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Marlise Karlin Headshot

Game Changers: Who Are the Real Leaders Today?

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I remember when the news hit about the Berlin wall coming down. It was a huge game changer many believed would never happen; a watershed moment that signaled the end of a hostile era. It brought about an incredible opportunity -- similar to one we are facing today. Who will accept the challenge is the question.

My mother lived in Berlin at the end of the war -- when she took me out of my comfort zone and the security of my home in Texas to East Berlin, I remember how frightened she was just crossing through the check points, as though they might keep her there, in that world where the word freedom and peace had lost its meaning.

In the years since 9/11, the precious freedom my mother treasured and why America meant so much to her has eroded. Yes, in the name of protecting us from those who might wish us harm, and yet the surveillance, the 'checkpoints' at every airport where you are required to allow invasive body searches, the cameras on every street corner in all the major cities, the new laws that permit anyone to be taken into custody without representation (i.e. The Patriot Act) -- all seem to echo what we used to call tyranny in other countries.

And, we are standing at a crossroad in our history where we have an opportunity to transcend the fear-based legislation and way of life that exists today, that many have even begun to accept as the status quo. Consider what could happen if the billions spent on wars and surveillance to 'protect' us were invested in people and creativity to shift our failing economy and the future sustainability of this world.

Thomas Friedman pointed out in the New York Times that with the advent of bin Laden's death, and the repudiation of his ideology by the millions of Arabs from Tunisia to Egypt, to gain dignity, justice and self rule peacefully and not by murderous violence or a return to puritanical Islam as we feared -- that this is a time for the forces of decency to get organized. Can we do that around the world -- let go of some of our past fears -- and recognize that this very moment is calling out for a new era of peace.

Ervin Laszlo, renowned author twice nominated for the Nobel Peace prize, states that breakthroughs happen when "The mind-sets of a critical mass of people evolve in time, shifting the culture of society toward a better-adapted mode. As these changes take hold, the improved social order -- governed by more adapted values, world-views, and ethics -- establishes itself. Society stabilizes itself in its changed condition."

Is this just a dream? Ask Nelson Mandela how he took an angry society and the fear-based legislation in his country and set new standards through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to turn it around, not by himself of course, but with the support of the people across South Africa, from those in high positions to the men and women on the street.
Will it be simple? Of course not, those who live in cynicism perpetuate it. Gandhi, Mandela, Gorbachev, Martin Luther King and other visionary leaders faced tidal waves of skepticism and distrust, and, it didn't stop them.

Is it possible? History has shown us it is. Are we ready to insist on and stand firm beside those leaders who can turn the tide and make this time an evolutionary shift? Or, are we the leaders, the people who must initially hold the vision and bring our world leaders into the game we have begun to play?

Who will be the game changers? Who will dismantle the myths that are so prevalent today, of our differences culturally, and that we will never find solutions for living peacefully?

As I traveled the world in the last ten years, what I witnessed is our similarities. At our core, what we value is the same -- the right to be free, to raise our children in secure environments, and to live peacefully respecting one another -- which now means within the global community we are all a part of.

We are interconnected and can no longer believe in the illusion of a world where it's only about my country and my family. The domino effect as the economy took a nose dive in one area and then continued to include the entire globe was a powerful eye opener, allowing us to see the world in some ways as the astronauts did -- as one world, this beautiful and yet fragile planet we are all fortunate to call home.

I remember how shocked we were in America at the dismantling of the myths that divided our world -- our fear of the Russians who we thought were so different, who only wanted to see the demise of Americans and the rest of the world -- only to discover when the wall came down, that the masses didn't want to fight us, they yearned for freedom and a peaceful life as much as anyone.

It's time, for a new era of peace. The stage has been set -- not by one event pointing the way -- but many.

President Obama, your mantle gives you the authority to define a future that is one of the biggest game changers the world has known. There are people from every culture who will stand beside any leader who is ready to bring about a more unified and peaceful world.
Are you ready to transcend centuries of hate and fear and take a stand for peace in today's world? Are you the game changer?

Maybe we all are.