The other day I was forced by a journalist to try to formulate my views on the main requirements of somebody who wishes to contribute to the development of peace and reason. I found no better formulation than this: “He must push his awareness to the utmost limit without losing his inner quiet, he must be able to see with the eyes of the others from within their personality without losing his own.”
Beyond obedience, its attention fixed
on the goal—freedom from fear.
And beyond that—love.
There is a question that many readers of Tricycle must feel. It is difficult to put into just the right words—words not dreamy or wistful, but a statement of factual need and realistic hope: In our troubled era, and no doubt the troubled century ahead, can there be an enlightened politics? The question needs at once to be embodied: Can there be enlightened politicians? What would such men and women be like? How would they conduct their outer and inner lives? What could be expected from them? Presumably they would not raise their voices, however eloquently, from protected places. Accepting the world on its own terms, they would wholeheartedly enter in. Through excellence the world has no difficulty recognizing, they would earn influential places from which they can be effective. And apart from those who are members of religious orders, it is likely they would choose to conceal their spiritual lives, although much of what they do and say—points of view advocated, decisions and processes for which they take responsibility— would be marked by something exceptional that would command respect in others. Their spiritual orientation would be known only to themselves and a few intimates: were it widely known, they would run the risk of dilution for themselves and mistrust from colleagues who naturally prefer a surface without mysteries. And if, in the end, they could not overcome the difficulties they had done their best to face and remedy, then they would leave a trace in words and acts for the next generation, some of whom would recognize that trace for what it is and begin again.
To whom can we look to model something of all this? We need to be intelligent in our use of models; each great man and woman to whose example we might turn was or is inimitable. They received a certain education in a certain culture, belonged or belong to one or another distinct spiritual tradition, have a certain heredity, language, and gift, and their political context was or is specific. The tragedy of models is that they are fundamentally inimitable. Yet there is so very much to learn from them. At best they make us turn, informed, toward ourselves and our era.
Dag Hammarskjöld has a place here; he is one of them. And in this year, the 51st anniversary of his death in an air crash in central Africa while on a peacemaking mission, can we join the United Nations and his native Sweden in summoning him to a new conversation? Hammarskjöld was the second secretary-general of the United Nations, serving from April 1953 to his death in September 1961. Born in 1905 to an aristocratic and hardworking family—his father was the Swedish prime minister during World War I and a lifelong advocate of international law—he was raised and educated in Uppsala and came early under the influence of remarkable Christians for whom religion was not just belief and a weekly chance to be among friends but a personal discipline and a call to action.
After studying literature, languages, and law at Uppsala University, he completed doctoral studies in economics in Stockholm and entered government service. He advanced quickly. When he was recruited to serve as secretary-general of the UN, he was a member of the Swedish cabinet, desolately wondering what might come next—perhaps nothing much. He came to the UN almost entirely unknown. He was not a world figure. Influential diplomats knew him and believed he would be a sound, apolitical administrator.
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