The Global Citizen: A Love Story: Rob Work

This month a new Chicken Soup for the Soul book was published - Life Lessons for Loving the Way You Live by Jennifer Read Hawthorne. One of the stories in the book is my personal story about my life in the ICA and the Order Ecumenical. I thought that some of my colleagues might enjoy reading it and knowing that it is out in the mainstream. The book as a whole is truly amazing and inspiring.

Am a happy newlywed, busy with UN consulting and writing, preparing to teach grad school, enjoying the Hudson Highlands and New York City and becoming a first-time granddad this January! Still trying to transform the world and myself. Life is full and good indeed.



I grew up in a small Oklahoma town. I was raised in a happy, religious home, had perfect attendance in Sunday School and was an “A” student. But I often felt that I didn’t fully belong where I was. I was taught to “love my neighbor,” but noticed that the African-Americans who worked in our town actually lived outside it in other small towns, to which they returned every day after work.

This subtle awareness of social issues was furthered by a small current events newspaper we got in elementary school. Even at that young age, I was touched to read about the United Nations. I sensed something beautiful and expansive about an organization concerned with the whole earth and the understanding that everyone should have an adequate life.

By the time I reached college, I strongly disliked social injustice of any kind. I became active in the civil rights and women’s rights movements—and even led a protest over a policy prohibiting female students from wearing pants in the library and having a curfew! But my first great awakening occurred when, in my junior year, a group of fellow students and I drove to Chicago for a weekend seminar on the Theological Revolution of the 20th Century, conducted by the Ecumenical Institute.

The seminar was held in an African-American ghetto, where the Institute was trying to create a model of renewed community. The contrasts were great: I was used to neat Oklahoma towns and a well-kept college campus; here I was surrounded by broken glass, burned out cars, and garbage everywhere.

But something even more astonishing was happening inside, at the seminar. We were dialoguing with some of the greatest theologians of our time, discussing age-old questions about divinity, the reality of life and the search for meaning. By the end of the weekend, I was experiencing the truth of Paul Tillich’s teaching, that each of us is fully “accepted” just as we are. We don’t have to seek another life, another situation, or another condition; our life is perfect just as it is. Before the weekend, I had always felt shy and alienated; I now felt an interior explosion of healing and goodness and perfection.

And I wanted to share that! After a month-long course at the Institute in the ghetto right after graduating, I realized I had a mission—I was a mission. I could give my life to helping create a different kind of world, where everyone could realize their potential. I attended theological seminary and decided to intern with the Institute. I fell in love with a wonderful woman and we soon married. But I would also soon fall in love with and marry a beautiful planet. It was to be my second great awakening.

By this time the Ecumenical Institute had evolved into its secular form, the Institute of Cultural Affairs. This Institute was all about helping people realize what was possible, and creating a new world of justice, peace and hope. A group of Institute colleagues decided to take a trip around the world, not as tourists, but as people who wanted to know, How can we open ourselves to the raw experience of the world—to its beauty, its suffering, its reality, its diversity? We wanted passionately to be in intimate dialogue with it all.

Our plan was ambitious: around the world in 32 days. By changing cultures every two or three days—customs, climate, terrain, food, language—we knew we would create a sensory, psychological, mythic and spiritual overload. And that’s what we wanted: not just to observe the world, but to be the world—the world we wanted to serve.

As we touched down around the globe, I was filled with awe by our planet’s vast oceans, jagged peaks, sprawling cities, wildly diverse cultures and masses of beautiful people. I experienced the powerful mystery of the Aztecs; the sublime beauty of a Shinto shrine; the vitality of Hong Kong; the sultry weather of Manila; the serenity of the Emerald Buddha; a live-goat sacrifice in a Hindu temple; a visit with the China-Lama in Kathmandu; the site where Buddha had his enlightenment and gave his first sermon; the devastating poverty of Calcutta; the birthday celebration of Emperor Haile Salassi in Addis Ababa; the decaying grandeur of Greek and Roman civilization; the awesome beauty of the Vatican; the wonders of a medieval walled city in Dubrovnik; a coming-home experience in the British Isles; and the eternal day of Iceland.

Our accommodations were simple: a church basement, a small hotel. Conditions were uncomfortable, even unbearable at times. My little hotel room in New Delhi felt like a blast furnace from the hot wind blowing through. Sometimes we were sick. I became dizzy and almost fainted when I saw that goat killed in Nepal. But we wanted to experience what other people experience.

At the end of the adventure, we stopped in Iceland, where all 25 of us shared our thoughts about everything we had encountered, trying to “squeeze the meaning” out of our experience. We had become global citizens. We had discovered that while cultures may be different, people are the same. Everyone wants enough food and shelter. They want to be happy and they want their children to be happy. They have different symbols; they might eat with chopsticks or a fork; they might have a statue or an image or no image. But the human striving is first to survive, then go beyond survival to beauty and truth and union with the divine.

After that trip, I was never, ever the same. I was in love with Mother Earth and with humanity at large. I had been touched by tragic suffering, sublime beauty, spiritual genius, by the ecstasy of being human on this magnificent planet. I had come home. I had been hugged by Mother Earth—and I had to respond. I had to give my life, my love, my action—to make a difference, to relieve suffering, to advance the human condition. Nothing else would be enough. As a child of the Earth, a child of Humanity, I knew it was my duty to serve my people and my planet.

Before this time I had never left my own nation. After this time I would spend 35 years living, working and visiting in 55 countries around the world.

For the next 20 years, with my wife and two young sons, I lived and worked in urban slums and poor rural villages in Malaysia, the Republic of Korea, the USA, Jamaica and Venezuela. We were not well paid consultants driving in to give advice to the poor. In a Korean village we lived in a rock and mud thatched-roof house. In Jamaica our sons attended a one-room school house with 300 students in a mountain village. I was passionately committed to changing human history, to helping reinvent societies that worked for everyone.

But my childhood reveries came true when I was asked to work for the United Nations. My UN passport was a tangible, magical symbol of my global citizenship. I was being called to transpose my experience from the grassroots project level to the global policy level.

I have helped local peoples around the world improve sanitation, waste management, recycling, water supplies, air quality, environmental health, education and income. I have helped them prevent depletion of shellfish stocks in Brazil, plant trees in Egypt, and dig drainage ditches in Tanzania. I have been overwhelmed with the vitality, hope and hard work of local people regardless of nation, culture or religion, whether rural or urban, women or men. The heroes were always the local people. I was only a catalyst, a choreographer of change, a social artist.

This small town Oklahoma boy has lived his life in love with the world; and what a beautiful world it is—full of suffering and happiness, squalor and grandeur. I have received infinitely more gifts from my beloved than I have given Her. She is much more gracious and generous, lavishing joy and sorrow, understanding and mystery with immense and exquisite compassion.

And how does my love story with the Earth continue? My wife of 35 years has passed on and my sons are grown men. I am ready for the next global-local adventure! In fact, having recently retired from the UN, I am on a one-year sabbatical that includes becoming engaged to a most amazing woman, consulting for the UN, teaching graduate school to international students, caring for my elderly mother and developing my dancing skills. What will life offer and require of me, and you, next? Whatever it is, “we are the people and now is the time!”

Moorman Robertson Work, Jr.

Published in LIfe Lessons for Loving the Way You Live, October 2007, Health Communications, Inc., by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, and Jennifer Read Hawthorne. © 2007 Moorman Robertson Work.

The book can be purchased at www.amazon.com or www.hciboks.com.

- 11 Oct 2007
Topic revision: r1 - 11 Oct 2007, GordonHarper
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