Wisdom//

Ronnie C. Chan on Why We Should Celebrate Our Differences

This award-winning businessman shares how far we have come in his 2018 Eisenhower Global Leadership Award acceptance speech.

Courtesy of BCIU Gala
Courtesy of BCIU Gala

Anne [Eisenhower], Kevin [Rudd], thank you very much. Ladies and Gentlemen, it is truly a humbling experience to receive this award. It came as a total surprise, I did not expect anything like that. And then I got the letter from President [George H.W. Bush] the 41st, little did we know that should turn out to be one of his last or one of his last 100 letters. Even if it was his last 100 letters that only shows how great the man is. And of course, what Henry Kissinger says made me blush. I hope that he truly means what he says. But it does not jive with the knowledge of the man, because my knowledge of the man is that he is a very honest person.

But anyway, I am very pleased to be here and as I consider the title, the name of this organization: Business Council for International Understanding. I don’t think that such a concept exists anywhere in the world, except in the United States. And even in the United States, it takes someone; a great person; a great mind, such as President Eisenhower to initiate something of this sort. And the more I consider the name of this organization, the more I come to appreciate it.

Allow me to just share a couple of simple thoughts that have been in me for a long, long, long time. Although my association with the Business Council for International Understanding is relatively a new one. Consider international understanding. I didn’t know that Arianna [Huffington] you were going to say what you said. You know, I was considering that these days, we all celebrate multiculturalism and multi languages. That is because we have no choice. Some are born in Australia, others are born in Greece or like me, in Hong Kong. I think of the three of us my English perhaps [Arianna: “The Best”] is the best. That’s why I always love Arianna. So we have to celebrate differences. If not, we will only fight. But that said, the fact that we have differences, enhance the necessity for understanding tells us that the world is not perhaps not as perfect as we all hope it to be. Which then means that effort has to be exerted in order for me to understand Arianna, and for me to understand Kevin Rudd.

I always think this way, I don’t know if it has ever come through your head, and that is it is a particularly difficult for people from big countries; strong countries; with a strong culture; to have international understanding. And I can think of two countries that are perhaps particularly handicapped in international understanding. And I have in mind, I hope I’m not offending anybody: The United States of America and China. A lot of people say America is a melting pot and it doesn’t have one single culture of itself. Well, I came to this country as a 16, 17-year-old and let me tell you America has a very, very strong and a powerful culture of its own. Just watch the movies from Hollywood or the plays in this city.

And so when you grow up in a big country, you are so self-sustaining, self re-enforcing. You don’t need anybody else. You can live very happily by yourself. And as a result, it is perhaps more difficult for people of those countries, to appreciate and understand other people. China, it’s the same thing: a very uniformed country with 1.4 billion people all basically speaking the same language; having the same origin; having a very strong culture from historic roots that go back 5,000 years. And when that is the case, once it becomes stronger, it becomes culturally as well as economically otherwise, self-sufficient. Then its ability to understand differences, to understand other people perhaps may decrease. This is why I always believe that smaller countries, people coming from particularly little places maybe gets easier for them to understand others because they are not self-sufficient; they need others and they rely on others.

Once upon a time, I served on the board of the World Economic Forum and I told its founder who is a wonderful man, Professor Klaus Schwab, many of you know him. I told him, I said: You know, you’re a German, if you had stayed in Germany I’m not sure you if you could have built up the World Economic Forum to what it is today, such a wonderful and great organization. It takes you to go to Switzerland, a neutral country, a smaller country, a threat to no one, for you to find roots there in order for the World Economic Forum to become what it is today - a platform for discussion and international understanding.

So perhaps people coming from smaller places like Hong Kong, self-interested. Singapore, smaller countries. Perhaps it’s easier for them to understand others because they are not self-sufficient. They need to rely on one another. And so when we come to the matter of international understanding, the greatest need may well be in the United States and in China.

I will return to this point in a second, let me now come to my second point, that is, I only have three. The third one is very simple. The second one has to do with — Business Council. Who would think that businessmen should enhance international understanding. When President Eisenhower founded this organization in 1955, the businesses in those days were not that international and yet the President has the foresight that the business community should be able to contribute greatly to enhance international understanding among nations, among peoples, among tongues. Businessmen, maybe I’m again self-interested, I’m a businessperson as you all know, we are less ideological. Sorry Ambassador Birx, you serve, many other friends in this room are serving in government. Sometimes politics, forces you to be ideological and hence, it blinds you rather than open your eyes to international understanding. We, the businesspeople, are very pragmatic. All we know is to make money. But what I hope is that more and more businessmen today, will get out of the mindset of mere profit making. Making money there’s nothing wrong, it’s not a sin, it’s wonderful. I spend most of my days making money and having a good time at it. And making a few a dollars here and there. But I hope that more and more people, not just of necessity because they have businesses here and there, but because they have been blessed, they have been privileged by having resources that most other people do not have, perhaps. If they were to use it to the betterment, to the enhancement of international understanding among people, I think the businessman can be an extraordinary powerful force in the world to international understanding. We should look for those businessmen, who while caring to make money, also care for things greater than making money. If the world were to have a future, if the world were to be a better place for ourselves and for our children, then surely international understanding must increase.

No question today the world is getting smaller and smaller by the day, because of technology. A lot of people say that technology will unify people because a five year old from Hong Kong and a 5-year-old from Greece and a 5-year-old from Australia, they all play the same computer games; that’s true. But that’s only in a very superficial way. The similarity is in a very superficial way. Let’s not forget that technology can also be used to accentuate differences and all you need is a few extreme persons; taking advantage of the technology that is available to us today and stir up a lot of problems in this world. So whereas good people enhance international understanding, all we need with the help of technology is a few bad ones that could damage if not destroy, much of the work that the good people have done to enhance international understanding. So technology, it cuts both ways.

But my point is this: My point is that, and this is my final point, international understanding means that it’s like a bridge: It bridges to ends, it leads you from one end to the other. If all we do is to stand on one end, and never cross the bridge, you will never be able to understand the other side. Kevin said that I travel the world, that’s true. I spend 70 percent of my time on the road and most of it is not to make money. My business is doing fine. It doesn’t need me. Jamie [von Klemperer] knows, he doesn’t get to see me too often, although I am his client. I have much smarter people working for me. I spend most of my time hopefully bettering the world, by enhancing international understanding. And surely, we should walk out of our comfort zone and cross the bridge and travel and extend ourselves in order for us to enhance understanding.

I read through the internet, Bill [Mills] and Peter [Tichansky], about your organization and I have tremendous respect for you all and for what you have done. Can I have a proposal and a suggestion? I don’t know what you do in the international arena outside of the United States. Perhaps in order for Americans to understand better the rest of the world, it is of necessity that we cross the bridge more often. Conversely, people who are on the other side of the bridge, they also need to understand each other and in particular the United States better. I think that by organizations such as BCIU extending itself, walking that extra mile to reach out to people who are different, and learn to appreciate the differences rather than just to tolerate the differences. I have never been to India until I was in my 30s, and now I go there eight times a year. I have grown to appreciate India, I have grown to appreciate its religion; its languages; its people; its culture and its history. It is something that is very rewarding to every one of us in the process, hopefully, we will enhance international understanding and make the world a better place. We, the businessman, have the resources to do that so let us. Whether you’re from the United States, from Greece, from Australia, from Hong Kong, wherever you may be, let us all cross the bridge to enhance international understanding and the more the world becomes international, the more technology advances, it seems to me that the need for international understanding has not diminished, rather it has increased.

So I want to thank, once again, BCIU, its leadership, its board, its management and all the supporters of BCIU for doing a wonderful job in enhancing international understanding. And I, as a beneficiary of it and now an awardee of this prestigious award, I want to thank all of you. And, by the way, come see me. I live in Hong Kong. Give me a call, I’ll be there waiting for you.

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