Saturday, October 31, 1998

How do we best celebrate the millennium? President Clinton has challenged communities across the country to share ideas for millennium projects by posting them on a special website.

How do we best celebrate the millennium? President Clinton has challenged communities across the country to share ideas for millennium projects by posting them on a special website -- -- for universal dissemination. Some may say that the year 2000 is just an arbitrary dividing point or that we should really be marking 2001. Others, at the risk of being politically incorrect, will point out that this is essentially a Christian time frame and should be so celebrated. Some suggest that a one-time remission of unpayable debts to Third World countries crippled by Western credit might be a most fitting observation.

In Britain, which seems further ahead in its planning than this country, Parliament voted 20% of the profits from the national lottery for creating projects marking the millennium. I have a suggestion, however, that seems in keeping with the times and could be the property of people of all faiths and of no faith, and be equally challenging and inclusive for all. That is that each one of us, in the spirit of the late nineties, do our own thing. We look at something in our own lives that we would like to leave behind in the century, an ancient hate, a prejudice, a stereotype, a habit, in other words make a grand new year's resolution. At the recent Hope in the Cities conference in Portland (OR), which was one of those honest conversations on race which are proliferating round the country, organizers found a new use for the shredder. Everyone was invited to take time in quiet to see what unhelpful attitudes they would like to part with. After writing down their thoughts, they were put through the shredder.

Healing the past, particularly for whole nations, is never easy. But it is happening. Let us not forget the blessings brought by the end of the Cold War or take for granted the unpredictably peaceful termination of the apartheid regime in South Africa. For older people today's friendship between French and Germans is nothing short of miraculous. Even in Ireland we seem to be inching towards a new day. None of this progress is ever guaranteed. Its shelflife depends on constant renewal, as is clear from Israel to Cambodia. But the Dalai Lama predicts that if this has been a century of war and conflict, the next can be a century of dialogue and Pope John Paul II believes that the ‘tears of this century have prepared the ground for a new spring of the human spirit.’ President Clinton spent time in December with the US troops in Bosnia, another area whose people need to employ the shredder of hate. He was able to share with the Muslims, Croats and Serbs the lessons this land has learnt and is still learning one hundred years after the Civil War and the bondage of slavery. ‘We always grow stronger as we let more and more of our fears and prejudices go,’ he said in Sara jevo. He pointed out that 180 different racial and ethnic groups now call America home. ‘We have embarked on a great national dialogue across the groups about how we can live and prosper together in a new millennium,’ he said. ‘I urge all of you to do the same thing here.’ Helping other nations is an added incentive for us to tackle divisions at home.

In recent weeks there have been stories in our papers about the difficulties many computers will have in adjusting to a new century, some might even go back to 1901. Getting rid of the millennium bug which threatens our computers is going to cost governments and businesses worldwide some $600 billion dollars and still we have a chance of it triggering a worldwide recession. Getting rid of the virus of hate and revenge would cost the taxpayer nothing, would save billions and possibly trigger that new spring of the human spirit. We would go forward not back. We could actually make a start this new year. Now, what was that White House number?