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'Brave acts of wisdom': conversations with the Elders

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Anonymous
Thursday, 10 April, 2014

“My Elders colleagues and I have had a chance to ask ourselves what wisdom our own lives, and careers, may offer others.” Jimmy Carter A series of Elders interviews with Japanese journalist Mayumi Yoshinari has been published today in book form.

NHK book cover

NHK Publishing

A book about The Elders, Brave Acts of Wisdom, was published today in Japan by NHK Publishing. The book is a collection of in-depth interviews with five Elders conducted by journalist and science writer Mayumi Yoshinari.

The author spoke to Martti Ahtisaari, Gro Harlem Brundtland, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Jimmy Carter and Mary Robinson in Dublin, Ireland in May 2013. The lengthy, candid interviews cover a wide breadth of issues, including the principles and practice of war and peace, how to resolve international conflicts, and what it means to be an ‘ethical leader’. The book also contains an interview with Advisory Council member Richard Branson conducted in San Diego, USA in June 2013.

Chuo-Koron, a monthly current affairs magazine, originally published these six conversations in serialised form between October 2013 and February 2014. They were simultaneously available in English on The Elders’ website. With the release of Brave Acts of Wisdom, Japanese-language readers will now be able to enjoy the interviews in a single volume. The conversations with Yoshinari were also broadcast on NHK BS1 as a special programme titled ‘1000 years of wisdom on war and peace’ in December 2013.

Yoshinari's previous book, Beyond Wisdom, collects her interviews with prominent scientists and thinkers including James Watson, Noam Chomsky and Jared Diamond.

In Jimmy Carter’s foreword to Brave Acts of Wisdom, he expressed his hope that readers would find the thoughts and experiences recounted by the Elders to be of value. He wrote: “Thanks to [Yoshinari’s] probing, intelligent questions, my Elders colleagues and I have had a chance to ask ourselves what wisdom our own lives, and careers, may offer others. It was certainly a pleasure to speak with her. I hope you will enjoy these conversations.”

 
“Nelson Mandela’s lesson”

Foreword by Jimmy Carter to Brave Acts of Wisdom

Nelson Mandela was a great inspiration to me.

The white rulers of South Africa jailed him for over a quarter of his life – 27 years – because, as a black citizen, he courageously resisted their oppressive and often violent regime. But when he was released in 1990, Nelson Mandela did something extraordinary: he forgave his former captors and went on to become South Africa’s first black President. He helped to heal South Africa’s bitter divisions and held his country together.

Nelson Mandela wanted society to embrace every human being, regardless of their skin colour, gender or wealth. In doing so, he was exceptionally successful. Without a doubt he will inspire future generations on a scale that only very few human beings have been able to achieve.

When he passed away in December 2013, I attended his memorial service in Johannesburg, as a former US President. Sitting beside me were several other ‘political has-beens’, as I sometimes – jokingly – call the Elders: Desmond Tutu, the former Archbishop of Cape Town, who courageously fought for decades against the racist apartheid regime alongside Nelson Mandela; Martti Ahtisaari, the former President of Finland; Kofi Annan, the former Secretary-General of the United Nations; Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN/Arab League peace envoy for Syria; Mary Robinson, the former President of Ireland.

In 2007, he invited a small group of retired global leaders, including ourselves, to form The Elders. He tasked us to “support courage where there is fear, foster agreement where there is conflict and inspire hope where there is despair.”

Nelson Mandela was our friend. He was almost a father figure: his words were always wise; his very presence would uplift others to better themselves.

To carry forth his message, we aim to inspire ethical leadership in situations of crisis. We have long been concerned about the Middle East, for example. We try to encourage dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians. We are doing whatever we can to avoid an escalation in Syria’s terrible civil war.

Closer to Japan, we encourage a peaceful democratic transition in Myanmar. We have also been to North Korea and South Korea to call for a sustained dialogue between its leaders.

A crisis does not necessarily mean a conflict. It can also be a threat to our planet or to society, or both. For example, we campaign for world leaders to take action on climate change. Climate change threatens the lives of millions of people on Earth today, and several billions in the future if nothing is done to halt it.

We also argue that male-dominated institutions around the world must give way to equality for women. The subservience imposed on women, by men, is the most pervasive and unaddressed human rights violation on earth.

We do not claim to address any of these problems alone. Our role is to galvanise the efforts of others, such as current leaders, and the young people who will inherit our world. At one of the Elders’ first meetings, Nelson Mandela declared that none of the world’s problems could be solved by acting as individuals.

This is partly why he founded The Elders: he wanted a way to promote ethical leadership collectively, over and above the achievements of any individual leader. A leader, such as he, may shoulder the hopes of an entire people – but it is the people, not the man, who give meaning to a struggle.

Anyone can examine their own lives and point to a person, or a single piece of advice, that has changed their lives for the better.

Nelson Mandela was such an influence, but so were people much closer to home, such as my schoolteacher. She once told me: “We must accommodate changing times, but cling to unchanging principles”. I still try to follow this philosophy today.

I was pleased to recount this anecdote to Mrs Yoshinari for this book. Thanks to her probing, intelligent questions, my Elders’ colleagues and I have had a chance to ask ourselves what wisdom our own lives, and careers, may offer others.

It was certainly a pleasure to speak with her. I hope you will enjoy these conversations.
 

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