Saturday, April 23, 2011

Conclusion . . . Finally

These last few weeks have been nothing short of crazy and hectic. But now I am back in Dunedin, I have a desk in the postgraduate suites, and I am back to procrastinating. A blog post seemed perfect!

You may remember that in February, I was in Christchurch as part of the US-NZ Partnership Forum. The Future Partners, as we were called, were scheduled to present our vision of the partnership/world in 20 years at 3:30 on February 22. Instead, we left Christchurch on a C-130 Hercules.

The people in charge of the partnership forum still wanted us to present our ideas. Thus, they brought almost all of us future partners back together in Wellington two weeks ago, and over two days, we hammered out our ideas and vision for the future. We then presented those ideas to a small group of people in Wellington, and it was recorded. Last week, four of us presented the same presentation again in Auckland. We were physically at the NZ-US Council, and we were on a video link to the US-NZ Council in Washington, D.C. That was the official close of the Partnership Forum, just shy of two months later than planned.

The United States Ambassador to New Zealand, David Huebner, posted about our work on his blog, and he also has the video, if you are interested. I am very proud of what we accomplished. Essentially, we said two things: 1) we do not want to be seen as future partners because inter-generational problems require inter-generational leadership, and we are ready to be full partners today; and 2) In order to have a sustainable future, we must redefine success.

Together, a group of 20 Kiwis and Americans defined success first as not only economic. Instead, we define success to be a world where there are more voices at the table, where our bottom lines include society and the environment, and where we think long-term instead of on the election-cycle mentality. I am really proud of what we accomplished, and I am excited for the path forward.

But something has been bothering me since Christchurch, and it happened again in Wellington. While we talked a lot about listening, many of us, including (or especially) me, cut off people who were talking. We pushed away ideas, especially those that we deemed too rooted in the status quo. I found myself one of the more conservative voices in the room.

It was moment after moment of realizing that I was doing something I did not like but not having the courage or the aptitude to stop. All the yoga and talk about mindfulness did not seem to help. Was it a fear of not being heard? Was it a belief that my ideas were better than others? Was it a need to have a voice? I am not sure.

I consider people in this group some of my best friends here in New Zealand. Perhaps that is because they are some of my only friends. We went through something traumatic, and we came out the other side closer and with a great vision for the future. But it may not have been a complete vision. After all, not everyone was able to speak sufficiently.

So why do I share this? It actually exemplifies something that is happening in my thesis research as well. I came here believing that lawyers for children could save the system. Ok, perhaps that is a bit strong, but I believed that they were a big piece of the puzzle. During my six weeks in Wellington, I discovered that 6 years into the new setup here in New Zealand, a lot of the lawyers for children are jaded, and they think their role is ill-defined and not always useful.

In other words, it is a work in progress. I knew that coming here, but I did not know how it would play out.  As  “Future Partners,” we were asked to envision that work in progress, to tell a group of politicians and business people (CEOs of major corporations) what we think we need to do differently. While our visions and ideals were impressive, and I believe admirable, living up to them was a bit more difficult at times.

In other words, it is a work in progress. ;) We joked that the Forum had asked us to solve the world’s problems in a couple of days and present it in 15 minutes (they gave us an extra 5 – the original presentation was planned for only 10). Of course we did not do that. What we did, however, was try our hands at a new ideal. In a lot of ways, we did a great, great job. In a lot of ways, we did not live up to our ideal vision.

As I mentioned, during orientation, we were asked to “embrace the differences” when we got here, to see how New Zealand and the United States are different. After this encounter I am more convinced than ever that we are all much, much more similar than we are different. But that is not the end. Our similarities do not mean we necessarily play well together all the time. I think our bigger task, and one that would make Senator Fulbright proud, is to continually challenge ourselves to embrace our fears and move forward together, even if it is a bumpy and sometimes messy road.

© 2011 Rebecca Stahl, all rights reserved

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