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Wise words

Next to our television lives a small stack of cards featuring inspiring words by various well-known figures and writers. It was something small that my Mum gave me before I left home last time around (thanks Mum!). The cards sit in a nifty wooden holder, and we have taken to shuffling them every few days or so and reading out what the card that we happen to land on says. Some are funny, some are serious, but mostly they seem to have fairly wise words to offer and reflect on, if we are in the mood.

This was what I landed on today:

It made me think, it’s pretty bold to think, “For what will be, yes”, but I like that attitude, don’t you? Seeing who this quote came from made me reflect on a few experiences I’ve had in the past couple of years, related to life of the second United Nations Secretary General, Dag Hammarskjold. He’s an interesting figure to me (as someone working in international human rights and international law), and he sure left a strong legacy in the UN system especially when compared to some of the people who have held the highest office in that organisation since (Butros Butros Ghali wasn’t, in my opinion,a very strong performer, but this interview – albeit completely politically incorrect, it is Ali G, after all! – is sure to get a laugh). Last year I attended a conference that marked the 50th anniversary of Dag Hammarskjold’s death, where a lot of discussion took place around how our approach to international security, conflict resolution, and to upholding international human rights could be re-energised and inspired by the thinking – and approach to life – of Dag Hammarskjold. Learning more about his life and legacy made me realise how far away we have come in our world today from the spirit in which he conducted his international diplomacy (it seems to me that he didn’t shy away from taking the really tough decisions, and committed to taking a really active and direct role in resolving conflict and trying to uphold and protect human rights). There was discussion on the fringes about the ongoing mystery surrounding Hammarskjold’s death (in a plane crash in what is now the Republic of Zambia), which made me want to read more about it (maybe this recent book?), but I am more interested in reading his collected meditations work, Vägmärken (or “Markings”), a slim and unassuming volume which has been on my wishlist for a while now (I will track down a copy one day!).

Similarly, another place where I have reflected on the legacy of this man has been during visits to the meditation room at the UN Headquarters building in New York. PJD and I are constantly interested by the idea of public space (what it is, what it has the potential to be, how it could be) and I find this room to be quite an intriguing space, which was created due to the idea of Hammarskjold to have quiet space at the UN dedicated to peace and for people of all faiths, religions and walks of life. The space is indeed an oasis of silence in the hustle and bustle of downtown New York; one of the most striking features is the huge piece of raw iron ore that stands in the middle of the room, struck by a shaft of light. It’s quite an unexpected space; what I like about it is that it is a place for anyone to sit and be still in. I’m not really sure if UN workers ever go in there, or if it’s today more just a place where tourists and visitors to the building go when they are working their way through the building. I’d like to think that as those who are working on the problems of the world today need a moment of space and silence, they might be able to get to a place like this, to clear their minds and find focus for what comes next. For now, I’ll just enjoy having Hammarskjold’s words in my living room for a few days yet.


Photo by CIA.


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  1. Peace window | foldedcranes

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