During the spring of 1989, we watched that now iconic figure stand before a column of tanks in China and dreamed of the possibilities. Could the desire for freedom gain a major foothold in the world's most populous communist country? Were we witnessing the beginning of a pro-democracy revolution? Ultimately, the protests were silenced. There would be no scenes of jubilation in China like the ones that would come later during that eventful year in Germany.
As a child of the Cold War, for me the Berlin Wall was the symbolic and real dividing line between them and us... the free and the not free... hope and fear. It seemed that it would stand forever because that's just the way the world was organized. An eternal standoff. And then one day it was gone. The paradigm had shifted seemingly overnight. Remember how the new technologies of the day, like the hand-held video camera, played a roll in ending the reigns of dictators during those heady and hopeful times? The world watched, making it less possible for those that abused power to continue to do so. This time change was not only possible, but it was happening before our eyes.
Twenty years later, with social networking taking us where reporters can't, we may be witnessing something big happening in Iran. Our hopes for something significant and positive for the people of Iran begin to rise.
Whether this time, or next time, it appears that something is percolating up that will not be denied. Empowered by new forms of communications technology unavailable to protesters of the past, there is movement at the grass roots level that is hard to track and control. While we can't underestimate the power and resolve of desperate regimes, we also can't resist letting ourselves dream that Tehran can become the next Berlin. It's human nature to hope for something better.
Two associations come to mind as I try to sort things out.
First I think of Michael Crichton's chaos and complexity theory inspired Jurassic Park mantra, "Life will find a way." Is the desire for freedom finding a way?
Secondly I think of what I've learned from the works of Bill Strauss and Neil Howe about generational theory and how useful it is to view the world through that lens. Are we witnessing a generational earthquake?
Game changer or temporary flare up? Berlin or Beijing? The implications of any recount may be felt long after a winner is declared.
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