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Gandhi and the 'trust deficit' - the Voyage comes to Washington

Barack Obama made overcoming the ‘trust deficit’ one of the themes of his Presidential campaign. It was a theme of his State of the Union address last January. The phrase has been applied over and over, not just in Washington, but in situations around the world. But as Rob Corcoran, author of Trustbuilding: an honest conversation on race, reconciliation, and responsibility, said recently at the Washington launch of his book: ‘There is much talk among the pundits about the trust deficit in Washington and across the country, but very little constructive thought about what to do about it, and even less real evidence that change can happen. So it is remarkable that in city like Richmond, a place where you would least expect it, trust is being built.’

Corcoran, who is National Director of IofC-USA, speaks from a 25 year involvement in building trust across the deep racial divides in the former Confederacy capital, Richmond, VA.

So when the ‘Voyage of Dialogue and Discovery’ – the 14 nation tour of IofC President Rajmohan Gandhi and his team -- rolled into Washington, DC, on 7 June, their message dove-tailed with IofC’s consistent efforts to close that deficit of trust, within the US and overseas. At a number of public events throughout the week, Gandhi, and his wife Usha, spoke about building trust through honest conversation, personal conviction and trustworthiness.

Urs Ziswiler, Switzerland’s Ambassador to the United States opened the week’s events by hosting a June 8th benefit at the Swiss Embassy on behalf of the Caux Scholars Program and the Caux Forum for Human Security, both of which start next month at the IofC international centre in Switzerland. In his remarks, Ziswiler, a two-time visitor to Mountain House, shared his experiences: ‘I believe that the conversations and work that take place in Caux are of great importance in helping to change the world a little bit in these very complex times.’ 

Professor Gandhi provided key remarks about Caux’s role in the world. ‘Caux is a place for honest conversation, for deep dialogue, a place where we seek inspiration, and sometimes reconciliation takes place. I often say to myself when I am in Caux that this is exactly what my grandfather would have wanted.’

A number of other speakers spoke as well, including veteran civil rights leader, the Rev Otis Moss, Jr., former Assistant Secretary of State Hal Saunders, Katherine Marshall, a senior fellow at Georgetown University's Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs, and two Caux Scholar alumni, Ajay Rao ’03 and Tameem Al-Malaki ’09.

The next night, a crowd packed the National Press Club's First Amendment lounge to hear Gandhi speak about his experience with freedom of speech and the public debate. The audience listened intently as Gandhi shared stories of how he tried to “defy, outwit and fight” censorship as editor of the weekly Himmat magazine during the period of Emergency in India (1975-77). A podcast of this talk is available: http://www.iofc.org/node/49090

Later in the week, the Voyage stopped by historic Rankin chapel on the campus of Howard University. Professor Gandhi spoke on the theme, ‘Building trust across the world’s divides – Lessons learned from the work and teachings of Mahatma Gandhi, Dr Howard Thurman and Dr Martin Luther King, Jr.”

Gandhi offered a series of pictures from the lives of each of the aforementioned men, many of them personal moments of change and conviction. A story visited later in the day illuminated the moment when Thurman stood at the Khyber Pass in 1936 with a steely resolve to commit his life to ending the color bar. His life’s work would alter the trajectory of the Civil Rights struggle in America.

Shortly thereafter, Gandhi met with a gathering of Yyoung professionals in Foreign Policy at the Aspen Institute in DuPont Circle. The interview style format allowed the professor to speak widely about a number of issues while focusing in on key methods of IofC’s work around the world. Gandhi mentioned the central component of listening: ‘Listen to the other. Listen to the conscience. Listen to the planet.’

When asked about how one could hope to bring change in difficult or seeming intractable situations, Gandhi offered, ‘First, start with yourself. Be a trustworthy person. Then develop a quality of winning friendship and trust, and find people who are willing to speak the truth to their own side.’

As the week finished, the theme of trustbuilding had been amplified in a number of ways, both in public events and private meetings. Gandhi explored dialogue, trustworthiness and personal conviction as critical parts of building trust across the world’s divides.

The week marks the beginning of the second leg of the Voyage of Dialogue and Discovery which will travel through Mexico, Colombia and Brazil before concluding in Caux, Switzerland in July.