Let’s Dance


And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.  – Friedrich Nietzsche

It’s easy to believe in war and injustice

in greed and corruption

in hatred and prejudice and violence.

It’s harder to believe in equity and justice and unity and peace.

But once upon a time…

Slavery was the norm – nobody thought it unreasonable that one human being own another.

Everybody believed women were inferior to men.

White people were genuinely thought to be superior to everyone else.

Appendicitis was usually a death sentence…

The thought of human beings flying was ludicrous and nobody had ever dreamed people all over the world could communicate almost instantaneously…

All change happens because at the very, very start someone believes it is possible.

We see what we believe so if we believe something is possible then we will search and search until we find the way to make it a reality – for better or worse.

So – while peace, love, understanding, equity, and justice might not be that easy to envisage, the first step in attaining any of those things is to believe they are attainable.  Strain your ears until you hear the music and then – dance…

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An Answer to Evil


Fear is the main source of superstition, and one of the main sources of cruelty.  To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom. Bertrand Russell

Dear Anders Behring Breivik,

A lot of the friends I met at Utoya are dead and you are the perpetrator. You are the man who, by coincidence, didn’t kill me. I was lucky.

You might think that you have won. You might think that you have ruined something for the Labour Party and for people around the world who stand for a multicultural society by killing my friends and fellow party members.

Know that you have failed.

You haven’t only made the world stand together, you have set our souls on fire and should know we’ve never stood together as we do now. You talk about yourself as a hero, a knight. You are no hero. But you have created heroes. On Utoya that warm day in July, you created some of the greatest heroes the world has seen, you unified people from all over the world. Black and white, man and woman, red and blue, Christians and Muslims.

You made your victims martyrs, immortals, and you have shown the world that when one person can show as much hatred as you have done, imagine how much love we can show when we stand together? People who I thought hated me have given me hugs on the street, people I haven’t been in contact with for years have written 300 to 400 words about how much it means to them that I survived. What can you say about that? Have you broken anything? You have united us.

You have killed my friends, but you haven’t killed our cause, our opinions, our right to express ourselves. Muslim women got hugs of sympathy from random Norwegian women on the street and your goal was to protect Europe from Islam? Your actions worked against its purpose.

You deserve no thanks; your plan failed. A lot of people are angry, you are the most hated person in Norway. I am not angry. I do not fear you. You can’t touch us, we are greater than you. We do not answer evil with evil, as you wanted it. We fight evil with good. And we win.

Benjamin Ostebo, aged 16.

Tsunami of Good


If you take each tiny ethical action and add it to the next tiny ethical action and continue to do this across the board – eventually you’ll  have a huge tsunami of moral behaviour which has the power to effect great change.

Unfortunately this is also true in reverse.  All those tiny and seemingly insignificant immoral actions that we all perform – the white lies, the small cheats – also add up and engulf everything, but not in a good way.

Every single thing that every single one of us does all of the time matters in the overall scheme of things.  There is no such thing as a deed – good or bad –that doesn’t have some effect somewhere.

Scary?  Maybe.

But heartening too when you think about it.

Butterfly Effects for Change – Part 6 – The Fruits of Their Labour

On July 19th, 1984, 21 year old Mary Manning, a cashier working at the Henry Street branch of Dunnes Stores in Dublin, refused to handle two Outspan grapefruit.  Mary Manning did this on the orders of her union as a protest against the system of apartheid in operation in South Africa at that time.  Manning was suspended for her actions and ten of her colleagues went on strike to protest against her treatment.

This refusal to handle South African produce by Manning and her colleagues was not well received by their employers and resulted in a strike that lasted almost three years – a very brave action in a time of great unemployment.

Eventually though, the Dunnes Stores workers prevailed and the Irish government agreed to ban the importing of South African fruit and vegetables until the apartheid regime was overthrown.

Today in Johannesburg, a street is named after Mary Manning and she and her colleagues have been personally commended by Nelson Mandela and his successor, Thabo Mbeki.

As Margaret Mead, the well-known anthropologist said –

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

Why Virtue?


Over two thousand years ago, Aristotle said, We are not studying in order to know what virtue is, but to become good, for otherwise there would be no profit in it. (1)

The acquisition of virtues is not an antiquated mode of being, it’s a vital framework for human life.  Virtues are like instructions in a manual for living productively.  We think of things like love and kindness and loyalty and trustworthiness as pleasant optional extras that will make our lives more pleasant – but they are much more than that.  Cultivating real virtues – not nominal ones – creates the environment necessary for spectacular human growth.  And that, as Aristotle might have said, is where the profit in virtue exists.

…for the human reality may be compared to a seed. If we sow the seed, a  mighty tree appears from it. The virtues of the seed are revealed in the tree; it puts forth branches, leaves, blossoms, and produces fruits. All these virtues were hidden and potential in the seed. Through the blessing and bounty of cultivation these virtues became apparent. (2)

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(1) Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics

(2) ‘Abdul’Baha, Promulgation of Universal Peace, p.87

Virtual Virtue?


The word virtue comes from the Latin virtūs, which has many meanings including, bravery, strength, excellence, manliness and moral courage. It also has many derivatives but perhaps the one that we are most familiar with in modern times is virtual.

The word virtual also has many meanings – some of them technical – but nowadays it has comes to be widely accepted as anything that, while not real, appears to have the properties of the object or experience – hence virtual reality, virtual tour, virtual community and so on.

Interestingly, anything that is virtual is treated as if it was actually real – virtue on the other hand must be real or it isn’t virtue!

Life is complex and there really isn’t any quick-fix formula that will address all the problems of humanity. However, having said that, there are some factors that are more foundational than others.  Quite literally, like the foundations of a building, if we don’t ensure that these are in place no matter how good the super-structure looks it will cave in when stressed.

It may sound old-fashioned to say it, but it is most definitely the case that human virtues are foundational principles in society.  As Canadian psychologist, Jordan Peterson says in his 2010 Hancock Lecture entitled, ‘Virtue as a Necessity’ –

Virtue, ethics, morality – isn’t a field of study – it’s a mode of being upon which all fields of study rest.  It’s also a mode of being on which everything you do in your life rests.  The way you understand yourself – or fail to – the way you understand other people – or fail to – and – more deeply than that – what role you play in your life, in the world. (1)

The recent international financial crisis, for example, was not only fuelled by an age-old vice – greed – it was absolutely exacerbated and dragged on by lack of honesty.  Imagine if, in the morning, we could believe everything that our governments and financial institutions say.  Imagine if they told the truth and we could believe them. Pretty revolutionary idea isn’t it?

So, maybe the idea of virtue – actual virtue, not virtual virtue – is not so much an old-fashioned idea as a truly radical notion and one which bears looking at anew?

(1) Jordan Peterson, 2010 Hancock Lecture – Virtue as a Necessityhttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gwUJHNPMUyU