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Tom Friedman of New York Times speaks about global, local challenges

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Thomas L. Friedman
Thomas L. Friedman
Greg Martin

Three-time Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnist — and St. Louis Park native — Tom Friedman was back home in Minnesota this week. He shared his insights into what's happening all around the world — and in small cities and towns in America.

He spoke on Monday at the University of Minnesota Humphrey School of Public Affairs, which has been involved for the past two years in what it’s calling "The Courageous Conversations Project."

“America is,” Friedman said, “a checkerboard of towns and cities that are rising from the bottom up and towns and cities that are collapsing from the bottom down into all the tragedies of opioid abuse, unemployment and suicide. I’ve visited both.” 

He added, “the interesting thing about that dichotomy is sometimes the communities that are rising are right next to the community that’s falling.”

Friedman shared insights gained from visits to Willmar, St. Cloud and Red Wing, Minn., and to the Lancaster, Pa., area and the Louisville, Ky., area. 

Friedman said the common denominators are that each is going through rapid change. He said there are several climate changes occurring at once. One is climate change in the natural world. Another is change in the “climate of globalization — where we’re going from a world that was interconnected to a world that’s interdependent. Your rival falling is more dangerous than your rival rising.” 

Resilience and moving forward are key, he suggests. “The central political question of our time, is how you produce resilience and propulsion in the middle of three simultaneous climate changes.” 

Globally and locally, Friedman said these climate changes are “bringing more and more people together faster than ever. And faster in some cases than we can actually adapt to.” 

People are often uncomfortable with disruption and the rapid pace of change. And President Trump appealed to a lot of people, Friedman says, because he said “I can stop the wind. I can stop all this change that is making you uncomfortable.”

“Necessity is not just the mother of invention,” Friedman said. “It’s also the mother of inclusion.”

He said he learned from successful communities that they have a “high density of leaders without authority.” These are the people who believe in their communities and do what they can, he says. In Lancaster, he learned that “any idea you suggest, you have to be ready to do. You, yourself.”

Friedman said what he’s learned as a journalist applies to everyone: It’s important to listen. And listening is a sign of respect. 

Professor Larry Jacobs was the moderator of the event Monday at the University of Minnesota Humphrey School.