As has been the case over the last 10 months, I write this from a remote research Station at the centre of the Antarctic continent. I represent a bold move on behalf of humanity to defy Antarctica’s adverse conditions, uniting, to establish a year-long presence in hostile environments to conduct science.
Our Station bears the symbolic name of Concordia. Concordia means “harmony” yet during our stay here these past ten months, several alarming events have occurred around this globe that we call Earth— our home. We have read the news. It traveled through air and space, relayed by satellites to reach even to our distant outpost: hostage crises in Africa; near-civil war in Ukraine; hundreds of victims in the Gaza Strip, and sadly more.
As a scientist waiting out winter in Antarctica I’m dependent on the assistance of colleagues locally and far away. Here we are at the mercy, and reaping the benefits of, the coordinated efforts of many nations. In the face of this collaboration news of such violence seem not only sad, disappointing and regrettable, but also (and perhaps more importantly) pointless.
Reacting strongly against dominance by force and the resulting “survival of the fittest” mentality is more than moralism or emotionality. The clever hominid learns from history. History has demonstrated time and again the value of partnerships and non-violent conflict resolution. This is the reason that alliances of diverse populations have risen throughout the centuries: from the Athenian Coalition to Kalmar and the European Union.
And history proves that point again today: The magnificent advancements in science and technology, whose ameliorating effect on our everyday lives we often overlook, happen to a great extent because of cooperation and sharing. I seriously doubt that we could sustain continuous human activities in space if it weren’t for joining forces and exchanging knowledge between many countries, some of whom, not too long ago, were enemies. And the same goes for us, the thousand souls that constitute the population of Antarctica.
Tolerance and collaboration require far more self-control and humility than violence. But if you consider the fruits of each choice, tolerance and collaboration bear something sweeter when one is wise enough to invest in them.
Concordia Station in particular is a prime example of what cooperation can achieve. Concordia is the only multinational research station on the seventh continent – and it functions well despite the complications inherent in any form of collaboration. Undoubtedly the combined efforts of the two countries that operate it – France and Italy – amount to much more than either could achieve alone.
Synergy is a word derived from my native language, Greek, it describes a relationship between parties who work together to accomplish more than the sum of their individual efforts.
It is true that co-existing and working together is not as easy as following self interest. Here at Concordia, yes, there are differences between us crew-members. Yes, we do go through tense phases occasionally and we sometimes disagree. At the end of the day, however, we prioritise the need to live together peacefully, cooperatively, and tolerantly. Perhaps if everyone went through an Antarctic winter experience, they would understand this simple truth too. Maybe, understanding would lead to a change in the way people behave. But maybe people could take our word for it.
The same goes for the world and its wars. Yes financial and political interests are often in competition with each other. Yes, the citizens of this world are fundamentally very different. But ten months of living isolated in one of the world’sharshest environments can teach you to see the best in everything and everyone, however far away from your standards they appear to be at first. The world is a colorful mosaic for a good reason and there is profit to be found in this rich diversity if one is patient and wise.
The name of our Station is Concordia and its etymology comes from Latin: Con-, together, and –cordia, heart. The word “cordially” derives from the same root in English and so does the French expression “cordialement”, which the the French sign at the end of every letter. “D’ accord” in French literally means “I am in accordance, aligned with your thought”. It is perhaps fitting for a Franco-Italian base to be named like that; the name itself coming from Latin, but so eminent in modern French culture. The word is present in the names of sites such as Place de la Concorde and the joint effort to build the Concorde airplane with the British.
One winter in Antarctica can make you understand the real necessity for respect and sharing that the term “concordia” implies. It can abolish thoughts of violence and make nonsense of wars that generate victims in the name of difference.
To reverse U2’s lyrics, “we‘re not the same, but we are One”.
That’s what we have learnt in Antarctica.
Now, let’s apply it to the world…
In our case, here we are, all in one, differences aside:
We are determined. We are together.
We are Concordia. ҉