We Need to Dream Big
The issue of education popped up during many of the Marshall Memorial Fellowship sessions that I attended in Washington, DC, Cleveland, West Palm Beach, Phoenix, and New York City. At a certain point, some fellows started goggling when we heard the phrase “we need to put more emphasis on education.” If we provide better education, many people vowed, our children will be able to fix all of the issues we have failed to solve: growing polarization within societies, the global migration crisis, populism across the globe, climate change, growing income inequality, and a deteriorating security environment. You name it — education is to solve all of this.
But that is easier said than done. To me, this idea sometimes sounded like the famous quote from “Gone with the Wind” heroine Scarlett O’Hara, “I’ll think about it tomorrow.” It seems to defer action, on the faith that someone will solve it in future. Yet even though Scarlett offers justification for procrastination, her approach can teach us a lot.
As Tim Urban, author of the blog Wait, But Why?, said in his popular TED talk that we are all procrastinators. There is a special category of procrastinators, though, who may not know that they are procrastinating because they have no deadline ahead of them. Those I heard speak during my fellowship seem to fit into this category. Advocating for “more emphasis on education” does not require a clear deadline. It is a paradise for what Urban calls the Instant Gratification Monkey, which thinks only about the present, ignores lessons from the past and disregards the future, and concerns itself with maximizing the ease and fun of NOW.
Using the “put more emphasis on education” phrase makes the Monkey powerful and enables it to take control over another model offered by Urban, the Rational Decision-Maker, which says that we should start fixing problems now.
Greater urgency to solve social and political problems is sorely needed at this moment in history for the transatlantic relationship. This is a very sensitive, delicate moment on both sides of the Atlantic. A lot of people feel left behind by political elites. Social anger is growing, as well as polarization. We are not over the economic crisis. There is not and there will not be enough economic growth in the West. The labor markets are changing fast due to the technological revolution. These processes may lead to times when only the most highly educated people will earn good salaries and others will end up deprived of wages and stable employment.
We should not leave these issues for our children to solve — we should solve them for our children’s sake. No matter how painful this discussion will be, no matter how inconvenient the remarks that will be presented, we all need to go through it. There are values that undergird the transatlantic relationship and that should bind us all together. We should aim to leave this world in a shape that will not frighten our children, but instead give them hope for a better future.
Another phrase that popped up quite frequently during our MMF experience in the U.S. — “dream bigger” — give me a positive outlook about this process. We were amazed by the fact that this “dreaming thing” is so deeply ingrained in the American DNA. The day of my visit to the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral was one of the best days in my life. It made me feel that we all can do better; that the power of mankind, the power of our brain will get us far — both to Mars and to a better Earth. There will be hard times on our way there, but we have to transform them into lessons learned, build on them, and work together. In the Kennedy Space Center every person involved in space missions was appreciated and included from cleaners to astronauts. Ultimately, failure is not an option — as I read on T-shirts sold in the Space Center gift shop.
Katarzyna Rybka-Iwańska, head of the Institutional Cooperation Unit of the Department of Foreign Policy Strategy at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland, is a Fall 2016 European Marshall Memorial Fellow.
Read other blogs by Fall 2016 Marshall Memorial Fellows:
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.