwhelmed then, as probably a hobbit would have been. But as the months wore on it became evident that the same conversations were happening in public health, climate change and disaster management, social enterprise, peace and order, national security, and the development of Mindanao. The challenge of development management is really about spurring, enabling, and leading collective action. Development is a quest and we risk failure when we attempt to go it alone.

I am honoured to be part of an Institute that knows this. CDM was born precisely as a business school’s response to the development challenges of the region. Our work continues for despite the rapid pace of growth we’re now witnessing across Asia, we are increasingly confronted with not just poverty but with the more deeply rooted problem of inequity in all its forms. Here in AIM, we speak about leadership as an act of bridging the divides. As the Institute pursues a strategy of ASEAN leadership, there will have to be a convergence between business and development to the point where one story cannot be told without the other. Beyond concerns of profitability and sustainability, there will have to be a mindfulness for humanity. As we scale ourselves up, the question becomes less about margins and more about whether we are making a difference in the world from where we are.

This is all big work. But this is why we are here today, together. The fellowship may be coming to an end, but today we also meet for the first time as graduates of AIM. Our stories will now run in parallel with one another no matter the sectors or industries we find ourselves in, whichever companies, organizations, or governments happen to take us in. Thus in each other’s work may we find the confidence and belief that the world can indeed be a better place. And in each other’s work may we find the inspiration to be our best selves and become the change we seek.

Let us not be daunted by this task. To end, I conclude with the words of Marianne Williamson as a reminder of our responsibilities to ourselves and to others. To wit:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. Our playing small does not serve the world. We are all meant to shine, as children do. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Thank you very much.

Welcome to the refreshed “Lecture Notes”!

Visitors of my Sir Martin blog will notice that it is now in archive status. That blog has had a good run for the past five years, although I really haven’t been generating content for it in the past two. And as the previous school year went on, I ended up using less and less as its stated function — posts and updates for my classes and the PSHS community — got moved more and more to social media, particularly Facebook. And now that we’re already three months into the current school year, I still haven’t used that blog at all.

This blog has felt more of my home, really. It has been easier to write here over the past few months. Though I haven’t been hammering out content as frequently as I used to when I began blogging in 2007, writing here at least feels freer and more liberating. A lot has to do with the nom de guerre — mbsperez — which is essentially my signature as an author and writer. Unlike sirmartin, anything goes as I don’t feel as bound to the teacher mode.

So what’s to see and enjoy in this refreshed version?

I’ve imported most of my entries over the past five years into this blog and sorted them out into neat categories you can easily browse. I’ve also kept the layout smoother and cleaner for an all around better reading experience that also works well in mobile.

In the event I need to write my students or the PSHS community directly on a local matter, it will not find its place here. Instead, I’ll do so through a Facebook note addressed to those of whom the matter is most pertinent to. This blog will very much remain a place my ‘reading public’ can enjoy.

And as for me, this blog will serve as a ‘writing refuge’ in this age of statuses and tweets. For sure, I’ll remain active in my usual channels but this blog is here when I need to gather my thoughts and present them in a more definitive way.

So take a look around and I hope you enjoy what you see. I feel that writing is slowly becoming a lost art in this age of atomized expression, but here’s to keeping this craft alive. After all, not everything can be said in 140 characters — though it’s sure fun to try.

You may have missed: The Most Important Question

Written September 25 last year —

Towards the end of last school year, a student asked The Most Important Question Ever.

“Sir, is it true that as one grows old, he becomes more practical?” Somehow he looked guilty. ”I am just worried that when the time comes, I will lose my ideals.”

What ideals? I asked.

“That there are things I want to do for this country. That I want it to be better.”

I recall fumbling for an answer. Caught unprepared, I didn’t have anything coherent to say. Or more likely I wasn’t ready to say what I really wanted to.

At that time, I was at a crossroads. The economic downturn left so many in a bad place, myself included. I was about to send myself off to graduate school, but my savings were nearly wiped out (one month I spent more for gasoline than food) and the prospects of finding a new, more fulfilling job simply wasn’t there. I was also at a sore spot emotionally. Despite being given a position of authority and responsibility in the school, support wasn’t given to me by the higher ups when I needed it most. It was demoralizing. It felt futile to dream, taboo to hope.

It was so difficult to answer that student because I just wanted to give up. I just wanted to take the easy way out and quit. So the plans I’ve set for my batch wouldn’t push through? “I’m sorry. It was beyond me.” The stress wasn’t worth the pay check. And the call center seemed so attractive all of a sudden. I was ready to say, “Yes, it is true what they say about growing old.”

Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.

Read more.

The Indian Soul

image An Asian Studies teacher has a lot to deal with. Asia is not a single unit, has hardly any internal coherence, and demands a discipline that is quite different from teaching World (read: European) History. It is misleading to think that we have less content, because from philosophy to the rise of modernity, Asia is all about soul.

When I was starting out, I saw the three content areas this way.

Chinese history appeals to my heart. I am simply in love with the culture, its food, and its movies. My studies there stem from this playful love for the subject matter.

Islamic history appeals to my head. My first encounter with it was during my college days learning Political Science. 9/11 just happened, and hence interest in Islam increased; I was part of that statistic.

But India always appealed to my soul. There is just something so entrancing about the story of the Buddha, so eerie about the Taj Mahal, and for some reason their imperial experience under Britain feels all too familiar. To confront India was always to confront my deepest self, and I could attest to that now that I have actually been there.

The Community Development and Leadership Summit 2009 was really for our students. The teacher chaperone has to do pretty much that – chaperone. “Get them there, and get them out” was pretty much my job description. And yet between the margins I found the time to encounter India in its entirety, though I think it is really impossible to do just that and arrogant to think that that is even possible.

But we sure tried. There were times when some fellow teacher delegates and I excused ourselves from some sessions to steal some time outside the school walls. We affirmed that the Indians do love their tea more than their coffee, that no two saris looks the same (though it can be impossible to tell the Indians themselves apart), and that the colonial experience reaches its way to their comfort rooms – when you enter you can take your pick: toilet or ‘Western’ toilet.

Having taught India from a textbook for the past five years, I was more curious to see whether my readings bore out in reality. Indeed, there were hardly any Buddhists around anymore and so it is no surprise that some have this misconception of Buddhism coming from Thailand or China. I was also sensitive to the caste system, which I had no idea how to bring up. But I had a firsthand experience with a dalit or untouchable.

Though banned in theory, the caste retains deep socio-economic divisions. I had my shoe ‘shined’ inadvertedly; while walking through an underpass in Delhi, a dark skinned man walked up to me and offered a shoe shine. I declined; he insisted. Then he crouched to my shoe to give me no choice; I politely ran away and said I’m being left behind by my companions (which was true). As I exited the underpass, I noticed a light green goo on top of my right shoe. It was monkey poo. I just had an encounter with a con man. I just had an encounter with a man who was trying to make a living.

Back at the school, I asked a sociology teacher how much he could’ve asked a foreigner like me.

“100 rupees?” I guessed. One rupee being almost equal to one peso.

“100? Too much.” The teacher replied. “20 would have been a lot already.”

Twenty rupees for a con job. That’s twenty pesos here. Unbelievable yes, but this was happening every day and in different spots throughout New Delhi.

People speak so easily about change and progress in India. The politicians and economists all talk about a coming Golden Age, and they do have many reasons to be optimistic. What is important is that in their quest for progress, they do not forget the shoe shine guy and many others like him. But thankfully, I am optimistic.

I just have to remember a boy named Mukul.

Throughout the summit, the foreign student delegates were assigned a Modern School student to accompany them and help them through everything they need. We teachers weren’t. But there was Mukul. His small unassuming bespectacled stature betrays his low, deep voice that echoed nothing else but warm, sympathy and concern. He who followed, trailed, and struck a conversation with me whenever he could. At first though, I was a little annoyed since there were moments when I preferred to be alone. And then one night, I received news from Manila that my uncle passed away.

A forum just ended and everyone was heading back to the dormitories. I decided to hang around the auditorium area, use their WiFi, and see how everyone back home was doing. But I couldn’t get a signal and just sat there, frustrated that I couldn’t get in touch. My mother was very concerned about uncle during his last few months, and I was very concerned for my mother whose heart doesn’t easily break but breaks hard when it does. But I only planned to get in touch through the Internet and did not get a local sim for my phone. Now I was regretting it.

Then Mukul arrived. He called on me and asked me to join everyone for dinner back in the dorm. I politely declined and said that I wanted to try the WiFi one last time, so he insisted to stay with me. He then asked if something was wrong; I looked upset, he said.

Not one to just let emotions spill, I assured him that it was nothing I couldn’t deal with. “But enough about me,” I said. “Tell me something about you.” Then we walked back to the dormitories.

During the walk he told me about how he wasn’t accepted as one of the Modern School volunteers for the summit, but will insist that he becomes one just so he can hang around. He found me interesting and funny, like a mentor he could learn a lot from. So as a mentor, I asked him what his dreams were. He said he wanted to be an accountant and he dreamed about earning the big bucks to live a good life. I asked if that was all. “Well, that’s what I can do to help my family.”

As we neared the dorm his phone rang. It was his mother. “I am being summoned home now, sir. It’s my mother.”

“Well, Mukul, if I were you, I’d be a good boy and go home now.”

“Yes, sir. I’ll be on my way then. See you tomorrow, and I hope all will be well.”

* * *

It has been more than two months since I got back from India. Since then my head has been swirling with ideas for my classes and new dreams for myself. I can now speak of India more confidently and more convincingly. I have enough anecdotes to write my own book with.

I readily admit that I haven’t seen everything I would’ve wanted to see in India. I’d like to see Varanasi for myself and witness a burial ritual along the Ganges as other people bathe. But this only gives me reason to return. Maybe then the shoe shine guy won’t be around anymore. And perhaps I’ll drop by Modern School and look for Mukul, just so I can say that all has been well. That evening conversation wasn’t the last I saw of him, but it was then that I realized something I’ve long since known.

India is all about soul.

imageMukul and I at a Concept Paper Discussion

All’s well that ends well.

I was about to begin this entry with the words, “This was my worst year ever.” Then I remembered.

I don’t live along Mayon Volcano. I haven’t set foot in Mindanao, much less Maguindanao. I didn’t get A(H1N1). My family was spared from the wrath of Ondoy. Though it can be difficult to find the silver lining when a young, promising teacher dies, or an estranged uncle passes away, I just pinch myself — I am still here. The cynic in me would quip that nothing really happened in 2009. I disagree. I look back at times that were really good and the following come to mind.

20 February 2009


Sigaw! was AKSIS’s biggest project yet and I am pleased with how it turned out. It wasn’t perfect, of course. We sort of missed our targets to record the winning song (though that can still change) and shop the contest to radio stations for sponsorships and what not, but it was just a huge thing to get our feet wet and feel that this is indeed possible. I am deeply hoping for a sequel of sorts, and I am confident my team this year can cobble something together.

Polarity, 13 March 2009

Mt. Pinatubo, 15 March 2009

I say this now to make it official: School Year 2008 to 2009 was my best school year so far. This is not to diminish all the awesome things I’ve done and incredible people and students I’ve worked with in the past — like Pisay Meets World and the founding of AKSIS in 2007 — but last school year I was given the biggest assignment I’ve had yet.

I really loved every single moment of being the Batch Adviser to 2011. It was just such a different challenge that required me to dig deep and bring out skills I’ve always had but never got to utilize fully. I am thankful for the people I’ve met and the new partnerships I’ve formed. I am just so glad for the opportunity, and given the chance I would have loved to continue on to Third Year and continue serving Batch 2011 as their Adviser, or take in a new Batch, 2012, under my wing. Either would have been excellent, but alas, it was not meant to be. Other teachers deserve their big moments too, and this one was it for me.

As we triumphantly stood overlooking the crater of Mt. Pinatubo, I said, “It couldn’t get any better than this.” Indeed.

7 to 15 November 2009

And then there was India. My first encounter with the country is both familiar and strange. Familiar for I have read and learned so much about the country prior to my trip, but strange because nothing can quite prepare you for India. However, this country begs a sequel and a series of sequels. Our trip was relatively contained, and I wasn’t able to soak in as much of the locality as I hoped.

But the little I did absorb is already tremendously rich, and hence my respect and curiosity for the country has only increased. I will forever remember the sweet hospitality of Aakriti and Tushar, and the hilarity that ensued between Jeff, Terence, and I. It was my privilege learning about education from Debashis Chatterjee, and I am now on a quest to make educationist a real word and profession here in the Philippines.

So why the initial pessimism?

Let me try to articulate why I haven’t been writing as much anymore.

Every time I stare at my computer screen, I ask myself, “Will these words matter?”

Is there really sense in writing down how my day went, or what I really think about school policies, or what new books I got. Will any of that matter?

Perhaps, to one or two individuals it will. Or when I write something controversial it will matter to a whole lot for about two seconds, then it’s back to your regularly scheduled programming.

But does it matter to me?

For lately I’ve been feeling a wider gap between the things I say and the things I do. More and more, I feel myself not being able to live up to the standard I’ve set out for me, and that is to always speak the truth and to be honest in all things I do.

I am not saying that I’ve become a liar, a cheat, or a hack. Far from it.

I simply say this — that I speak of change, yet writing on this blog reminds me of how little things change.

I decry school policies and yet in describing how the system has slighted me, I realize how little I’ve really done. I comment on politics and conclude how lousy our government is while I remain seated, distant, and insulated from the political process.

I’ve always wanted more for myself. And now, after having written on this blog for the better part of the last two years, I now want more from myself.

Not just words anymore.

That is why last school year was so precious to me. For the first time in my adult professional life, there was no gap between words and action, ideas and execution. I believed that I served as Batch Adviser not for myself but for my students, and is so doing I put my career on the line. It worked. It paid off. We triumphed.

What I want more for myself are more moments like that. No, I am not demanding that I become Batch Adviser right here, right now. All I ask is that opportunity to realize those bigger things I’ve always wanted for myself, and if the system will not provide then it falls on me to make my own path.

This is how I’ve always been, I remind myself now. I used to speak about how I don’t believe in a destiny given to me, but that a man does everything he can until his destiny is revealed. (That I picked up from The Last Samurai, if you remember.)

And here’s another favorite from Batman Begins:

“It’s not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me.”

But it’s been a while. Let’s update ourselves with something from The Dark Knight.

“You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”

I’ve been writing less because I began to see myself as the villain in my own story. I’ve placed so much faith in me that when things failed to turn my way, I slipped into apathy and indifference. I became the person I never wanted to be. But perhaps, I should remind myself how in my teaching, I believe in others so easily. If there is one sphere of my life where I place complete faith and trust in others, it would be in my students. (And this is probably why teaching is so important to me.) And yet, if the pictures above would attest, my most triumphant moments were never alone. Something to think about, Martin.

That being said, I still feel ambivalent about continuing to write here. This post has been wonderful; allowing myself more time to think and write more honestly about the past year has helped neutralize the cynicism I’ve felt about the moments that didn’t go too well. If only for catharsis, I can still write and this blog will still be here.

But I feel that everything I write — especially here on the Internet — only glimpses at “who I am underneath.” I am like Clark Kent, ripping open his shirt, and claiming to the world, “I am Superman!” but without the actual ability to fly, bend steel, and shoot fire from his eyes. Or can’t he?

For it is what I do next that will define me.

It is what we do that does.

Happy New Year to all!

What Makes Our Generation Different? (My piece on CDLS 2009)

During a panel discussion with William Bissell in CDLS 2009, we teachers were given the chance to grab the mic and ask a question. I look for speakers with style and grace, but more importantly consistency and honesty. The first two criteria draw me in, the second two make me think. Bissell satisfied both sets, so I couldn’t resist asking him about his most fundamental assertion.

He prefaced his talk on success in the global age by saying that all our assumptions about the world we live in are wrong. Among these assumptions are that economic growth is determined solely by GDP growth, that the sovereign nation state is the basic unit of international affairs, that education can be measured quantitatively, that a strong military guarantees security, and that we must constantly consume to keep the economy running.

He warns us that these outdated ideas may blind us to the new realities. He then relates a story about a Soviet school he visited during the height of the Cold War.

During a forum not too different from CDLS, Soviet students, teachers, and leaders all spoke about the coming of an even more glorious communist age. Not a single one of them spoke of a coming collapse of communism, Bissell recalled. Then the Berlin Wall fell the next year.

It was an anecdote designed to compel us to pay attention to the signs of the times. Thus he put forth his new ideas — that humanity can share in universal human values, our world is independent, and the mechanical world view is about to come to an end.

I agree with him, but I couldn’t help but ask — What makes us different from the Soviets who failed to foresee the coming of their collapse?

I find that the CDLS topics basically spoke of a new globalism where the demands are for people to move beyond their traditional parochial borders and think more globally. Only through that can we solve the collective global problems of climate change, terrorism, and redefining a new global economy. But what makes us different from the Soviets? That remains my question.

Bissell spoke from the gut, expressing a deep belief that he has gone around India and the world and has indeed seen that the world is indeed changing. He then rattled off a bullet list of anecdotes, but he failed to really build on his main insight.

But here is my answer — look at this picture:


CDLS 2009 was not just a meeting of minds, but of hearts. The delegates were student leaders and aspiring agents of change from different parts of the world. They exchanged ideas and stories about their countries, but they even more importantly exchanged names, phone numbers, and stories about weird teachers and crazy vacations.

For ten days, these young men and women realized that whether they be from the United States or the Philippines, India or China, they are more similar than they have been made to think. Indeed, they are citizens of one world.

A student from Pakistan couldn’t have put it better. During a more candid forum, he spoke up and expressed his thanks to the Modern School in this way —

I realize now that the partisanship between India and Pakistan remains at the level of politicians. But when it gets down to real people and real relationships, there is no difference. Our values, our hearts are the same.

There are many ways to define our difference from the Soviet students, teachers, and experts Bissell met in the past. Here’s how I put it.

One. That we can even speak of the past in such terms means that we are aware of our responsibility to the future. We know we can’t precisely foresee what will happen, but we can temper our expectations and learn from the mistakes of the past.

Two. Unlike the 1980’s when the rivalry between the USSR and the USA resulted in a lot of breast-beating and partisanship, the globe is not compelled by such divisive forces anymore. This is not to say nothing divides us. Terrorism, poverty, climate change, border conflicts, and economic interdependence can still generate wide debates. But the more we argue, the more we underscore the fact that we are all connected.

And hence, three — we are now aware of each other. From the democratization and openness created by the Internet to the forums and exchanges such as CDLS, there is a profound sense that we are not alone. We are indeed awakening in a new era of global consciousness that can potentially transform how the world works.

However, I am under no illusion that the opposite pull is just as strong. It would be difficult and a tad inappropriate to ask a family who can barely have three meals a day to look beyond themselves and contribute to the wider world. Ask that of the young children inflicted with AIDS in Kenya. Ask that of the families who live in the unstable regions from Afghanistan to the Gaza Strip. Globalization definitely has its discontents.

Yet now more than ever, there is a sense that there are genuine global solutions to the most devastating problems. Being too parochial can shut us off from the rest of the world, thus leaving us blind to the very possibilities that may lift us from the local quagmires we face each day.

Keeping an eye on what can happen next is the challenge of our young leaders, and I am glad to have met them in CDLS 2009. This is a challenge they take not with hubris, but with humility. That is what makes our generation different; that is what will set them apart.