Thursday, April 06, 2006

Lech Walesa speaks in Flint

As I listened intently to the Noble Peace Prize Winner’s intonation translated by woman who travels with Poland’s President, I thought of many things. Translators do that to me as I so often wonder what is lost or added to the comments of a keynote speaker or even a sign in Chinatown. I once heard a story of a city – Toronto, New York? – where signs were purchased with the understanding they would say what the officials requested. It wasn’t until after they were posted that the officials discovered the words were offensive. Trust. It’s such a funny thing.

Translations. I find myself stumbling on the translations that abound all around us as we each listen and read and interpret the message of the day. Why is it that Bibles now have rows upon rows of translations, each promising the true interpretation of what Jesus said, what God meant? It’s mind boggling. The decisions of who is right and who is wrong is too overwhelming even on the simple things. I fear we have abdicated our freedom of choice to those we feel we can trust to do the heavy thinking for us. Some let James Dobson decide for them. Some let George Bush. Some even let Rush Limbaugh (before rehab!) and the former host of the outrageous non-credible Current Affair Bill O’Reilly.

We listen to their intonations. What about those prophets speaks wisdom? What speaks wisdom to you, to me?

Lech Walesa spoke about wisdom last night, downplaying his credibility - refreshingly. In fact, his humility was alluring, made me want to lean in and listen a little more closely. He spoke of the Pope and his unheralded role in the end of the true evil empire of Communism (his reference, not mine). He told of a time when the Pope traveled to his homeland of Poland and spoke with the people, not telling them what to do, how to act – and certainly not joining any conspiracy or movement for change. Lech said, “but the power of his words made each of us reflect in our own hearts.” His humble words sparked an intangible, galvanizing spirit that ultimately brought down a wall of division – not through force, through convincing oratory. Against all odds, he quietly and profoundly changed the future for us all.

And that is my point today. Reflection. It seems as a society we no longer value reflection, that inward review of our hearts and intentions, the supposed application of wisdom prior to action. We listen quickly, fill in our own blanks, interpret intonations. We’ve already decided what is good (or have been told) and what is bad. And we are on the lookout for all that is bad. We feel it is our right, our responsibility – to whom, I don’t know exactly.

I looked around at the crowd last night, hundreds sitting quietly as Lech spoke through his interpreter. Some held banners of Polish pride. Others wore union jackets or suits purchased with UAW dues. The Poles likely left satisfied. I wonder about the others, especially now with so many losing their bankrupt Delphi jobs. They likely came to hear the former electrician who climbed on a bulldozer and delivered a stirring appeal to Solidarity. Give us something to sustain us in the days and weeks to come…

As one who has traveled the world, speaks regularly with leaders from every nation, Lech admonished those who would listen to accept the new era that is just now beginning. Instead of drawing borders defining countries, we must begin to live together in our global village where everyone can undoubtedly survive. By sharing our wealth, our food, with those who have none, we make reliable friends and neighbors. By helping to train and provide equitable work for those in impoverished countries, there would be no reason to send our industry there, at the expensive of our own workers and economy. Teach them to fish.

As for the automotive industry, unions, he described a time when three sides would determine the outcomes – union representation, owners of companies and administrators, if you will, that would help make the system work for all.
He reminded us that the United States has proven that people of different cultures, religions can get along. In this country, Arabs and Jewish people can be friends and neighbors, individuals from every nation are represented in our cities and town, in our hospitals, in our schools.

So as we war against the extremists in other countries, how do we battle the extremists in our own, those who insist on drawing lines, who are bothered by those who don’t speak English, those who are willing to work the menial jobs we won’t (illegal immigrants), those who don’t want to help the poor because they are Muslim, Hispanic or African American? How can we as a nation move forward if we continue to decide along monetary lines rather than truly moral ones?

Lech admonished us to choose good leaders. It truly is up to us how this country will survive in the future.

There was something about him that I trusted last night, his intonations seemed wise, the translation full of hope. If nothing else, it caused me to reflect - something I hope to relearn in weeks and months to come.

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