James A. Garrison

"We convened the 1996 State of the World Forum mindful of the observation of Vaclav Havel that, 'There are good reasons for suggesting that the modern age has ended.  Many things indicate that we are going through a transitional period when it seems that something is on the way out and something else is painfully being born.  It is as if something were crumbling, decaying and exhausting itself, while something else, still indistinct, were arising from the ruble.'

As I have reflected on this statement, it has struck me that times of transition are times of revolutionary change and yet paradoxically, that revolutions do not start when chaos and struggle spill into the streets.  Revolutions begin with the abandonment of old beliefs   and thus the chaos and thus the struggle for renewal.

The 1996 Forum was convened in part to honor those who have liberated humanity from the captivity of old beliefs, among whom Mr. Gorbachev stands as preeminent.  No achievement in modern times surpasses the liberation, even if partially, from the nuclear threat.  This is what the end of the Cold War signifies. 

Yet even as we honor this achievement, we must bear in mind that there have yet to emerge those who can give  shape to the new metaphors and define the new metaphysics of the coming age.  Thus things remain, as Havel says, indistinct.  We are caught between our fear of letting go of the past and our inability to discern the future clearly enough to embrace it.  The past is going but not yet gone; the future is coming but has not arrived. The present moment, therefore, is characterized by a crisis of spirit and a profound search for meaning, challenging each and every one of us to think as deeply as we might concerning the future we want to create.  It is this challenge which called the State of the World Forum into being.

The central task of the State of the World Forum is the great gathering of people of good will from around the world and a spectrum of disciplines to search together for those new metaphors and credos of belief required for a new phase of human development,  and within this context to take concerted action  strategic initiatives  to help give shape to the world we envision.

We must all know that this will not come easily.  As Anton Chekhov put it, 'It is only drop by drop that we squeeze the slave out of ourselves.'  I take note of this because October 2nd, our opening night, marked the 127th anniversary of the birth of Mahatma Gandhi, one of the few individuals of modern history who lived the truth of which he spoke and was slain by the forces of darkness.  Given the events in the Middle East, we also honored the life and vision of the late Itzak Rabin and before him, Anwar Sadat, who like Gandhi paid the ultimate price for compelling their people to take a few steps further down the road to peace. The moral and political will to change invariably involves sacrifice.  But thus the captives are set free, thus the future is shaped anew, and thus heroes and heroines emerge to instill within us all the courage to step into the unknown.