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Nov 6, 2009

I had the good fortune to spend some time with former President Jimmy Carter, yesterday, at a gathering in Menlo Park, CA.  I was impressed with his achievements, but also for his authenticity, compassion and commitment to those less fortunate. In the 28 years since he was president, Carter has arguably achieved more good than he was able to while holding the most powerful office on Earth.

After leaving office in 1981, Carter and his wife Rosalynn, founded The Carter Center whose tagline is "Waging Peace. Fighting Disease. Building Hope."  He says the role of The Carter Center is to help where governments, institutions and other organizations are not.  Their achievements are too many to list here, but range from nearly eradicating Guinea worm disease (from over 3.5 million cases to less than 4,000 today), to monitoring elections in developing nations, helping to resolve conflicts in Bosnia, Haiti and elsewhere, working toward peace in the Middle East, supporting mental health programs, building homes for the poor around the world, standing up for women's equality, and much, much more.  Well deserving of his 2002 Nobel Peace Prize.  In the past two weeks alone, 85 year old Carter has been in 8 different countries, is in the middle of writing his 26th book, and sounds like he has no plans to slow down. 

He calls his gatherings like the one I attended, "conversations", as he spent the majority of his time answering questions from the roughly 150 guests.  He addressed questions about refugees (we need to do more to help, and understand that what many in the US call "illegal immigrants" are in fact, themselves, refugees), Iran (isolation and threats simply drive them toward developing nuclear weapons), and some of the controversies he's been involved in, such as the title of his 2006 book, "Palestine Not Apartheid" (his intent was to raise awareness of the terrible conditions faced by Palestinians in Gaza, not label Israel as running an Apartheid state), and how he and Rosalynn severed ties with the Southern Baptist Convention (because the group, "like many of the Great Religions", puts women subservient to men, and "those kind of decisions, promulgated by religious leaders in the name of God, are picked up by men who want to abuse women in other ways, and used as an excuse" resulting in further injustices to women in society.)

I asked former President Carter how the average person could best help human rights around the world.  His response was threefold: 1) Support organizations that are working in the field to further human rights, such as Amnesty International and (he included somewhat apologetically), his own Carter Foundation.  2) Teach our children and those around us the importance of human rights and get them involved in activities where they can interact with, and help, "people who are different from us"  and 3) Recognize that the term "human rights" around the world means more than just Freedom of Speech, and the liberties that we tend to associate with the term here in the US, Japan and Europe. "Human Rights" for much of the world is about having basic needs met with clean water, food, and health care.  It's important to "help the suffering people who don't have the right to drink a clean drink of water. That is just as much help as it is to try to promote Freedom of Speech in America where you'll always have Freedom of Speech."

I walked away from the evening inspired, humbled, and with tremendous gratitude that President Carter has chosen to devote his life in Obligatory Photo with President Carterthe service of others. At the end of the evening I jokingly asked him if only former US Presidents were able to live such an extraordinary life, to which he laughed and replied "no, anyone can do this". And while there's no question he gets incredible opportunities the rest of us will never have, I think he's also correct that each of us, in our own way, can have an extraordinary impact on others if we live our lives filled with compassion, gratitude, and the belief that we can make a difference.

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Posted: Nov 6, 2009 12:41pm

 

 
 
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Randy Paynter
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Hillsborough, CA, USA
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