By Fred Dallmayr, Co-Chairman of the World Public Forum “Dialogue of Civilizations”
(Presented on September 28 at the Joint Session of the Rhodes Forum 2014)
Let me welcome all participants to this joint meeting of the World Public Forum (WPF) and the Rhodes Youth Forum (RYF). This is our first meeting together in Rhodes. Of course, the two organizations have coexisted for some time, and our mutual relations have always been friendly and amicable. But even when we both assembled in Rhodes, we tended to meet at different venues. Now the time for a more integrated meeting has come through which we hope to solidify our relation.
By its nature, this joint session is an inter-generational meeting and this means it involves a mutual learning process. We know (or at least expect) that generations can learn from each other. From personal experience I know that older people often learn from the young. I have been a college teacher or university professor for 50 years, and during that time I have tried to transmit information, ideas and insights to my students. But at the same time, I have always also learned from students. Just because they are not yet “professionally deformed,” students often ask questions which unsettle academic expertise and shed a new light on issues, thus opening up new vistas or horizons. I am also a parent and grandparents and we know, of course, that parenthood is a continuous learning experience. The most startling discoveries often come from our grandchildren, because they constantly ask questions about everything: Why do you say or do this? What does that mean? Why do people behave that way? We tend to smile at these children and think they are innocent and cute. But deep down we are also a bit envious or jealous—because we may have lost this ability to ask questions and stir things up.
So, we in WPF are certainly willing to learn from members of the Youth Forum. We hope this willingness is reciprocated. So, what can the younger people here learn from us? We call ourselves “World Public Forum.” What is this? I once wrote a short article called “Who Are We?” In that piece I argued that we are not a number of things: not a professional organization, not an academic institution, not a political party, not a business corporation, not a sect or church. So what is left? I suggested that we are mainly an ethical community held together by shared commitments, aspirations and hopes. These commitments operate on the levels of both knowledge and practice, of adequate analysis and proper conduct.
As a “World Public Forum” we basically want to explore and analyze what happens in the world. We want to discuss and probe the pressing global issues and crises: in the fields of geopolitics, of economics and high finance, of environmental spoliation, of inter-ethnic and inter-religious rivalries, of migration, of personal and family relations, and many more. Inevitably, a major focus is on the danger of warfare, of terrorism, of a new Cold War (leading perhaps to a hot war). So we want to have knowledge—as accurate a knowledge as possible—of the happenings in this world, and also of the underlying causes and motivations. Many of our sessions in Rhodes are devoted to this task.
However, there is something else. We do not seek knowledge just for the sake of knowledge (this would be a purely academic enterprise). In the midst of acquiring knowledge, something stirs in us; a question arises, the question: Why? Why is the world the way it is? Why is there so much injustice, so much domination and exploitation, so much misery, so much butchery and slaughter of the innocent?? Why?
And so, in the midst of seeking knowledge, a deep stirring, yearning, or desire arises in us: the yearning for a better world, for another possible world. I am not saying that we aim or can aim at a perfect world. But we can and must aim at a world with less injustice, less exploitation, less corruption, less mayhem and butchery. In religious language, this is called the yearning for the “promised land,” for the “eternal Jerusalem” as the city of peace. But since we are here in Greece, we can also invoke Plato: his great philosophical loadstars of truth, goodness (or justice), and beauty.
This yearning I am talking about is a powerful drive, a passion, in fact an infinite passion or thirst, a thirst which cannot be quenched by worldly power, wealth or possessions. It is this passion which we in WPF would like to bequeath to our friends in the Youth Forum.