Despite troubling international news, civility shines through

Three very different world events these past few weeks left me baffled, disturbed and inspired. And it wasn’t until I sat down to write that I realized their strange connection.

The United States and a number of its United Nations allies agreed to impose economic sanctions on Iran: nothing new or surprising about that.

Baffling, however, was the U.S. State Department’s decision last week to grant “exemptions” from the sanctions to Belgium, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Poland, Spain and the United Kingdom — complete with complex, yet vague, justifications for each.

A number of U.S. firms have stakes in some of the exempt nations’ financial institutions. I’m no master of the craps table, but isn’t that betting on the come?

It would seem that the goods (oil) and services (financial) provided to these exempt nations through their trade relationships with Iran are more important than a potential nuclear threat.

Are we really worried about Iran’s nuclear threat or merely starving and stressing that nation’s families and children with our trade sanctions? Baffling.

And I was deeply disturbed by news of the American soldier who killed 17 Afghan civilians, with commanders and psychiatrists questioning limits on the number of combat tours for individual soldiers.

In The Institute of Medicine of the National Academies 2010 study, “Returning Home From Iraq and Afghanistan: Preliminary Assessment of Re-adjustment Needs of Veterans, Service Members and Their Families,” researchers describe PTSD and traumatic brain injury as “associated with a host of long-term adverse health outcomes, such as unprovoked seizures, decline in neurocognitive function, dementia and adverse social-function outcomes, including unemployment and diminished social relationships, depression and aggressive behaviors.”

The study emphasizes a “tremendous unmet need” for new treatments. More than 1.5 million U.S. military personnel have served in conflict zones in the past nine years. That’s a lot of potential trauma in need of sensitive attention.

If a few years serving under those conditions can have such impact on a soldier’s brain and mental state, it’s hard to imagine what effect such conditions must have on the citizens in those nations who live with it every day of their lives.

Could the steady losses, fear, uncertainty and trauma-induced damage to those citizens provoke some of them into irrational, sometimes deadly terrorist acts? Might their leaders be taking advantage of their diminished capacity by inciting them to violence?

Are we really fighting a war on terror, or a war on mental health — theirs and ours? Disturbing.

Fortunately, at that point, a friend reminded me of renowned architect William McDonough’s revolutionary work over the past few decades to help bring civility back into vogue. Last month he gave a keynote speech (with a nice introduction by Brad Pitt) at the Green Challenge awards ceremony in Amsterdam. (It’s posted on YouTube.)

Early in his career, McDonough set out to find solutions to humanity’s most difficult problems. He asked: What is the intention of our species? How do we love all children of all species for all time? We all know that economic prosperity is about growth, but what is it that we want to grow?

Not only did he find solutions, McDonough and like-minded collaborators from around the world proved the commercial, ecological and sustainable viability of those solutions — solutions rooted in life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Sound familiar?

He said, “Our goal is a delightfully diverse safe, healthy and just world, with clean air, water, soil and power — economically, equitably, ecologically and elegantly enjoyed. Who doesn’t want that?”

Among his many successes, McDonough has designed modern complexes and communities around the world that generate their own clean power and produce fresh foods; where every home, including apartments, enjoys direct sunlight; where wildlife abounds; and where waste is reprocessed and “upcycled” in nutrient and fertilizer gas plants. The business and social spaces in these cities encourage healthy competition and culturally rich engagement for all its citizens. These aren’t dreams, they’re realities.

These are just a few highlights. His book, “Cradle to Cradle,” is a fascinating how-to.

As Sheik Ahmed Zaki Yamani (former Saudi oil minister) so aptly said, “The Stone Age didn’t end because we ran out of stones. The age of oil won’t end because we run out of oil; it will end because we invent alternatives.”

As a species, we have the talent to nurture rather than traumatize the brains of our children, families and global neighbors; the intelligence to harness energy and grow all the food we need; the natural resources to enjoy healthy competition and economic prosperity; and the wisdom to celebrate, rather than crush our diversity. There are some real solutions.

Krystyn Hartman can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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