There was a flurry of big-media attention last week to the announcement of a new, international team of senior statesmen called The Elders. They are:
- Former United Nations secretary-general, Kofi Annan
- Founder of India's Self-Employed Women's Association, Ela Bhatt
- Former Norwegian prime minister, Gro Harlem Brundtland
- Nobel laureate and former U.S. president, Jimmy Carter
- Former Chinese foreign minister, Li Zhaoxing
- Mozambican social activist, Graca Machel
- Nobel laureate and former South African president, Nelson Mandela
- Former Irish president, Mary Robinson
- Nobel laureate and archibishop emeritus of Cape Town, Desmond Tutu
- Nobel laureate and founder of the Green Bank of Bangladesh, Mahammad Yunus
The announcement of this free-lance group of international troubleshooters was made by Nelson Mandela on the occasion of his 89th birthday on 18 July:
“...Mr Mandela explained that The Elders would be able to dedicate their experience and moral courage to help solve some of the problems the world was facing.
"’The Elders can become a fiercely independent and robust group that tackles these issues,’ [said Mandela.]"
- - Bua News, 19 July 2007
“In traditional societies, the elders always had a role in conflict resolution, long-term thinking and applying wisdom wherever it was needed. We are moving to this global village and yet we don't have our global elders. The Elders can be a group who have the trust of the world, who can speak freely, be fiercely independent, and respond fast and flexibly in conflict situations.”
- - Awdal News Network, 18 July 2007
The Elders have not yet selected their first task, but examples of where The Elders might exert their influence are hostage situations in Nigeria or problems like “waste and lack of coordination among aid organizations providing healthcare to developing nations,” said Jimmy Carter.
“The Elders won’t get involved in delivering bed nets for malaria prevention,” Carter continued. “The issue is to fill vacuums, to address major issues that aren’t being adequately addressed.”
- - Chicago Tribune, 18 July 2007
There has been some public quibbling about politics of these men and women. And it remains to be seen how The Elders’ influence will function, and if the leaders of the world will accept and pay heed to them. Those leaders would do well to note what Dr. William H. Thomas has written in his book, What Are Old People For?:
“Longevity loosens the grip of the ego but also grants elders a new perspective on self and society. Together these trends prepare elders for the singular role of peacemaker…
“Adults can accept elders as peacemakers because age ensures that elders will not use their new role to gain unfair advantage – elders simply cannot overpower the adults around them…
“…there are other more essential functions – making peace, giving wisdom, creating a legacy – that only elders can fulfill.”
Let us hope that The Elders does not become good idea that fades away without the opportunity to make a difference. Our world desperately needs some wisdom to be applied.
[Today at The Elder Storytelling Place, Kay Dennison recalls a favorite grandparent in Grandpa's Girl: A Memory.]