Today celebrates United Nations Day -- a day to remember why the United Nations (UN) was created. It's a perfect day to challenge yourself to think outside your own cultural borders and expand your capacity to embrace diversity.
Believe it or not, while most people have heard of the UN housed in the dramatic skyscraper in New York, many people may not understand what the UN actually does. The UN was founded in 1945 after World War II to replace the League of Nations, to stop wars between countries, and to provide a platform for dialogue. It contains multiple subsidiary organizations to carry out its missions.
Notable celebrities and public figures have helped the UN's efforts to bring a spotlight to key issues the UN oversees. In 2008, mega celebrity and director George Clooney was named a UN "messenger of peace" to promote the world body's peacekeeping efforts. With his star power, Mr. Clooney focused public attention on crucial international political and social issues while diligently working to mobilize political action against the violence in Darfur.
In 2012, Academy Award winning actress Angelina Jolie was appointed Special Envoy of UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres. Her role in the UN focuses on major crises resulting in mass population displacements. She advocates and represents UNHCR and Guterres at the diplomatic level, and engages with decision-makers to find solutions for people displaced by conflict.
I'm not an official UN ambassador and have no affiliation with the organization, but when I travel abroad I always adopt the stance of a peacekeeper by "vacationing" in non-vacation destinations: Iraq, Cambodia, Cuba, and Macau, just to name a few. While there, I visit orphanages, hospitals, and schools, bringing the people supplies, food, and water, to connect with my "host country" in a significant and meaningful way.
Why do I do this? To directly experience different cultures; to bring goodwill and supplies to those people who are suffering; and to learn. You cannot experience or replicate these one-on-one connections by watching television or a movie or reading a newspaper. The most profound moments in my life occur when I'm sitting with people and listening -- not talking -- but listening to their stories. That's when I'm moved to do my best to help change their situation.
My travels have taught me about different beliefs and broadened my understanding of what makes people tick. Many people have generously helped open my eyes through their different opinions and cultural attitudes. A good example is my journey interviewing orphans in fifteen different countries over a five-year period. Travel helps me understand the beauty in simplicity; the value of respect; and how to be grateful for friendship, kindness, and laughter.
What You Can Do
Most of us don't have the star power of Mr. Clooney and Ms. Jolie to bring to the UN, and although you may want to travel to different cultures, it's often not a choice. However, for this special day I devised a list of actions with my dear friend, Glenda Shaw, a friendship expert at www.superfriendgroups.com, to promote the tenets of the UN in your own life. This is how you can be your own UN ambassador for peace and friendship:
• Today, be open and friendly to all people regardless of race, culture, gender, sexual preference, age, disability, etc. A simple smile or acknowledgment can have an amazing impact and goes a long way in breaking down barriers.
• Today, communicate respectfully, even with those you disagree with. While you shouldn't stifle your opinions, you do need to be mindful of the words you choose to express yourself. Remember, just because you yell louder doesn't mean you're being heard.
• Today, challenge your current opinions about others and ideas. Where did your current beliefs or perceptions come from? Are they 100 percent accurate? How much more harmonious could the relationship or your life be if you changed your perception?
• Today, stand up for someone you see being treated wrongly. Step in as the logical voice of reason in a non-confrontational way.
• Today, cultivate a sense of responsibility to others and the community. When you actually care about people and your community, you'll be seen as someone who elevates people's spirits and connects with their soul -- the ultimate peacekeeper.
If we can't connect and promote the tenets of the UN in our own communities, then what hope do we have of finding world peace? Be the first one, be the last one, start today to find the opportunities to unite your community, friend circle, family, network. Do something, anything, to remove the borders in your life and to stretch yourself beyond your own cultural comfort zone.