April 14, 2014
Well, it appears I am not a good blogger when I am traveling. Maybe I need to Tweet more – and share “sound-bites” of my impressions of the world. Obviously waiting for the “right time” to write a more comprehensive account of leadership conferences and other experiences is not working! So, as the winter/spring season for Global Next draws to a conclusion, I thought I’d better share some thoughts.
Since January 28th, Global Next has been conducting leadership training conferences throughout the world for student leaders, university students and professionals. We’ve also pursued more comprehensive understandings of the world through our research and interviews. I’m just beginning the last student leadership conference in Athens, Greece. After that, it’s one last trip to Cairo for several trainings for high school students, universities students and post graduates. The end of the busy season is in sight. Here are some highlights:
The Places: I’ve been working in 12 countries over the last 3 months. Greece (twice), Lebanon, Turkey (twice), Egypt (twice), France, Germany, Czech Republic, Ukraine, Israel, Afghanistan, India and China. That’s a lot of time zones!
The People: I’ve mostly been working with leadership students – helping them to understand the world in context. Topics have ranged from straight-out leadership development, communication skills, worldviews and trends to geopolitical shifts in the Middle East and helping future leaders develop the ability to see what is coming down the road. Great leaders always see what others miss – they prepare for it and impact the world more greatly because of it.
The Perspectives: What I’ve discovered during these last few months is endlessly fascinating – at least to me.
Attempting to Redeem Social Media: We started a new “social media project” for the students on our conferences. They’ve posted leadership insights connected to their favorite photo of the day. Based on those posts, I have a lot of hope that young leaders are getting it – and are beginning to engage a complicated world with deeper understanding. Many of their submissions were posted on my Facebook wall (facebook.com/drphiljohnson) – a simple way to try to redeem the power of social media that seems to have so many negative aspects.
Award for Country that Indicates History Repeats Itself: Ukraine. Going to Kiev to cover part of the Ukrainian Revolution was intriguing. I met with leaders of the resistant forces in their headquarters, including one of their generals. They eventually ran the president out of town, but Russia took Crimea and even as I write this, pro-Russian militants and activist are extending their control over Eastern Ukraine. Those I interviewed in Ukraine as well as later in Germany and Prague compared Putin to Hitler and felt that history was coming back to haunt them. They are understandably nervous about Putin’s next move.
On the other hand, Russia believes that the Eastward expansion of NATO has left Russia with very little buffer zone between its borders and potential NATO missiles. Everyone has his perspective and interests to protect.
Award for Most Fascinating Country: Afghanistan. During the week I spent in Kabul, I provided 3 days of leadership training for an anti-corruption organization, with the leadership and help of Mohammad Samim. I found that in a conflict-torn country, there are men and women who want to make a difference – and who ARE making a difference. What an honor to work with them.
I also found in Afghanistan that sometimes you end up in places that you don’t expect. Like when a typical interview that was supposed to take place in an office changed locations and I found myself in a Madrasa with an alleged Taliban guy who had already been arrested three times. I was surprised when his “friends” appeared at the door with guns. Later I was surprised again to know that my friends in Afghanistan were waiting at the end of the street with guns as well. (But for my protection.) What happened to friendly little conversations? It’s an unpredictable world – ask my friend Maiwand, who owns a construction company in Afghanistan. He will tell you his story of being kidnapped by the Taliban…but it’s his story to tell.
The same day, I had been invited to a press conference where the government of Afghanistan announced the release of more than 50 prisoners from Bagram Detention Center, stating that they were all innocent civilians. In a follow up interview with Brigadier General Feldmann of ISAF, I was told that all of those who were released had blood on their hands – and that the court system was not being followed. He told me that they have DNA evidence to convict every one of those released.
But these people were returned to the streets where violence increased during the run up to the presidential election. The Taliban vowed to disrupt the election process and they succeeded in many killings. During my time there, nine were killed in the luxury hotel, Serena, not far from where I was staying. (Including two children who were brutally shot in the head.) In the end, the elections for a new president happened, but results have not been announced. It’s almost certain there will be a runoff election and just as certain that the Taliban will not back off.
Award for Most Schizophrenic Country: Lebanon. With an official policy of staying out of the civil war in Syria, Lebanon, it seems, is most definitely involved. Between Hezbollah in the south (siding with Syrian President Assad) and the radical Sunni element in Tripoli, (siding with the rebel forces) everyone is sending someone to fight. Meanwhile, more than 140,000 have been killed in Syria and recent reports say that chemical weapons are being used against the population again. Didn’t someone say something about a Red Line once upon a time?
Award for Most Misunderstood Country: Israel. Not nearly as dangerous as people say. Impressive security that you don’t even see. Interestingly, I often meet Palestinians who tell me that they prefer their lives in Israel to any future Palestinian state (You won’t hear that in the Media). Sure, there are problems and solutions need to be found. But Israel, with all her imperfections, protects more human rights than Hamas ever has. Misinformation, partial information and unbridled emotions are powerful forces – and as investigative journalist David Bedein tells me, the misinformation about Israel is all just part of the story.
By the way, today is the first in a series of Blood Moon Tetrads. (Four blood moons occurring in 2014-2015) A blood moon is a lunar eclipse that causes the moon to look red, like blood. There have been three of these tetrads of blood moon cycles in the last 500 years that have bee specifically linked to Jewish history. Each time, they coincided with Jewish feast days – and coincided with events that turned out to be significant to Israel. The first one is today, April 15th, Jewish Passover. Some believe that these blood moons are signs of things to come…
Award for Most Confusing Country: India.With more than a billion people and a progressive, growing economy, it seems that resources and the infrastructure in India are not reflecting this. While India is a growing democracy in a liberal-trending world, India’s Supreme Court recently re-criminalized gay sex. (Yes, they made it legal and then reversed the decision.) Regarding Putin’s taking of Crimea, India sided with Russia stating they understood Russia’s vital interests in the region. Where exactly is this giant nation heading? How will this impact India’s relationship with the West?
Award for Best Reasons to Rethink Communism: China.Beijing is surprisingly beautiful, surprisingly well laid out, rich and organized. Wages have increased 100% in the last years. They have everyone (more than 1.3 billion people and have just changed the one-child policy, so expect their population to increase). They make everything. And they seem to own all of the US debt. Still, in this Communism-Capitalism hybrid nation there is no Twitter or Facebook or freedom to criticize the government. Everything is monitored and there are even signs posted in shopping areas encouraging you to turn in any shop keepers who aren’t keeping the “rules.” You’re even offered a “prize” if you turn someone it.
Just like all the black-market designer goods that are sold, it’s hard to tell what’s real and what’s not real in China. Yeah…I just rethought Communism, and I’ll keep freedom, even with all of its unpredictability, quirks and personal responsibility.
So, those are some of the highlights of this busy season. As I get ready to complete this final student conference in Greece and head on to Egypt to finish several conference there, my final thoughts are these:
- The world is big with ideas and thoughts and perspectives that you can’t possibly imagine from the comfort of your couch.
- Time is not a renewable resource – once it’s gone, it’s gone. Stop wasting it! Do something and be someone.
- When trying to understand geopolitics, always put people first. People matter to God, they should matter us.
- When trying to make a difference in this world, when taking risks, remember this: Some things work out – other things don’t. Invest deeply, but be ready to move on, be willing to accept changes and always, travel light. Leave the heavy baggage – physically and emotionally behind you. And always remember – as someone once said, we don’t travel to escape life, we travel so that life doesn’t escape us…
If you’re interested in knowing more about Global Next’s work or how you can participate in our leadership conferences, check out our website at: www.globalnext.org.