Lecturer Guest Columns

Living More Gracefully in our Hyper-Connected World


Being graceful, or being more at ease in the world, is something we all aspire to. But in our always-connected, always-on world, this has become more difficult. Can grace survive in an age of instant responses, bombastic communications, online harassment and polarization?

I believe that not only can grace survive, it can thrive in today’s society if we choose to seek it out and enact it where it’s least expected. Grace is a lens through which to understand the world, and a philosophy that can help us better navigate our digital lives.

That’s why I teamed up with Sarah L. Kaufman, author of the book The Art of Grace: On Moving Well Through Life, and Caresse Giles, director of digital at iStrategy Labs, to create Gracefully, a website and podcast devoted to grace and technology. We’re exploring the very notion of grace and uncovering where it is embodied in our everyday life, both online and off. We are looking at ways that thoughtful design, intentional approaches to online content, and personal choices can promote community and enhance civil engagement. Our goal is to humanize technology and empower everyone to live more gracefully in the digital age.

So what do we mean by grace? As Sarah has written on our site, it’s a lovely concept, but difficult to pin down. We all come to the word “grace” with different perceptions. Perhaps it’s smooth, elegant Fred Astaire-style movement. Or warm and welcoming behavior, like that friend you have with a listening ear and buckets of patience. We may also think of spiritual grace, an unseen presence showering us with unconditional love, to help us get through things.

Sarah, who is also a Pulitzer Prize-winning dance critic for The Washington Post, has spent her career around dancers, which led her to think a lot about grace, and to write her book examining the three aspects of grace — physical, social and spiritual. What do they share? A sense of ease. Ease in the way we move our bodies, and in the feeling that comes over us when we watch other beautiful movers. That consoling ease when we feel the love of a higher power. And the ease we bring about for others, in how we connect with and treat those around us.

Putting folks at ease: That’s pretty much the essence, and the pinnacle, of grace.

As communities and social interactions have become more digital and tech-fueled, finding that sense of graceful ease may seem elusive. It doesn’t have to be. The key is to create norms and practices around how we use and build technology and integrate. This is an opportunity to restore a greater sense of humanity to our digital world, and create new online experiences that help us discover and experience amazing grace.

So then, what is graceful technology? For us, it’s technology that brings you ease when you use it, and helps you bring ease to others. It also doesn’t take control of your life. Let’s unpack that a bit.

Any technology that helps you live simpler, more efficiently and more joyfully is graceful. This could be technology or an app that helps you manage your schedule, or brings a smile to your face with inspiring writing, visual images or audio. Perhaps it deepens your connection with loved ones. It’s technology that includes you and welcomes you, that doesn’t incorporate biases and inequities, and that encourages thoughtful communication. That’s the sort of ease we can all benefit from.

On Gracefully, you’ll find posts on how to have healthier, more elegant and graceful posture when you’re using your smartphone (that is, ways to avoid tech neck and hunched shoulders). We’ve written about how virtual reality is bringing vicarious adventures to kids with terminal illnesses. You’ll find tips for balancing screen time and physical play for children, and ways that technology can help you practice tolerance and compassion. There’s much more, and our podcast will launch soon and include perspectives from Chautauquans.

At its best, technology can also bring ease to others, whether it is improving accessibility to high-quality information or helping people find a community where they feel at home. Some examples of how graceful technology can help you bring ease to others include enabling you to speak a different language, making your website more accessible to people with disabilities, or empowering you to speak up against injustice.

Finally, how can we stop technology from taking control of our lives? For most of us, completely disconnecting is not an option, but we can certainly start to create more boundaries around where and when we use technology. We don’t always need the smartphone on the table and we don’t need to constantly check social media sites for validation.

Our technologies and the internet are all a work in progress. That means we shouldn’t expect all technology to be graceful, and in fact, all of it doesn’t need to be. Rather, it’s something designers and developers of technology should aspire to achieve.

As we think about digital grace, we should remember a major part of the equation is how technology is used. In no small part, it’s on us, the users, to create the norms and standards that will enable us to live more gracefully in this always-connected world.

We’d love for you to be a part of Gracefully by sharing with us your examples of technology, online sites and communities, or apps that bring ease to you life. Find us on Twitter @GracefullyTech or online at to share your insights.

Behavior is contagious, and we believe we can realize the full potential of our shared humanity — the internet, too — if we all strive to live more gracefully.

Brian Wesolowski is a vice president at a D.C.-based technology and internet policy think tank, and a co-creator of Gracefully. Throughout the week, the Gracefully team will be interviewing featured speakers and Chautauquans to discover stories of grace both online and off. These interviews will be part of the forthcoming “Gracefully” podcast.

What diplomats do, why it matters

Lectureguest column

Guest Column by Barbara Stephenson

I am so honored to be here at Chautauqua this week, and I look forward to the opportunity to have a great conversation with you all today.

I thought I would use the opportunity of being offered this column space to say a word about the American Foreign Service, America’s diplomats. As Foreign Service officers, we join at entry level — similar to the military — and work our way up the ranks, learning the art of diplomacy one tour at a time. I started out in Panama, working on human rights and the counter-narcotics effort under the regime of General Manuel Noriega. Then I learned Dutch for a posting in the Netherlands. Next, I went back to Central America for a two-year tour in El Salvador, strengthening democratic processes and then working on the peace agreement. Then back to Washington to be desk officer for the United Kingdom. Like most Foreign Service officers, I spent over two-thirds of my career posted abroad to American embassies and consulates, including in Willemstad, Curaçao, and Belfast, Northern Ireland.

So what do we do at those embassies and consulates?

As I tell members of Congress, no matter why your constituents are overseas — to climb a mountain, adopt a baby, expand a business, study abroad, build houses for Habitat, on a mission for their church — they can count on a home base at the American embassy. That embassy is staffed with real Americans, like me, who also happen to speak the local language, understand the local environment, and know how to get things done — from moving goods in and out to traveling up country in the rainy season. The American Foreign Service maintains an enduring presence in 273 embassies and consulates all around the world.

Americans at home can count on us, too. How many readers have ever been to Paris, or London or Dublin? Think back to your last trip home. Did you know that the backgrounds of all the people who sat with you on the plane are known at your U.S. destination airport even before the plane lifts off the tarmac on its way to the United States? U.S. diplomats, working with our Customs and Border Protection colleagues, negotiated for years with the European Union to reach the agreement that made it possible to share vital information that protects our borders.

Another story, this one from the business side: American diplomats recently convinced a Latin American government to stop backroom deals tipping contracts to local firms. The firms were selling defective dialysis equipment and patients were dying. The government agreed at our urging to transparent competitive bidding, and an American company, Baxter Medical, won the government contract. Finally, patients received the care they needed, and an American company grew its overseas market. Diplomats are at work every day ensuring that U.S. businesses get a fair shake.

Unlike our colleagues in the military, American diplomats don’t have uniforms. We don’t have tanks, or ships or missiles. We have our people, who build up bank accounts of trust through years of cultivating relationships with allies and, yes, sometimes even with our adversaries. We know how to get things done overseas — how to coax a partner overseas to say “yes” with the lightest touch and the maximum residual goodwill.

When a crisis hits or an opportunity appears, we draw on those relationships to solve the crisis and take the opportunity. Because we maintain an enduring presence, because we live and work and break bread every day in Panama and El Salvador and Northern Ireland and Ghana— we have real relationships with people in that country, people we can immediately call to work out arrangements to bring in reinforcements to contain an Ebola outbreak, people we can work with to establish standards in the banking sector to close space for money laundering, people we can ask to take a risk for peace, with the promise that we will stand by them if they do.

Why do so few among our fellow citizens understand the nature of our work? In part because, done well, that work often leaves little trace. When I train new political officers, I remind them that great diplomats listen to and understand our partners overseas so that we can frame our “ask” in a way that enables them to say yes with pride — and lays the groundwork for future, deeper cooperation.

My daughter, who aspires to be an American diplomat, once gave me a card in lovely calligraphy with a great quote from Laozi, the Chinese philosopher: “A leader is best when people barely know he exists. When his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say, ‘we did it ourselves.’” And the same can be said for us diplomats — we are at our best when the people we work with say, “We did it ourselves.” That makes telling stories about how we deliver for the American people a bit tricky.

But what happens when we are not there? The best example I have heard in a long time comes from Congressman Ed Royce, Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “Where we depart,” he says, “we create a void for unfriendly actors to step in and promote interests hostile to our interests. Where there is a diplomatic void, we have no eyes, we have no ears, to detect the next threat or the next opportunity.”

“Boko Haram emerged seemingly out of nowhere. We have no diplomatic presence in all of northern Nigeria … because we closed our consulate in Kaduna in the 1990s. … China certainly isn’t trimming back its diplomatic presence there, as you know. Nor, in the case of the conversations I had with the governor of that state, where now Boko Haram holds sway, (who) told me money was flooding into the area from the Gulf states, setting up at that time madrasas to recruit,” Royce said. “He told me about one across the street from the madrasa where he got his education…. Young boys were wearing Bin Laden T-shirts. And he explained what the consequences were going to be, and he was right. But we have to have that presence on the ground to see these kinds of things coming, and it has to be our Foreign Service that is there.”

The United States has enjoyed a position of unprecedented global leadership in our lifetimes. This leadership was built on a foundation of military might, economic primacy, good governance, tremendous cultural appeal — and diplomatic prowess to channel all that power, hard and soft, into global leadership that has kept us safe and prosperous at home. I hope my daughter can one day say the same thing.

An active-duty member of the American Foreign Service for more than 30 years, Barbara Stephenson was elected president of the American Foreign Service Association in 2015. Previously, Stephenson served as dean of the Leadership and Management School at the Foreign Service Institute where she launched and co-chaired the department-wide Culture of Leadership Initiative. As Deputy Senior Adviser to the Secretary and Deputy Coordinator for Iraq (2006-2008), she won the State Department’s Distinguished Honor Award for developing and implementing the “civilian surge” that helped improve governance and reduce violence in Iraq’s provinces.

Human beings, not human doings

Guest Column by The Rev. David Shirey

At a weekly staff meeting, our director of music observed that Sunday’s string of nine announcements was followed by our singing a hymn titled “Come and Find the Quiet Center”: “Come and find the quiet center in the crowded life we lead, find the room for hope to enter, find the frame where we are freed: clear the chaos and the clutter, clear our eyes, that we can see all the things that really matter, be at peace and simply be.”

We all smiled. How ironic that we followed a long list of “dos” with a hymn that encouraged us to simply “be.”

Addicted to doing, we’re a busy bunch and proud of it. In an insightful blog post titled “The Disease of Being Busy,” Omid Safi, director of Duke University’s Islamic Studies Center, tells of seeing a friend and asking her how she was.

He says she whimpered: “I’m so busy, … I have so much going on.”

He then ran into another friend and asked him how he was. He got the same tone and response: “I’m just so busy, … I’ve got so much to do.”

Then he tells of asking a neighbor if their daughter and his daughter could get together and play. The girl’s mother reached for her cell phone and pulled up her calendar. She scrolled and scrolled before announcing, “She has a 45-minute opening two and a half weeks from now. The rest of the time it’s gymnastics, piano, and voice lessons. She’s just … so busy.”

Dr. Safi asks, “Why so busy? How did we end up living like this? Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we do this to our children? When did we forget that we are human beings, not human doings?”

Eugene Peterson suggests, I think rightly, that chronic busyness is symptomatic of vanity. In his words:

“I am busy because I am vain. I want to appear important. Significant. What better way than to be busy? The incredible hours, the crowded schedule, and the heavy demands on my time are proof to myself — and to all who will notice — that I am important. … I live in a society in which crowded schedules and harassed conditions are evidence of importance, so I develop a crowded schedule and harassed conditions. When others notice, they acknowledge my significance, and my vanity is fed.”

The busier I am, the more important I am. Theologically, that’s called “works righteousness.” I am righteous — right in the eyes of God and others — because of my works. What I do. The more I do, the busier I am, the more I am. It follows that if you think your self-worth is tied into your full schedule, you’ll do, do, do until you’re done, done, done in.

Jesus lived life differently. Jesus wasn’t plagued by the disease of busyness. “In the morning,” Mark tells us, “a great while before day, he arose and went to a lonely place to pray” (6:30). He began his day not at work but at rest. Why? I think it’s because Jesus knew he was “Beloved of God.” Before Jesus did anything, God told him, “You are my Beloved.” Secure in that knowledge, Jesus didn’t have to busy himself to death. Rather, he could rest himself to life. That is, Jesus began his day being — resting in God, not doing – busying himself.

John Ortberg, a favorite author and keen observer of modern culture, tells of a spiritual director he consulted once. He described to the man his weekly schedule, his responsibilities, and the general pace of his life and then asked, “What do I need to do to be spiritually healthy?”

The man said, “You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.”

Ortberg responded, “OK, I’ve written that one down. That’s a good one. What else is there?”

“There is nothing else. You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.”

Ortberg concludes, “Hurry is the great enemy of spiritual life in our day. Hurry can destroy our souls. … For many of us the great danger is not that we will renounce our faith. It is that we will become so distracted and rushed and preoccupied that we will settle for a mediocre version of it. We will just skim our lives instead of actually living them.”

It’s an honor and pleasure to serve as your chaplain for this week at Chautauqua, one of the most restful, renewing places I know. There’s no hurrying here. Plus, given the quality of the lecturers, presenters and performers who join us this week along the lake, far from skimming across the surface of life, we can be assured we’ll be led deeper.

I’ll do my best in the realm of the soul. Given our arts theme this week, my first morning sermons will delve into the treasures of art and music. With Yo-Yo Ma in our midst later this week, how can we not relish such God-given gifts in worship? Then we’ll explore two very different texts, one rather exhausting (Jacob’s all-night wrestling match with the angel. Or was it God?), and one simply soothing, though revolutionary in its import (Jesus’ healing of the hemorrhaging woman and Jairus’ daughter). I’ll close the week by attempting the impossible — provide first an overview of Jesus and the next day the entire Bible … in 20 minutes.

Though I hope my messages will be worthy of worship at the Amp, my most sincere hope is that we’ll all check our busyness at the gate. Ruthlessly eliminate hurry from our lives for six days on these holy grounds. Together find a quiet center. As Jesus said to his disciples alongside another lake, “Come away … and rest a while” (Mark 6:31).

Chautauqua beckons.

The Rev. David Shirey has served as Senior Minister of Central Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Lexington, Kentucky, since 2014. He holds a bachelor’s in religious studies from Indiana University and a Master of Divinity. from Vanderbilt Divinity School. For the past 35 years, Shirey has served churches in Tennessee, Missouri, North Carolina, Indiana, and Arizona. His congregations have each been characterized by vibrant worship, a deepening commitment to Christian education and spiritual growth, and service to the community. In Lexington, Shirey supports the many ministries engaged in by Central Christian Church, including a satellite of God’s Pantry, a Thrift Store, ministries for the homeless, the annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Worship Service, and the Black Church Coalition.

Walking the plank into virtual reality

Lectureguest column

Guest Column by Jeremy Bailenson

Mark Zuckerberg is about to walk the plank.

It’s March 2014, and we’re standing in the multisensory room of the Virtual Human Interactive Lab at Stanford University. I’m making last-minute adjustments to his head mounted display, the bulky, expensive, helmet-like device that is about to take him into another world. Zuckerberg, at the moment plunged into darkness, is asking me questions about the technical specs of the VR hardware in my lab — what’s the resolution of the displays in front of his eyes? How quickly do the images on those displays update? Unsurprisingly, he is a curious and knowledgeable subject, and he’s clearly done his homework. He’s come today because he wants to experience state-of-the-art virtual reality, and I’m eager to talk to him because I have opinions on the ways in which virtual reality can be used on a social networking site like Facebook.

Jeremy Bailenson

At Stanford, we are encouraged to face outward and to share our work, not just with academics but with decision makers of all types. I often do this kind of outreach, sharing my lab’s unique capabilities with business executives, foreign dignitaries, journalists, celebrities and others who are curious about the experience of virtual reality. On this day, I am eager to show Zuckerberg — someone who has demonstrated great philanthropic investment in areas of education, environment and empathy research — the ways in which our work on VR has direct applications for those same issues. But first, I have to show him what my lab can do. I usually start with “the plank” — it’s one of the most effective ways to evoke the powerful sensation of presence that good VR produces. And our VR is very good — one of the best in the world. The floor shakes; we have “haptic” devices that give feedback to the hands, 24 speakers that deliver spatialized sound and a high-resolution headset with LEDs on the side that allow cameras mounted around the room to track head and body movement as the user walks around the room. All of this information is assimilated to render interactive, digitally created places that allow the user to experience almost anything we can think of — flying through a city, swimming with sharks, inhabiting nonhuman bodies or standing on the surface of Mars. Anything we decide to program can be rendered in a virtual environment.

The display comes on and Zuckerberg sees the multisensory room again, except that I and my lab assistants have disappeared. The room he is looking at is discernibly lower-res — a bit like television used to look before high definition — but the carpeted floor, the doors, the wall in front of him are all there, creating an effective simulacrum of the space he was just standing in. Zuckerberg moves his head around to take it all in, everything smoothly scrolling into his vision as it would in real life. He steps forward and backward, and the illusion projected a few inches in front of his eyes corresponds with the movement of his body. “Trippy,” he says. I lead him to a spot on the floor (I will be constantly at his side “spotting him” during this demonstration, as it’s very easy to bump into real-world things when you’re navigating a virtual space) and instruct my assistant in the control room to start the program. “Let’s do the pit.”

Zuckerberg hears an industrial whine, the floor shudders, and the small virtual platform on which he stands shoots away from the ground. From his perspective, which I can see via a projection screen on the wall, he’s now standing on a small shelf about 30 feet in the air, connected by a narrow plank to another platform about 15 feet away. Zuckerberg’s legs buckle a bit, and his hand involuntarily goes to his heart. “OK, that’s pretty scary.” If we were measuring his stress signs we’d see that his heart rate was speeding up, and his hands were beginning to sweat. He knows he is standing on the floor of a campus lab, but his dominant sense is telling him that he’s precariously balanced at a deadly distance above the ground. He’s getting a taste of “presence,” that peculiar sense of “being there” unique to virtual reality.

Over the nearly two decades that I’ve been doing VR experiments and demonstrations, I’ve witnessed this scene — when a person is first enveloped by a virtual environment — thousands of times, and I’ve seen a lot of reactions. Some gasp. Some laugh with delight. Depending on what’s being rendered in the program, I’ve also seen people cry out in fear or throw their hands up to protect themselves as they hurtle toward a wall. An elderly federal judge once dove horizontally into a real table in order to catch an imaginary ledge after he “fell” off the virtual platform. At a demonstration at the Tribeca Film Festival, the rapper Q-Tip crawled across the plank on his hands and knees. Often my subjects just stand slack-jawed with wonder, gazing down, up and around — amazed to see themselves suddenly surrounded by a digitally rendered world that nevertheless feels, in crucial ways, real.

Consumer VR is coming like a freight train. It may take two years, it may take 10, but mass adoption of affordable and powerful VR technology, combined with vigorous investment in content, is going to unleash a torrent of applications that will touch every aspect of our lives. The powerful effects that researchers, doctors, industrial designers, pilots, and many others have known about for decades are about to become tools for artists, game designers, filmmakers, journalists, and eventually regular users, empowered by software to design and create their own custom experiences. At the moment, however, VR is unregulated and poorly understood. Consequently, the most psychologically powerful medium in history is getting an alpha test on-the-fly, not in an academic lab but in living rooms across the globe.

We each have a role in defining how this technology is shaped and developed. In Experience on Demand I want to encourage readers to take a broader look at VR’s applications — to look past the immediate offerings of games and movies and consider the wide array of life- altering things it can do. I will help readers understand it as a medium, and will describe some of the powerful effects I’ve observed in my nearly two-decades-long study of VR. This is so that, as we move from these toddler stages, we are using it responsibly, and making and choosing the best possible experiences for us — experiences that can change us and the world for the better. And the best way to start using VR responsibly is to understand what we’re dealing with.

This is a unique moment in our media history, as the potent and relatively young technology of VR migrates from industrial and research laboratories to living rooms across the world. Even as we are amazed by the incredible things VR will allow us to do, the inevitable widespread adoption of VR poses unique opportunities and dangers. What do we need to understand about this new technology? What are the best ways to use it? What are its psychological effects? What ethical considerations should guide its use — and what practical ones, for that matter? How will VR change the way we learn, the way we play, or the way we communicate with other people? How will VR change how we think about ourselves?

What, when given a limitless choice, do we actually want to experience?

Jeremy Bailenson is founding director of Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab, Thomas More Storke Professor in the Department of Communication, Professor (by courtesy) of Education, Professor (by courtesy) Program in Symbolic Systems, a Senior Fellow at the Woods Institute for the Environment, and a Faculty Leader at Stanford’s Center for Longevity.

This column is adapted from the introduction of Experience on Demand: What Virtual Reality Is, How It Works, and What It Can Do, by Jeremy Bailenson, used with permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Emotional, religious motivations drive a whole new type of enemy

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Guest Column by R. James Woolsey

There are times these days when I really miss the Soviets.

I don’t miss their Gulag, or their massive military occupation of Eastern Europe, or many other aspects of their totalitarian and highly oppressive system. But I miss having them as our central enemy.

In many ways, they were an ideal enemy for us.

First of all, they were cynics. By the time the effects of Nikita Khrushchev’s secret 1956 speech to the 20th Communist Party Congress — laying out all of Stalin’s crimes — had spread around the world, Marxism/Leninism in its Soviet context was dying as a motivating ideology. By the ’60s, there probably were more true believing revolutionary Marxist-Leninists in the bookstores of the Upper West Side of Manhattan than in the Kremlin.

I participated in four sets of arms control negotiations. I was ambassador and Chief Negotiator in one — with the Soviets between 1969 and 1991 — and got to know a number of their military officers, diplomats, intelligence officers and scientists. Nobody was ready to die for the principle of “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need,” or indeed, for any principle at all. They all wanted to remodel their dachas.

By at least the latter half of the Cold War, Soviet ideology had become, essentially, a cover story — but it was a cover story that interfered with their ability to run a modern and efficient economy. This also worked in our favor. Their economic stagnation gave our strategies of containment and deterrence time to work.

As time went on, the dysfunctional Soviet system finally produced a leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, who wanted to fix it and save it (glasnost, perestroika), but his reforms instead brought it crashing down, and we won the third world war (this one, happily, cold) of the 20th century — in many ways just the way Paul Nitze, George Kennan and the other visionaries who set our strategy back in the late 1940s thought we would.

Flash forward to today and look at our major foreign challenges. Take Iran. Please.

Certainly there are elements of cynicism and opportunism, especially in the current infighting between the president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and the supreme ruler, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

But there is also an element of emotional — indeed, religious — motivation that is like nothing we have faced in modern times. (One can argue that during World War II, Japanese Imperial ideology had a religious element in it — and helped make possible the Kamikazes — but religious views were not central in our war with Japan.)

The nature of the religious disputes between factions in Iran are rife with charge and counter-charge, but at least the following seems clear: Ahmadinejad’s mentor is Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi, one of Iran’s most powerful religious leaders, and certainly its most radical. He is a member of the Assembly of Experts, which will choose Khamenei’s successor as Supreme Leader, and many reformers fear that Mesbah Yazdi has a good chance to assume that role.

He has publicly called for Iran to have nuclear weapons and believes that enslaving infidels in order to convert them is entirely proper. He might — although this is disputed — have had ties to a particularly secretive sect, the Hojjatieh, which is focused not only on the belief that some day the 12th Imam will return to lead the battles that will end the world but the conviction that one should work to hasten that event.

Whether in the context of less activist millenarian beliefs or of the Hojjatieh effort to hasten the end of days, this constellation of views has led the great scholar of Islam, Bernard Lewis, to write: “In this context, mutual assured destruction, the deterrent that worked so well during the Cold War, would have no meaning. At the end of time, there will be general destruction anyway. What will matter will be the final destination for the dead — hell for the infidels, and heaven for the believers. For people with this mindset, MAD (mutual assured destruction) is not a constraint; it is an inducement.”

So could we please trade the Iranians for some good old-fashioned Soviets?

And since Iran is on the edge of becoming a nuclear power, we will doubtless see more long-range missile tests like the recent ones. We will see more regional conferences, like the recent one in Tehran that successfully demanded obeisance from the presidents of Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan — supposedly U.S. “allies.” And perhaps, as with North Korea, we will also see a nuclear test or two.

Iran is already far more skillful in using its proxies — Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas — to establish its primacy among its neighbors than the Soviet empire ever was. The Communist parties in Western Europe, e.g. the Italian Communist Party, were considerably less disciplined and effective instruments of Soviet power than is Hezbollah as it carries out Tehran’s orders to, e.g., stockpile missiles in Lebanon to attack Israel.

Comparatively speaking, the Cold War had a certain calmness about it, didn’t it?

Will Iran’s economy collapse as the Soviets’ did? Both the Soviet Union and today’s Iran had/have oil reserves, but Iran’s are much larger. Iran’s economy is struggling under sanctions, but if oil stays in the range of $100/barrel — far above the prices, in the teens, of the late 1980s, when the Soviets collapsed — Iran has a lot of leeway. Its natural gas reserves are also huge.

Think we’ll see $15/barrel oil any time soon?

You get the idea.

Countries and their military (and diplomatic, and intelligence) establishments are highly prone to structure themselves to fight the last war. But the next one we see may not look anything like the Cold War, Iraq or Afghanistan. It may be dominated, for example, by cyber attacks on our infrastructure, such as the electric grid, coming from Iranian hackers using Chinese servers to mask their actions, or, for that matter, from Chinese hackers using Iranian servers. It may involve Spanish-speaking Hezbollah terrorists from their major presence in the tri-state Foz do Iguaçu region coming across our southern border.

There is only one virtual certainty. Our new enemies will be shrewd, and they will not play to our strengths.

R. James Woolsey, former director of Central Intelligence, is a venture partner with Lux Capital and chairman of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Civics and Citizens


Guest Column by Sandra Day O’Connor
Associate Justice, Ret.
Supreme Court of the United States

A survey conducted by the National Constitution Center recently revealed that fewer American teenagers could identify the three branches of government than could identify the Three Stooges.

While I enjoy Larry, Moe and Curly as much as anyone, there is nothing amusing about such statistics, because they reveal an absence of even the most basic knowledge about our governmental structure. Unless we do something to arrest this disturbing trend, I fear that the joke will be on all of us.

This trend is disturbing, because only an educated citizenry can ensure that our Nation’s commitment to liberty is upheld and the promise of Constitution fulfilled. A thorough civic education creates citizens who have a strong grasp of the fundamental processes of American democracy, an understanding of community issues and the ability to discuss those issues with one another and with leaders of the community.

The Framers of the United States Constitution understood the document that they created to be predicated on the involvement of educated citizens. If we fail to educate young people to become active and informed participants in our democracy, there is no question that our democracy will suffer. Such a failure would betray the trust bestowed upon us by the Constitution’s Framers.

The problem of civic illiteracy, as I have come to call it, is a relatively new phenomenon. Unlike some of the issues that ail society, however, the root cause of civic illiteracy is far from mysterious: We simply spend an insufficient amount of time on civics education. When I was a student in high school, my classmates and I received extensive instruction in the operation of government on the local, state and national levels. Such instruction was then typical of school districts around the nation.

Today, many school districts no longer make civics a required course or offer only a single one-semester course. Teachers are pressured to gear courses to boost students’ standardized test scores, but the need to create engaged and active citizens is too important a priority to neglect. Students will not learn civics by osmosis. Instead, it is something that they need to work at over a sustained period of time.

All too frequently, the civics textbooks now in use do not portray good government as flowing from the connection between the people and the state, but from sheer institutional design. Good government is often incorrectly depicted as an unalterable status quo and not as the result of a continuing, dynamic relationship. Students need to understand that good government is not something that happens to them, but is something that they must help to make happen.

In my view, civics education also must take more account of the changing manner in which students learn information. Textbooks will always have a place in teaching civics, but recent innovations can enhance how students learn the subject matter. First, civics education should be more interactive. Students should be encouraged to explore issues like the separation of powers by having debates, mock trials and personal engagement in student government. Students should be encouraged to visit government offices, read newspapers and write letters to elected officials. Civics education should capitalize upon the computer proficiency of today’s students by using Internet-based learning environments. Good examples of online interactive civic education tools have already been produced by organizations such as the Annenberg Foundation and the American Bar Association, and more are on the way.

While many statistics demonstrate that students have a deficient grasp of how our government operates, I am heartened by at least one statistic: According to a poll conducted by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning (CIRCLE), nine out of 10 Americans believe that is important for high school students to understand government and civics. This poll demonstrates that there is a fundamental understanding that knowledge of our governmental structure is necessary for its continued vitality. We must do a better job of bridging the gap between this shared aspiration and our collective reality.­

Editor’s note: This column from Sandra Day O’Connor was originally published in the Daily on Aug. 8, 2007, and is being re-published on Oct. 23, 2018, as Justice O’Connor announces her retirement from public life. As the Daily expands its online presence, we will occasionally revisit our archives and digitally publish articles and columns that previously had only appeared in print.