|Tue, Sep 23, 2014 08:18 AM
|Issue of September 17, 2014
August 13, 2014 | 09:30 AM
It has been one of those perfectly lovely summer mornings in our garden. The sun is bright, the air is cool and flowers are in full bloom with the promise of even more color in the days ahead. It is tempting to push aside the seriousness that lies just beyond the borders of my comfortable world. All that war and suffering in the Middle East and former Soviet countries seems so far away.
It is tempting to adopt the attitude that it is someone else's battle in which I have no stake, but my own travels and the headlines in the news prod me to the acknowledgment that we are now, more than ever, all connected. We can shut our garden gates and hide from this reality only for a short time and at our own peril.
We have endured the hardships of past conflicts with the hope that conquering evil forces will bring us everlasting peace. History tells us, as Jon Meacham reminds us in the Aug. 4 issue of Time magazine, "Still the forces of ambition, greed and pride are perennial in the lives of men and of nations, and wars of any size bring with them large and unintended consequences.
"We have no choice but to muddle through. There is, in the end, no other alternative ... "
It is this "muddle through" part that directly calls us to ponder our own involvement in events that seem so distant and out of our control.
Don and I recently returned from countries that were part of the old Soviet Union. I observed and interviewed citizens looking for insight into conditions and solutions to problems that might be clues to a more positive way to "muddle through" on the drive to freedom and peace. In each country, we heard their unique strengths and vulnerabilities that affected their manner of handling the tyranny of the past and their prospects for the future.
Our guide in the country of Moldova stated they gained "freedom as the Soviet Union collapsed but they didn't know what to do with it." Today, they are the poorest country in Europe. During my many trips there, I have always been struck by the lack of hope I see on the faces of their people. They have been the conquered for so long that they know only how to be victims and wait until the next takeover by a group that promises them that, if they submit to their control, things will be better. Our guide described this condition as "a hangover from the oppressive tyranny of the Soviets and is behind the lethargy and hopelessness of today."
We also visited the three countries known as the Baltic States. They have always been coveted by other countries because of their strategic location on the Baltic Sea that makes them the entrance to the West and to commerce.
Sometimes by force, and other times in the division of the spoils by the "winners" after conflict, they have been under Nazi or Soviet dictatorships. In 1991, they came to their present state of independence by peaceful and rather successful means.
In Lithuania, they tell of their citizens linking arms and singing in protest to the Soviet military, forming a "human chain" to show the world they were prepared to defend national independence. Our guide stated that "our national mentality had not been destroyed as it had been in Moldova."
In Latvia's capital of Riga, we saw the results of generations of strong merchant organizations and self-identity as a sea port of great importance. But our guide said, "We are still learning how to manage political systems and our own culture."
In Tallinn, Estonia, we learned of their use of national singing festivals to maintain their pride and identity in the face of "every new ruler who set foot on our land and built his own institutions to show power."
All of the Baltic States were proud of how they had assumed self-governance in 1991; there is also the realization that they, as small countries with strategic locations, could not survive by themselves. They emphasized that they needed NATO and ties with stabilized European countries and America.
It seems that times do change and our responses must keep abreast, but there are universal themes and basic human conditions that will always exist.
We in Harrison County have our own challenges as a rural and under-populated county. We are no longer the center of state government or economics, but we have that history as the birthplace of it all.
How do we keep our uniqueness and yet participate with the larger world around us? How do we find a balance of all the necessary ingredients of a prosperous community? What are the strong institutions that we can turn to for guidance and help?
We can be as Moldova and feel overwhelmed. Yes, small towns and rural areas are losing their influence and population to larger urban areas and Internet connections, but we don't have to succumb to all the gloom- and-doom forecasts that get bantered around. We aren't ready to roll over and play dead. We have a lot of living to do and a lot of great people to do it with.
The whole world is at our doorstep. What are we going to do about it?