Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Justice Kennedy's Fierce Urgency of Now

Last weekend Stanford University held its third "Roundtable at Stanford" - subtitled "Wanted: Courage, Compassion and Character - Leadership for the 21st Century."

It's an interesting chat, futuristic but set squarely in the context of our present day challenges. Much of the conversation revolved around how the U.S. can regain its global leadership position in the coming years by essentially working smarter not harder.

At about the 49:00 mark of the discussion, Justice Kennedy gets wound up about water because of the failure of society writ large to tackle some of the world's most basic challenges, but also because of his hope in and optimism for this and future generations to meet those challenges.

To paraphrase his remarks:

"The best security is in the world of ideas, and the world of ideas must be concerned with the human condition. This is not my area, but there are 6 billion people on the planet and over 2 billion do not have adequate drinking water. How many hours - and you can't call it man hours because it's women's work - how many hours a year are spent in sub-Saharan Africa bringing water to the family? Answer: 16 billion hours - with a "b" - and that is the lowest estimate. For some people that's 6-8 hours a day to get water for their family. You take a photo in sub-Saharan Africa of the elegant, stately African woman with the long colored dress and the water jug on her head - that jug weighs more than the luggage allowance at the airport."

Then it gets REALLY groovy. Justice Kennedy continues:

"The temptation of the rule of law is to say well, you have the Magna Carta, you wait 600 years, then you have a revolution, then a civil war. What about Martin Luther King Jr.'s 'fierce urgency of now'! These people cannot and will not wait and they should not." Talk to me.

That was Justice Kennedy, and it is not the first time he has spoken to the global water situation. One other quick comment worth mentioning:
The bane of my existence is that many people do not believe the world's water and sanitation challenge is solvable. Stanford University's David Kennedy was talking about leadership at different levels - talking about credibility, trust, authority. The first order of business for the U.S. is to reestablish our credibility globally. The key for the U.S., however, is NOT that we have to be heard to be believed. The key is that we have to be believed to be heard. And that's the stickler - large numbers overseas no longer believe that the U.S. is 'here to help.' Overcome that credibility hurdle, and it will be much easier once again for the U.S. to be a true leader.

Same with the water sector: overcome the 'doability' hurdle - get people to believe in the solvability of the challenge - in the viability of universal access to safe water and sanitation - and we're one huge step toward getting there.

1 comment:

Baggywrinkles said...

This is a great quote. Talk that will get us past the talk.