Robin Wright - “As Long as We Are Trapped in Our Own Sources of Identity, We’re Never Going to Find Common Ground”




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Jul 18, 2017
by Oscar Tollast
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Robin Wright - “As Long as We Are Trapped in Our Own Sources of Identity, We’re Never Going to Find Common Ground”

Award-winning journalist delivers Ithiel de Sola Pool Lecture as 11th Salzburg Academy begins  Robin Wright delivering the 2017 Ithiel de Sola Pool Lecture

Acclaimed journalist Robin Wright helped kick-start this year’s Salzburg Academy on Media and Global Change by reaffirming the need to engage with those with whom we disagree.

Wright, a contributing writer for The New Yorker magazine since 1988, and a joint fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, spoke on, “How did we end up here and where are we headed?” as she delivered the 2017 Ithiel de Sola Pool Lecture.

Recounting her experiences, having reported from more than 140 countries, Wright talked about her time in South Africa during the 1970s, being present at the Iranian Revolution in 1979, travelling with Pope John Paul II, reporting on the fall of the Berlin Wall, living in Lebanon during its Civil War, and reporting on the Arab Spring.

After her talk, Wright said, “I hope the students understand this is a period of epic human history, a period of transition, that the challenges they face in the 21st century are unparalleled [and] that [it] will take imagination and determination and vision to figure out how we make the transition from an era of nation states into regional blocs into globalization.” Wright indicated the same determinants would be required to create institutions that could address the challenges of the human race – be it governance, security, climate change, commerce, or equality in the labor force.

To tackle these challenges, Wright suggested people need to be prepared to become part of something bigger. She said, “The most important thing any person can do at any point in their life is stand on top of the world and look down, and try to get beyond our own sources of identity and security to look at what it’s going to take to resolve the challenges we face.”

Wright warned people to avoid getting locked into primordial instincts and primordial identities surrounding ethnicities, race, religion or gender. "Peace is only established when we understand compromise and the need for common good,” she said.

During this year’s Academy - Voices Against Extremism: Media Responses to Global Populism - students will reflect on the media’s coverage of global populism, how much it has contributed to its rise, and how it might be used to stem this tide.

“The real challenge is how do you get beyond communicating with someone whom you disagree,” Wright said. “Through almost half a century of journalism, I’ve always believed if you’re covering a war, you begin on the other side, because you know what you or your side wants or is fighting for. 

“It’s the same thing in a cultural clash and differences over world views, religion, and once we begin to understand the common denominators of the human dilemma, then we begin to find solutions. As long as we are trapped in our own sources of identity, we’re going to never find common ground. That’s the real challenge of the 21st century.”

While speaking to students and faculty, Wright urged them to go to places they felt most uncomfortable. A saying which appears on her computer is, “Do something today that scares you.” Wright described this moment in time as the “most important in history” and it was the turn of the students – the next generation of journalists – to chronicle it.

Wright spoke as part of the 2017 Ithiel de Sola Pool Lecture on the Impact of Communications Technology on Society and Politics. She has worked for outlets such as the Washington Post, CBS News, and the Los Angeles Times. Wright has also received the UN Correspondents Gold Medal, the National Magazine Award for reportage from Iran, and the Overseas Press Club Award for “best reporting in any medium requirement exceptional courage and initiative” for her coverage of African wars.

This Ithiel de Sola Pool Lecture was created in honor of three-time Salzburg Global faculty member Ithiel de Sola Pool, a pioneer in the development of social science and network theory. Dr. Pool served as a faculty member during Session 45, American Society, in 1956; Session 77, American Foreign Policy, in 1962; and Session 203, Development, Communication and Social Change, in 1981.

Watch Wright's lecture in full in the video below.

Voices Against Extremism: Media Responses to Global Populism is part of Salzburg Global Seminar’s long-running multi-year program, the Salzburg Academy on Media and Global Change. More information on the session can be found here: You can also follow all the discussions on Twitter and Instagram by following the hashtag #SGSmedia.