Globe, the Geneva Graduate Institute Review
28 March 2023

At a Crossroads - Let Us Choose Integrity!

Institute Director Marie-Laure Salles reflects on the political, environmental and existential challenges humans face and what is needed to endure. 

Humankind and its host planet are at a crossroads as they have never been before. We live in a new age of radical uncertainty, defined by an entangled set of existential challenges and long-running structural paradoxes.  

The existential challenges of our age – whether speaking about war and a return of the nuclear threat, the climate, the destruction of biodiversity and vital resources, extreme inequalities and their profoundly disruptive social and political consequences, future pandemics, cyberwars and systemic disinformation – all have a commonality: they are truly global and cannot be addressed without collaboration and joint action.    

The structural dynamics that have fuelled this new age of existential challenges and radical uncertainty are continuing paradoxical trends in the evolution of humanity that have become particularly visible in the twentieth century. We have produced, as a species, immense riches, yet those riches are increasingly shared unequally. We have realised, furthermore, that to produce those material and human-made riches, we have destroyed non-renewable and vital natural resources that, in the end, condition our ability to survive as individuals and as a species. In the last century, we have created knowledge on an unprecedented scale, yet we have to face increasingly powerful dynamics of mis- and dis-information. Our technological capabilities are unprecedented, yet an invisible virus can instil existential angst and bring us to a halt. And while we have never been as widely and deeply connected as today, never have we felt at the same time as profoundly lonely. The generational psychological breakdown, which is a contemporary global phenomenon, clearly shows this – another worrying dimension of the spirit of our times! 

Those structural paradoxical trends are largely responsible for the current succession and interplay of crises that make collective mobilisation particularly necessary. The ultimate paradox, though, is that those structural trends are also in large part responsible for bringing along a zeitgeist of fragmentation and re-enclosing, across states and regions of the world but also within societies. The consequence is a weaker architecture of transnational collaboration and multilateral governance. 

“Tomorrow is today”, as Martin Luther King affirmed a few days before he was killed. “We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now”. The time has come to focus on what has to be done. We need multilateralism and a global governance architecture, this much is clear. But it is also undeniable that our current system needs courageous transformation and reinvention – as we are facing the tough challenge of fostering cooperation in a deeply fragmented world. In that context, courage is an imperative, as I proposed in Globe’s last issue. When the urgency of survival galvanises courageous mobilisation, then everything becomes possible, even the impossible, as the father of Europe, Jean Monnet, said – and showed. 

Courage implies, and is unthinkable without, integrity. One wonders – but this shall remain here a hypothesis – whether many of the problems that we are currently facing do not stem in fact from a long-running absence of integrity – particularly in places of power and decision-making at all levels and in all sectors. Integrity comes from the latin integritas, the state of being whole, complete, but also sound (in mind). The etymological exercise takes us even one-step further, to the verb integrare, which means to repair but also to renew, to start again, to recreate!

In the current turn of the times, as we are standing at a possible existential crossroads, let us have the courage of integrity – in its double sense of soundness and responsibility, but also of creativity and reinvention. These should be the skills of today’s leaders, leaders preparing for peace in spite of the deafening noises of war. 

This article was published in Globe #31, the Institute Review.