2013 Memorable Moments and Values

Part 1 of 3

The TakeAway: It was a year of breakthroughs, tempered by loss. But as we look back on 2013, four memorable moments stand out. I’ve a personal connection to each, but they embody universal values worth amplifying in 2014: Empathy and Resilience. Liberty and Justice. Humor and Hope. My reflections on what we can learn from the Boston Marathon bombings, and the lives of Nelson Mandela, Gary David Goldberg, and Seamus Heaney.

I love end-of-year reviews, and marvel at how easily one can forget that twelve months can hold so much. Grace and grief lived alongside each other, as our fragile sense of community continued to be challenged by forces both human and scientific.

We all celebrated birthdays and holidays, and mourned the loss of loved ones.

In politics and sports, we witnessed the “thrill of victory, agony of defeat”, along with murderous corruption and feats of gloryRecurring natural disasters showed us Mother Nature’s fury and climate scientists reinforced the message, yet we still turned away. A meteor streaked across the Russian sky, landing in a lake. A new Pope was anointed in Rome, galvanizing a world by asking “Who am I to judge?”  In the U.S., the rollout of the Affordable Care Act involved growing pains, while in many states, the rollout of legalized marijuana involved growing plants.

Meanwhile, those representing us in government just couldn’t get along, so threw down (some say lost) their marbles and went home.

And for those in love, it was a great year for marriage equality.

Progess Toward Sustainable Prosperity—But Not Enough

Although largely unknown to a general public, within the world of sustainability and responsible investing, there were major developments in corporate sustainability and integrated reporting. Work continued apace to redefine “materiality” and bring order to the chaotic growth of sustainability ratings. Core assumptions about the purpose of disclosure were challenged, such as the need to factor in sustainability context when reporting on institutional behavior. Otherwise one is whistling in the wind.

In 2013 we inched closer to redefining fiduciary duty for both investors and intermediaries. The critical importance of investors in promoting a just economy increasingly became recognized. That awareness was bolstered by the fossil fuel divestment campaign, similar to what institutional investors experienced four decades ago via South Africa divestment pressures.

Despite deadly conditions in global factories, there was some progress—although gains were mixed—on human rightsworker safety, and fair wages, in the U.S. and elsewhere. The power of social media in raising consciousness of conditions continued to rise, even as its full value in bringing about reform has yet to be exploited.

On the down side, of grave concern is the ongoing equity gap between the rich and the rest of us, along with the wage gap between men and women. As foodstamps and unemployment benefits are cut, people still don’t believe the economy is improving. That’s eroding trust in our institutions, writes Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz. “As the gap between Americans widens,” he said, “the bonds that hold society together weakens.”

Strengthening the Bonds

As we take our first tentative steps into 2014, it’s a good time to reflect on the core nature of those bonds, of the social compact between “We the people” and those who come after us. What will they inherit? What have we learned? How can we do better?

Four episodes from 2013 stand out that help answer these questions. They’re important to me not only for their historical significance, but for the values they impart, and the qualities we hold dear. I have a personal connection to each, even as millions are affected.

Because blogs aren’t supposed to be long, I’ve divided this one into three parts. Part Two, about the Boston Marathon bombings, appears next. Part Three, about the lives and legacy of Nelson Mandela, Gary David Goldberg, and Seamus Heaney, come after.

Happy New Year!

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