Setting the world's compass: A mission for '88 and beyond

A YEAR ago today we outlined in this space a major undertaking for this newspaper: ``Looking to the 21st century - a Monitor agenda for action.'' We would like to report on the six agenda topics - peace, poverty, the environment, children, freedom, and values. And we will add some issues that warrant special attention during 1988.

Peace: As reflected in Monitor coverage, the cause of peace clearly advanced during 1987. At the Reagan-Gorbachev summit held in Washington in December, an arms agreement was signed that would eliminate an entire class of nuclear weapons. Oscar Arias S'anchez won a Nobel prize for persistently pursuing his plan for Central American peace. At year-end, however, the outbreak of violence in the West Bank and Gaza showed that major peace initiatives in the Middle East and elsewhere remain to be made.

Poverty: Note was taken of America's growing class of homeless, many of them families with young children. The Monitor looked closely at the plight of United States farmers being driven off their land by debt, and at the ``new poor'' in America's oil-rich states.

The environment: Our writers looked back over the 25 years since ``Silent Spring,'' and ahead to two decades of global research on Spaceship Earth's ecological transit.

Children: A major Monitor series, ``Children in Darkness,'' reported on the worldwide exploitation of children; other articles discussed child abuse, surrogacy, and teen-age abortions.

Religion and ethics: The role of the church and religion in international affairs got major attention in our pages and on our broadcasts, as did the progress of Christian healing today in a just-concluded series.

The Afghanistan war, the odyssey of Asian refugees, the significance of glasnost and perestroika - the world's unhappy and more promising events were scrutinized here. In cultural affairs, we looked at a shift in the arts world from self-promotion to emphasis on more humane values, at the message of popular music in all its forms.

The very scope of such issues appears to make the world long even more to know where it is going. Where is technology taking us? Will the threat of war retreat? Can private loneliness, family heartache, ease? It's not mere curiosity about the future; the world needs to know where it is going.

Recording this search for understanding, the world's gains and shortcomings, is an international newspaper's business. Doing this task well is a news organization's moral obligation.

In this spirit, let us consider three new topics of special import for 1988:

Leadership and citizenship. 1988 is a year of political transition. Internationally, the East and West confront shifts in economic policies and strategic forces. Franco-German d'etente advances. Margaret Thatcher's Britain shows intimations of great energy. The European Community wrestles to absorb newcomers. Economically precocious Asian rim nations are trying to rise above bafflement with democracy. State-controlled economies relax regulations. Communist governments - the Soviet Union, China, Vietnam - experiment with market incentives.

In the US, a majority of voters will consider for their first time a presidential race that is wide open in both parties. Efforts must be made to improve the disappointingly low voter turnout in the US. At the same time, the economic costs of restructuring society are making new demands: To the issue of day care for children has been added the need for ``dependent care'' for older parents, and a new category of attention for AIDS patients. A disequilibrium is evident between what people can earn as producers and what they need as daily requirements: Minimum-income jobs, even two-income households, fail to enable millions to afford decent housing - not to mention families with children living in abandoned cars. The maturing baby-boomer generation is making new social and economic demands.

Financial institutions shift into securities and equities supermarkets. Tax reform works its way through the economy. The US government finds it difficult to deal with its budget.

The stability of society. If these practical matters were not enough, the public finds itself beset by a world of increasingly limited commitments. Jobs are more short term. So, it seems, are many marriages. The lexicon of floating exchange rates, mergers, deregulation, market forces can also reflect a belief of variable, unstable goodness. Individuals and organizations grope for a purpose, a niche, that extends beyond the fiscal year.

People feel there is more movement at the circumference of their lives than growth and security in the center: That is, there is more travel, instant this and that, material stuff. Yet many long for the Bible promise of the gift of the Father of lights - ``With whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.'' As the world changes around us, we long to progress while still holding our ground. We want role models for a new world that, by definition, has yet to produce them.

Communication. We must communicate more broadly around the world, reach into more communities that ethnic, language, social barriers would keep us ignorant of. How we discuss or picture events shapes history. There is a deep questioning of the role of the media, a suspicion that the media distort or fictionalize public matters, treating them as gossip or soap opera.

We need a new public discourse. Not rhetorical, not entertaining, not intellectual. But a discourse that is conversational, heart to heart, that speaks frankly of what most needs to be done and why.

Now if the New Year's proprieties permit sounding a horn, the Monitor in its several undertakings - this newspaper, the Monitor radio broadcast services, and the Monitor's television broadcast service - addresses vastly more of the world's agenda, and the world's population itself, than might be readily apparent.

In the past year we discovered a lot that was progressive in the world, and much we would see changed. The new year promises even more reason for this newspaper to encourage effective leadership and a more secure citizenry.

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