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Reaching for a New World Book Launched (see review)

Mittwoch, 16. September 2009

A new book, Reaching for a new world by Hennie de Pous, was launched on 27 July in Caux during the conference Trust and Integrity in the Global Economy. The author spoke for about 20 minutes on the book, followed by a questions and answer session, and book-signing.

De Pous said, 'In my book ‘Reaching for a new world’ I am trying to bridge two gaps: the generation gap and the history gap. I wrote an honest book about the history and the development of ideas of Initiatives of Change, because young people who start to work with IofC need to know the history in order to feel ownership.'

You can read a review of the book by David Locke here

The following is the full speech given by Hennie de Pous on the occasion.

You can also read the first chaper (introduction) of the book here

Reaching for a New World is published by Caux Books (price CHF22) and available from national IofC centres. ISBN: 978-2-88037-520-1, 256 pages.

Foundations of Trust and Integrity: Reaching for a new world

Trust and Integrity: I like that title. Trust is the cement of our society. But before trust comes integrity. So I would turn the words around and put integrity first. Where there is no integrity, there is no trust and the collapse of the very fibre of our society is near.

Initiatives of Change can be called both idealistic and realistic.

  • Idealistic, because the idea of a new world of peace and justice has always been the aim, the vision.
  • Realistic, because at the same time there is, and always has been, the conviction of what it takes. A deep knowledge of self, a deep insight into what makes me, others, society run. In this order. And the firm conviction that a new world starts with people who draw the obvious conclusions and take the necessary steps in their own life. This realism is the hard core, the foundation of the idealism. Idealism, not with the head in the sky, but with both feet firmly planted on the ground.

Without knowledge of self, idealism wears out and makes way for cynicism. It is therefore of the utmost importance, that not only we as persons, but also as an organisation as a whole, we know our history and are able to have an honest look at it. Only that way we can learn.

Hennie de Pous signing books at the launch of 'Reaching for a New World' In my book Reaching for a new world I am trying to bridge two gaps: the generation gap and the history gap.

I wrote an honest book about the history and the development of ideas of Initiatives of Change, because young people who start to work with IofC need to know the history in order to feel ownership.

Whoever takes up the idea to try to make a difference for the better in the world, does not need to start from scratch. We are in a tradition of people who have aimed - shall we say, reached out for? – for a better, new world.

The other gap is the history gap and this applies especially to those of us in Europe. This gap developed in the years when east and west in Europe were divided by an iron curtain.

The laborious and toilsome rapprochement and in the end reconciliation between the former enemies that took place in western Europe after world war 2, did not take place in the east. Rather our eastern European fellow citizens went from one dictatorship into the next. And for more than forty years our histories developed completely separately. In this book I want to share with my fellow Europeans in the east our experiences in the west. We need to hear each other’s stories, so that we are on the same page.

This book is loosely based on a Dutch book with the same title that was published in September 2005. It took some courage to rewrite it into English. With the encouragement of Andrew Stallybrass, director of Caux Books, I started on this venture. And with the help of Paul Williams and Ginny Wigan, who made my writing into readable English.

I have taken the Netherlands as a case study of how a movement like IofC, under different names, took root in society, how it developed against political and historic background, always and crucially of its time. From the early 1920s till 1938 under the name Oxford Group, from 1938 till 2001 under the name Moral Re-Armament (MRA) and since then under the name Initiatives of Change.

More than about a movement the book is about people. People who at a certain point in their lives, at a cross road, were touched and decided to choose a new direction, become self starters and discovered the dynamic of the silence. With the vision of a new world, they started to live differently. Those people made and make the movement.

The interesting thing is that you can not see this movement, whatever name it had or has, out of the context of the spirit of the time, up to today.

For example the name that Initiatives of Change had before, Moral Re-Armament, can be traced back to 1938 when threatening dark clouds gathered over Europe, and countries were re-arming militarily.

The call for a for a Moral and Spiritual Re-Armament by Frank Buchman struck a chord, also in the Netherlands. It happened to become a household word.

Some well known Dutch put this appeal in the newspapers and one of them told Queen Wilhelmina about it. She immediately saw this appeal as a chance to inspire her subjects to solidarity and to tackle the wide spread unemployment. She made this appeal her own and in October 1938 in the main newspapers articles appeared under the heading ‘A personal word from the Queen’. She repeated and elaborated on this appeal in a speech on the radio, which was broadcast with loudspeakers from the roofs of high buildings, because of course by then not everyone had a radio and besides she wanted her message to be heard.

The Queen's appeal brought an avalanche of responses. Everywhere committees were formed in response to the Queen's appeal, to combat unemployment. The Queen even convened a meeting with her provincial governors to see with them how to effectuate a moral and spiritual re-armament. She and many with her saw this as a chance to avert a war that no one wanted.

When the war did nevertheless break out, many in the Dutch team felt this as a personal failure.

And after the war there was the reconstruction that was needed. About the role Caux and IofC played in this you heard yesterday. In this exhilarating time of need there was, so people told me vividly, a strong fear of communism taking over more of western Europe (this threat was especially felt in the Ruhr, the industrial area in the west of Germany).

There was a real fear for a third world war. MRA conducted a deliberate action with plays and musicals which showed that the choice was not only between capitalism and communism, there was a third way, namely the one of change, reconciliation and cooperation. And somewhat presumptuous, it was often said and in any case thought, this third way was Moral Re-Armament.

In the chapter where I write about the Dutch relationship with our former enemy Germany, I also write about the Netherlands’ relationship with the former colony Indonesia, because it poses an interesting point on victims and culprits. No country has, to my mind, done more to repair and acknowledge past mistakes and crimes, than Germany. The Netherlands can take an example from that in view of our colonial past.

MRA/IofC in the Netherlands has played a pioneering role in helping our country acknowledge the wrongs of the colonial past.

In the case of Indonesia the Dutch in general were both culprit and victim, as they ended up in the Japanese concentration camps in Indonesia. There are some moving stories of people who in this complicated tangle of guilt and resentment, found inner freedom and a clear way and role. Both in repairing the relationship with Indonesia and with Japan.

This conference we are at here, stands in the long tradition of an involvement with business and industry. From the very beginning IofC broke through the social classes. Employers and workers met together first in the house parties and later in meetings and decided to work together towards a better world, starting with improving working relationships on the shop floor.

Out of a feeling of responsibility for society as a whole, people sought inspiration to which part they could play. Often this inspiration came from the quiet time, something that always was, and still is, an essential part of the ideas of IofC and that has become more common property now.

An example: Frits Philips of the Philips company felt at the outbreak of world war 2 called not to follow the rest of the management of his company in exile in Britain, but to remain in Eindhoven with his factory there. In the difficult war years he operated on a knife’s edge. He often managed to fool the occupier, and save in total 382 Jewish lives. All his life, he was an example of a top industrialist who cares more for his company and his workers, than for his own salary.

And also for industrial relations at large: at the age of 80 he initiated together with Olivier Giscard d’Estaing the Caux Round Table, which has just met here in Caux. At the occasion of his 100th birthday and after his death 8 months later, the media commented on his social commitment, which they attributed to his involvement with MRA/IofC. He did not derive his worth from his fortune, but from his humanity.

The most important thing of looking at history: what is there to be learned? If we do that, we do not need to reinvent the wheel. We can continue from where our predecessors left off on this road. The truth that is passed down to us is not set in stone. Every new generation has to make it his and her own. And find answers to the present day challenges.

A challenging task in our present day is to enhance the moral consciousness. When I speak for my own country: there is a basic knowledge of right and wrong, there is a general moral conscience, which stems from the Christian religion that our country is founded on. But one can wonder how long this will last when religion has become a marginal thing. How long can we take the moral foundations of our democracy for granted? If they are not refreshed, will they not run the risk of wearing out?

This is the crucial importance of the emphasis that IofC places on moral values . From the very beginning four moral values, also called standards, have been the core of the message. Honesty, purity, unselfishness and love. They played and play an important role in shaking up a person’s conscience. When looking at one’s life in the light of these values, we all fall short. For many, for me too, it has been a freeing experience, to put right what one can.

But they should not be seen as a dogma. Rather they are signposts. And of course there are more values to be guided by. I can think of moderation, trustworthiness, patience, a sense of perspective, courage, generosity, solidarity, authenticity, freedom, independence, justice.

I found it inspiring and refreshing to look at morality also from another angle - the ethics of virtue. I had previously thought that the word ‘virtue’ had a rather pathetic, sentimental ring about it. Mistakenly, as I discovered some years ago when I learned about virtues in a new way.

Instead of being pathetic or corny, the word ‘virtue’ actually means moral excellence. You can still hear this meaning in the words ‘virtuoso’ and ‘virtuosity’. The verb that goes with virtues is to train or to exercise (as someone only becomes a virtuoso violinist after a lot of training), as the verb that goes with standards or norms is to measure. You can say that when you look at your life it can be good to measure it against moral standards, it can also be good to train yourself in certain virtues. A virtue can eventually become second nature.

The great challenge is that we need commitment and conviction, and at the same time personal freedom and space for different approaches. We need to go all out for what we believe is right and at the same time know that there are also other viewpoints which may be equally moral and worthwhile.

In conclusion I would like to say something about the choice for a new world. I believe we can choose to be part of a new world. I am with the group here that organises the Food and Sustainability Work stream. It is interesting how many moral choices are connected to food. And how closely the food we eat and the world we would like to see are linked.

I read an interview with a landscape architect who states: You eat your view. If in the supermarket you go for the cheap meat, you choose a view with enormous stables packed with cattle and endless monotone cornfields to feed that cattle. If on the other hand you buy locally organically grown food, you choose a diverse landscape, with 25% more birds and three times as many butterflies.

Over the past years there has been an alarming disappearance of complete hives of honey bees. I recently read that there are serious signs that this may be due to the ample use of pesticides. So the honey bees challenge us to rethink our way of living. This is not a non-committal choice. In the end it may be a question of life or death, if we take the warning of the bees seriously.

I have called my book: Reaching for a new world. Are we utopian fools when we hope and expect and work for a better world? Our world appears not to be very manageable. So there would be a case to say: this new world… where is it? We only see misery, injustice, greed etc.

But one can also say: this new world … it is there. You just need to have eyes to see it. Look at the many examples:

  • People who refuse to be part of the culture of grab.
  • People who counter corruption with integrity. Who take responsibility for their environment.
  • People who quietly go on working, caring, loving.
  • People who parry noise with quiet, superficiality with deepening and in the madness of the day make space for reflection.

We all live with these two realities. But if we choose to be part of the second one, we get a clearer eye with which to see the hopeful signs of a new world.

Hennie de Pous-de Jonge,
Caux, 27 July 2009