Agenda for the 21st century. Readers respond

From Sept. 23 to Dec. 31, we ran a series entitled `Agenda for the 21st century,' in which sixteen 20th-century thinkers explained what they saw as the key issues for the next century. We asked readers to respond to the series, and we've received hundreds of replies. Below are a few excerpts from the many thought-provoking letters. We're sorry we could not print more of them. Because the series generated so much interest, we've asked Rushworth Kidder to conduct five more interviews. The first, with British social commentator Paul Johnson, appears March 12. The readers' agenda While many letters agreed with our agenda for the 21st century, others mentioned their own concerns.

In the opening paragraph of this series, the following questions are raised: ``What are the fundamental issues that humanity must face up to?'' and ``Which ones are of first intensity...?'' When I consider these important questions, I immediately think of the interrelated issues of poverty, hunger, and child health. Specifically, I think of the fact that 35,000 lives (mostly children's) are lost each day to hunger and related disease, while we have the technology, solutions, and productive capacity to eliminate hunger as a basic issue by the year 2000. Beth Blue Swadener Pennsylvania Furnace, Pa. Objective for the 21st century: Peace for all people

The various religions indicate what is necessary on the part of man to progress to a state of peace. The Commandments are a good summary.

First must come massive publicity for peace. Peace is good news and by present norms, good news is not news at all. But we have to make it the main news. We have to think PEACE, talk PEACE, advertise PEACE, pray for PEACE.

First, let us identify the positives, i.e., those of like mind who are prepared to accept the four absolute standards - honesty, purity, unselfishness, and love. These people - and there are many of them spread throughout the continents, the religions, the races - must surely be the most promising allies.

In these days, no ``wave'' or ``movement'' dares to be without an acronym or other identification. How about this, to start our thoughts?

P eople

E verywhere

A dopting

C hrist's

E xample Sir Cyril Hatty Norton, Zimbabwe

Had T.S. Eliot been able to contribute, he might have offered these views, from ``Thoughts After Lambeth'': ``The world is trying the experiment of attempting to form a civilized but non-Christian morality. The experiment will fail, but we must be very patient in awaiting its collapse; meanwhile redeeming the time; so that Faith may be preserved alive through the dark ages before us; to renew and rebuild civilization, and save the world from suicide.'' Howard L. Naslund Annapolis, Md.

I have for many years felt that a program of universal service for the citizens of the United States would be a step in the right direction. If each of our young people was required to give one year of service sometime between the ages of 17 and 22, then each would be forced to take time off from a personal agenda and be confronted by the needs of some segment of the larger community - whether that be within our own boundaries as a nation or beyond. As a nation we have the economic resources to implement such a program. Nancy Sarah DaSilva Rhineback, N.Y.

As a writer, and thus a reader, I often have ``difficulty finding the bedrock of real wisdom under a blizzard of information,'' which you mentioned as a future significant change in the final article of your agenda series. Congratulations on your superb job of exposing that bedrock in what must have been a blizzard of information to plow through. Amy Malick Durango, Colo.

If we are to solve tomorrow's global problems, we will have to recognize a new concept - namely, that the common interests of the human family must take precedence over the interests of individual nations. At some point, loyalty to 160 individual nation-states must give way to a new overriding loyalty to the planet itself and to humanity as a whole. Walter Hoffmann World Federalist Association Executive Director Washington

We need to make peace more exciting than war and violence. The biblical notion of shalom is anything but static and restive. It is full of motion and movement and activity.

What is needed is a common sense that there is hope, that things can be different, that there is promise in what we do. That promise is offered by God, no matter how one defines him/her/it. Whether it is the New England town meeting, or the Saturday night gathering, or the neighborhood ``sitting on the stoop'' in urban America, these types of direct democracy need to be somehow rejuvenated and given some degree of power. Pastor Alexander M. Jacobs Metro Milwaukee Lutheran Campus Ministry University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee

I would like to congratulate you on the excellent series of articles ``Agenda for the 21st century.'' It is noteworthy that so many of the great figures interviewed have focused on disarmament and development as central issues in advancing toward the next century. These themes will be dwelt on in the forthcoming (Aug. 24 - Sept. 11) UN Conference on the Relationship Between Disarmament and Development. Douglas Roche External Affairs Ambassador for Disarmament Ottawa

The 21st century recalls the Christian era of the 1st century AD - another new millennium. Crucifixions were commonplace in this ancient world turned upside down by persecution and violence. Paradoxically, it was a time of unprecedented love and compassion. Like the Reformation and the 1st century AD, our age is one of revisioning, where old values are being replaced by new ones. Whether we call it the Space Age, the Age of Aquarius, or the Planetary Age, the 21st century brings us to another historic crossroads. Linda Hathaway Bunza Beaverton, Ore.

I don't recall much of anything being said on the impact and significance of television. It seems to me that the quality of our leadership is being diluted by TV. On the one hand we're all better aware of social problems; but on the other hand we seem less apt to do something about them, since we're getting so used to being viewers of events. I'd like to see the creation of TV-free zones. I can't help thinking that such places might better acquire a sense of community. John Bell E. Providence, R.I. Responses to individuals interviewed

I am a 36-year-old blue-collar worker that has returned to school hoping to become part of the solution of the world's future, rather than part of the problem.

Jimmy Carter's think tanks represent a ray of hope in this direction, but obviously the world is without any real vehicle, other than a toothless United Nations, that could set global environmental policy and manage to handle the complex economic and political issues this would create. We must begin to explore ways to influence the actions of nations and multinational corporations. David F. Gaier Petaluma, Calif.

Michael Hooker stated that kids today have more leisure time to do with as they please. I can't speak for the past, but I totally disagree that kids spend all their time in shopping malls nowadays. For myself and several others, we have to keep up with high school curriculum, apply to colleges and scholarships, maintain enough extracurricular activities to become ``well rounded'' students, deal with social pressures (especially high in teen years), and some of us need to raise money with jobs that take up even more time. And he says we have it easy? Cathy Chao Torrance, Calif.

Professor [Mortimer] Adler suggests a reform of education within the United States, but this should surely be extended to the rest of the world. We need to learn to communicate better; we need to hear what others say to us, not what we want to hear.

With the softening of national boundaries, more interest in the global situation, less protectionism, both commercial and cultural, we can open the door to a cross flow of ideas that would benefit us all. It has always seemed ridiculous that we cannot take the good from another culture, and insist on maintaining that our own nationalistic opinions or attitudes are the best.

Whatever happened to logical thinking? John Stupples Uppsala, Sweden The Monitor's six-part agenda We identified six vital concerns for the 21st century: nuclear annihilation, overpopulation, degradation of the environment, the North-South gap, inadequate education, and the breakdown in morality. Some readers used them as a springboard for their own views.

To say that the fear of [nuclear annihilation] is pervasive seems far removed from the reality. Most people are far too concerned with the pains, pleasures, and routines of daily life to spend much time thinking about the unthinkable, the phrase popularized by Hudson Institute's late founder, Herman Kahn.

Similarly, it seems just too facile to attribute such societal ills as the drug culture and alienation and teen-age suicide to an apocalyptic nuclear vision. More likely, these are symptoms of affluence - of less discipline, more leisure, greater discretionary income, and fewer responsibilities.

Your concluding paragraphs recognize a ``quiet optimism'' that lies beneath the expressions of concern. Perhaps your next series could focus on this aspect of the agenda, on the resilience and resourcefulness of people and the advances and promise of technology. There is quite a lot of documentary evidence to support this perspective. Thomas D. Bell Jr. President and Chief Executive Officer Hudson Institute, Indianapolis

At the root of our democracy is education, and in order for our democracy to survive the development of our educational institutions is critical.

The greatest asset that our school system can bestow upon us is to teach us how to think.

By this I mean the ability to listen to the opinions of others with an open mind, accept or reject those opinions, but to do so based upon reason. Labels must be discarded, for when we label an idea as liberal or conservative, our decisionmaking process becomes lazy.

If our educational institutions teach us to think, democracy will flourish and our leaders will be chosen based upon the decisions of an intelligent electorate. Robert J. Johnson Jr. Brooklyn, N.Y.

The six points on the agenda are remarkable in that they are all man-made problems.

The last two points on the list [educational and moral reform] are inextricably related, and we cannot make significant progress on one without equivalent progress on the other.

An essential part of being moral is being willing to be held accountable for our actions. But accountability implies that learning must occur, since it is through learning that we improve the quality of our decisions. A primary purpose of education is to enhance our inherited learning ability and thereby improve our ability to lead more moral lives. Morality needs education.

I recommend that we place high priority on examining our educational programs to determine if they are being conducted in a reasonable moral environment, particularly with respect to accountability. H. James Willard Jr. Bethel Park, Pa.

I am a 17-year-old, well-educated individual who feels a deep sense of agreement with your article published Dec. 31.

All of the six points that these ``thinkers'' have come up with are exactly the issues that have been hounding my mind. It scares me to look at our society, our nation, and realize how drastically our public morality, our responsibilities, and our democratic principles have become twisted and mutilated.

I know that we definitely need some self-analysis when I see how lightly we treat the actions of people like Muammar Qaddafi, and how we idolize others such as Sylvester Stallone and Clint Eastwood.

I especially agree with the lack of concern for the environment. This is something which must be corrected, for we all know that without nature - the water to drink, the ozone layer to protect us, the clean, well-tilled ground to plant on - we shall all become less than dust without even having to worry about nuclear war. Jeannine A. Renninger New Milford, Conn.

Your newspaper was required reading for my political science class.

I would like to offer some perspectives on the six big ones. They look like the reel of a fisherman who just made a very bad cast. Six big knots all intertwined in the common thread. Pull through on one, and all the others bind ever more tightly.

May I suggest that Knot No. 5 - morality - is the best candidate for ultimately untangling the snarl.

Talking through a crisis to avoid nuclear annihilation without any moral perspective is doomed to failure. At best, talking can only buy time to develop moral fiber. If none is forthcoming, it's either chains or ... boom.

The ``bedrock of real wisdom'' is morality along with respect for human life. David A. Nilson Vista, Calif.

Nineteen eighty-eight is coming up fast. Can't your agenda series be the foundation for a turnabout? Why not obtain advance commitments for local and national forums where the six agenda items can be explained and explored, where proposals can be made and reacted to, and where - most important of all - we can all participate in formulating a vision of ourselves, our nation, and the rapidly changing world we share? Donald E. Mueller Long Beach, Calif.

For a copy of the entire `Agenda for the 21st century' series, send $1 (please use check or money order) to:

Agenda for the 21st century

One Norway St. P734

Boston, MA 02115

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