International Relations and National Agendas After September 11, 2001

Originally Published in the PA TIMES, Vol. 25, Issue 2, February 2002
(A publication of the American Society for Public Administration)

By Paula D. Gordon, Ph.D.

The September 11th attacks on the United States have awakened in Americans, as well as in others throughout the world, a heightened sense of recognition of the preciousness of life; the importance of the love of friends and family; and the significance of the tangible, as well as intangible bonds that serve to unite neighbors, associates, communities, countries, and, indeed, humankind in general. To borrow some of Mary Parker Follett's terminology, one might say that these events have acted as an "invisible leader" and that that invisible leadership, along with extraordinary visible leadership, have served to "unleash" incredible stores of "creative energies".

Consequences have included an awakening of a sense of meaning, purpose, direction, and mission that seems to have lain dormant in many for decades and more. Previously existing enmities and jealousies have diminished in importance or dissolved altogether and have been replaced with a shared sense of vulnerability along with a sense of solidarity in the face of a common threat. The attacks have led heads of state and public officials throughout the world to reconsider and transform their relationships with other nations and they have affected disparate perspectives on globalization. The attacks have forced a transformation of the agendas of nations throughout the world and they have served as an impetus for action.

Since September 11, those in roles of public responsibility and leadership from President George W. Bush, to British Prime Minister Tony Blair, to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and the former Mayor of New York City Rudy Giuliani, have each reflected an evolving sense of awareness and a shift in values and priorities in their statements and actions. The entreaties and actions of these and other individuals have been instrumental in the successful creation of coalitions of nations to battle terrorism on a wide variety of fronts. National as well as international efforts have been launched that emphasize cooperation and collaboration in the service of commonly held values and goals: to respond to the attacks, to prevent and protect against possible future attacks, to support recovery efforts, and to do what can be done to rid the world of terrorists, including taking military action. Coordination, collaboration, and networking - intra-nationally and internationally - have taken on new importance among many in roles of public responsibility involved in addressing common problems, threats and challenges.

Information and intelligence has been shared in unprecedented ways amongst nations. Lessons learned and best practices that have been gleaned or identified by others throughout the world and many are being sought and shared. Some examples include the efforts of the organizers of the Utah Winter Olympics, the efforts of those with responsibilities for airport and airline security, and the lessons learned by those involved in responding to previous acts of terrorism.

As a result of the September 11 attacks, growing numbers of individuals throughout the world have become value-based advocates, bound in sympathy and resolve with all others who value life over death and wish to do what can be done to ensure the future of civilization. Concern for "security" has changed accordingly from limited national or military concerns to concerns that encompass individual, economic, and national, as well as global security. As a consequence, the nature, scope, and tenor of international relations and national agendas have changed dramatically.

The transformations that have occurred have been accompanied by a new emphasis on human concerns and values, an infusion of commonsense and inventiveness, and a new sense of human purpose and hence new priorities. These changes naturally cause people to think in terms of longer-term timeframes. The very complexity of problems, threats, and challenges makes it essential that individuals acquire generalists' skills and habits of thinking, while cultivating sufficient specialist expertise to understand the increasing complexity.

Educators and other contributors to an understanding of national and global challenges and change are in a position to help ensure that the transformations currently in process have a long-term salutary effect. They are in a position to help encourage and guide the development of generalist/specialists who will be able to understand and address complex national and global challenges. They are in a position to help those in roles of public responsibility further develop the capabilities they need in order to meet these challenges successfully. They are in a position to awaken or help reawaken understanding of the work and significance of a whole host of contributors to the fields of public administration and governance, including Woodrow Wilson, Paul Appleby, and Dwight Waldo, whose work aimed at fostering the values and principles of a free society and the advancement of civilization. They are also in a position to advance understanding of the work of others that helps to shed light on current transformations, including the work of Herbert Shepard, Abraham Maslow, Mary Parker Follett, and Ruth Benedict.

~ In James G. March's Handbook of Organizations (Rand McNally & Co., 1965), Herbert Shepard had written on the need for organizations and societies as well as civilization in general, to move away from behaviors characterized by cutthroat competition, coercion, and compromise of principle to behaviors typified by cooperation and collaboration.

~ Maslow had written in a Fall 1967 article in Journal of Humanistic Psychology of a kind of motivation, "meta-motivation", that transcended narrow individual and selfish purposes, a kind of motivation that he thought epitomized psychologically healthy individuals. His perspectives on organizational and societal transformation can also be found in Maslow on Management (John Wiley & Sons, 1998), a reprise of his book Eupsychian Management- A Journal, originally published by Irwin-Dorsey Press in 1965.

~ Ruth Benedict, in a 1970 article on "Synergy: Patterns of the Good Culture" in Volume 72 of the American Anthropologist, had written about a kind of motivation that shares much in common with Maslow's meta-motivation. Ruth Benedict describes the characteristics of healthy, "high synergy" groups and societies as those in which the interests of the individual and the interests of the group as a whole were in harmony. Maslow highlighted the importance of Benedict's concept of high synergy societies several places in his work.

~ In 1995, Harvard Business Books published a compilation of Mary Parker Follett's work edited by Pauline Graham: Mary Parker Follett ~ Prophet of Management. In that volume, one will find the richness of Follett's thinking concerning the creative resolution of conflict; the importance of using nurturing rather than coercive or manipulative and Machiavellian approaches to the use of power: "power with" as opposed to "power over" approaches; and the need to cultivate approaches to leadership and coordination that result in the development of others and in the release of constructive and creative energies. In her book The New State that she wrote in 1920 (now available online), she defines the purpose of democracy as being that of the "unleashing creative energies".

The events of September 11, 2001 have in effect moved humankind in the direction of the kinds of behaviors that Shepard called for and Maslow and Follett defined. They have moved humankind in the direction of the healthier civilization that Benedict described when she spoke of "high synergy" groups and societies. The events of September 11 helped awaken in individuals throughout the world the recognition of the basic interests that unite all of humankind. The events reminded all who were not previously fully conscious of it before, of the primacy of the life itself. The events forced many to a recognition that individual and collective relationships actions need to be rooted in a basic valuing of life itself, that the future of civilization is contingent upon such a valuing of life.

Surely the attackers did not dream that their actions might serve as a basis for the kinds of transformations that have occurred to date. Surely they did not intend to provide the impetus for the nation and the world to act in decisive ways to stabilize, safeguard, preserve, and nurture that which serves to exemplify all that which epitomizes the best in human nature: the affirmation of life itself and a sense of caring and stewardship regarding life on earth.





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