Promoting Peace, Tolerance, and Respect

September 26, 2018

Good evening to all of you. Thank you so much for the honor awarded to me tonight. I would especially like to thank Rabbi Schneier and the Appeal of Conscience Foundation that he has created.

I am humbled and I am very, very honored to be recognized by you. As I was listening to your very complimentary remarks about me, I was really wondering who you were talking about! So thank you.

To you, Secretary Mnuchin thank you very much for your keynote address and thank you for reminding me of the extraordinary relationship that we have developed in the course of the last year and a half.

To Johann Rupert — my congratulations on your honor this evening and thank you for sharing the evening with me! We go back a long way, both of us, and I can only say how grateful I am for your kindness and generosity.

As a reformed lawyer-- as probably many of you are in this room -- I have a disclaimer to make: I am actually an accident of faith and love. What do I mean by that?

My father was born to a Jewish mother and a non-religious father. As a student at École Normale Supérieure in Paris, my father converted to Catholicism. He was actually converted by a Chinese priest who was a refugee and the vicar of the school! This is not invented, I promise you it is true. And he was so “well converted” by this Chinese refugee priest that he wanted to become a priest himself. And then he met my mother! And this whole vocation of becoming a priest fell through the cracks.

So that explains why I am here, an accident of faith and love!

Now earlier this week I was reflecting on the meaning of this award and I realized that tonight, in many ways, is the easy part. We gather at a wonderful venue, we give our speeches and we catch-up with old friends. But the hard part, as you know, is what happens when each of us leaves this room. When we go back to our life — in the private sector, in the public sector, in civil society — and we begin anew the task of promoting peace and tolerance. Sometimes the work can be frustrating. Sometimes it feels like not enough is happening. Sometimes it seems that there is simply so much to do. Sometimes, it feels that time is running out.

That is where the Appeal of Conscience must inspire us. I think of the work you have done in Cuba, in Hungary, in India, and even right here in the United States. You take on conflicts, divisions, and enmity that is hundreds of years old and you ask people to establish a dialogue to listen to each other. In so doing, you help plant the seeds of peace.

It reminds me of the work that we do at the IMF. Our mission is different, we seek to promote economic security and prosperity for our 189-member nations. But our goals are interconnected. Because without peace there can be no economic development, and as we all know, economic security is a critical building block on the pathway to peace.

If there is no economic prosperity, there is no hope. Those who have economic freedom can more easily pursue their aspirations — and can build a society free of ethnic, religious, and civil strife.

How can we go about this hard work? I, for one, can relate to my own history. It is natural to go home close our door, and to withdraw into ourselves to protect our “turf” when challenged. That's easier, that is what I would call first nature.. What is harder is if you have that “appeal of conscience” that forces us to look beyond ourselves-- to praise diversity and embrace our brothers and sisters. It is not easy.

So when something is not easy I always think to myself: what was really hard? And I think of my days as a synchronized swimmer. That might come as a surprise to you. Synchronized swimming has always been regarded as something a bit “different” from just swimming or diving. I was on the French national team -- so I stepped up and I served my country as an athlete, as well as a Minister of government.

In 1973, when I came to this country in the Washington, D.C. area and went to Holton-Arms school, I was fortunate to be able to work out at the Jewish Community Center in Rockville Maryland — it was the only swimming club which had synchronized swimming. And there I was able to continue that unbelievable routine that you do when you are a synchronized swimmer.

You build muscle memory. You do the routine over and over and over again. You join hands with the other members on the team. You listen to every note of music. You know exactly how and where you need to do this or that move.

That this is work we have to do here. Because when you compete you do not have to think twice, you just do it and it does become a routine. It becomes your second nature.

I personally believe that peace, tolerance, and respect have to become second nature — and they are profoundly needed right now.

So we need to practice the routine over and over so that our first nature is overwhelmed by our second nature

I will close by telling you how pleased I am this evening. And I cannot tell which one of the three events that occurred for me today make me the happiest.

This award is certainly one.

But I also received earlier today the first sonogram pictures of my soon-to-be grandson.

And, what’s more, I was informed earlier today that the Vatican had tweeted one of my speeches — on the topic of the Sustainable Development Goals and the elimination of extreme poverty by 2030.

So I thank you again for this wonderful evening, on this wonderful day, and this wonderful honor.

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