Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright still recalls the influence of Jan Hus, the early Protestant reformer whose statue in her (then) Czechoslovakian hometown bears his words: Seek the truth, hear the truth, learn the truth, love the truth, speak the truth, hold the truth and defend the truth until death.
Albright, the first woman Secretary of State, ambassador to the United Nations, and now professor at Georgetown University, spoke of truth, passion, and world events in her April 3 address to a full house at Royal Brougham Pavilion. Her talk was sponsored as part of SPU’s annual Downtown Business Breakfast event.
“You will be asked to identify and defend what you believe to be true in whatever field your passion takes you,” she told the crowd of students, faculty, staff, and friends. “You can be both utterly sure about something and totally wrong. For example, people were once sure that the earth was flat, the sun was a golden chariot, Pluto was a planet, there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and women were the weaker sex.”
From there, Albright reminded the crowd how doctrines – even religion itself – can be used to divide. “We have moved from medieval to modern, but have yet to free ourselves of spiritual strife,” she said. But, she added, belief in a divine being is not the problem. “Our problem is that we’re too unable to accept our differences. At the core of most religions, there’s a demand to treat others the way we want to be treated ourselves.”
Albright encouraged us to remember that “just because someone is different, does not mean that he or she is dangerous.” We need the kind of discussions, she said, that shatter stereotypes and prompt us to think. As an example, she recounted her experience of peace talks in the Middle East during her service in the Clinton administration. Arab and Israeli leaders were unable to come to an agreement, she explained, but they were able to respect and understand one another and pray for one another’s families. “Cooperation may not be inevitable,” she said, “but hate is impossible” when understanding is sought above personal desire.
Hate is impossible, she told the crowd, especially when we “employ our knowledge as a platform for learning more. We should use our opinions to start conversations, not end them.”
With three college-graduate daughters and six grandchildren currently in school, Albright is highly supportive of higher education. “If we’re not learning,” she said, “we’re not living.” However, she did admit there are barriers to the acquisition of knowledge. “I was in college sometime between the discovery of fire and the intervention of iPad. Research was laborious, but that wasn’t the only thing that slowed knowledge. There’s a great divide in the world today. It’s between people with the courage to listen and those who think they’ve got it all figured out.”
Posted: Tuesday, April 15, 2014