When somebody talks about mindfulness, they are usually talking about the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something, as in “their mindfulness of the wider picture.”
In therapy, it is meant to describe being “fully present.”
That is a lot of work. Most of us go out of our way to face difficulty head-on. You might say, as a society, we do a much better job avoiding our problems than facing them.
That attitude — putting our head in the sand and waiting out the hard times — has ripple effects. And every once in a while, those ripples get so big, we realize that as a species we’re doing a pretty bad job of coping with challenges.
It manifested Tuesday at the United Nations, of all places. Come to find out that while Americans are in a league of their own when it comes to divisiveness and creating conflict, we are by no means alone.
Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the world, “We face the greatest cascade of crises in our lifetime.”
“We are on the edge of an abyss — and moving in the wrong direction,” Guterres said. “I’m here to sound the alarm. The world must wake up.”
Nobody ever wants to be told they are doing a bad job. But it definitely is concerning when the head of the international organization uses a state-of-the-world speech to point out all the ways we are failing one another.
Consider some of his points:
According to the Associated Press, Guterres said the world has never been more threatened and divided. People may lose faith not only in their governments and institutions, he said, but in basic values when they see their human rights curtailed, corruption, the reality of their harsh lives, no future for their children — and “when they see billionaires joyriding to space while millions go hungry on Earth.”
Guterres, in his opening speech, pointed to “supersized glaring inequalities” sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic, climate alarm bells “ringing at fever pitch,” upheavals from Afghanistan to Ethiopia and Yemen thwarting global peace, a surge of mistrust and misinformation “polarizing people and paralyzing societies” and human rights “under fire.”
The solidarity of nations to tackle these and other crises “is missing in action just when we need it most,” he said. “Instead of humility in the face of these epic challenges, we see hubris.”
The other world leaders from 190 nations began rattling off their own concerns. Some talked about the mishandling of the pandemic in the early days; others talked about global warming; while others focused on human rights, social justice and the fragility of conflicts shattering into war.
According to The New York Times, Guterres urged world leaders to bridge six “great divides”: promote peace and end conflicts, restore trust between the richer north and developing south on tackling global warming, reduce the gap between rich and poor, promote gender equality, ensure that the half of humanity that has no access to the Internet is connected by 2030, and tackle the generational divide by giving young people “a seat at the table.”
The General Assembly’s president, Abdulla Shahid of the Maldives, opened debate by challenging delegates to rise to the occasion. “There are moments in time that are turning points,” he said. “This is one such moment.”
And in his speech, President Joe Biden called this moment “an inflection point in history” and said that for the United States to prosper, it “must also engage deeply with the rest of the world.”
It starts small. It starts here in the little towns around Vermont.
The world’s leaders are saying we need to be nicer. We need to be civil. We need to come together to problem-solve. We need to take action where we can. And we need to make the world a better place for today, but, more importantly, for tomorrow.
That means taking the time to understand how, as individuals, we fit into the wider picture. And how we can be fully present so that we no longer allow ourselves to be problems, but agents of change toward solutions. Sure, it will take talking to one another; discussing hard issues; and coming to compromises.
More than 190 leaders, all of them with different sets of problems and concerns from their respective homelands, have come together this week to figure out how best to proceed against a cascade of crises.
Together. Cooperation is key to well-functioning groups and societies. We need to think about “interpersonal benevolence that requires basic perspective-taking,” as one study suggested. In other words, something as small and concrete as working together and getting along can be entwined with current and future issues of global importance.