The Future is Made from Wishes

When I first saw this I didn’t think I’d post it as I have posted so much – so many links, so many articles, so many videos – on the importance of the education of girls and the development of women for the welfare of all human societies.  At this point even I am sick of hearing myself talk about this subject.

But I couldn’t talk myself out of posting this.  Please watch it.  It is so comprehensive and so complete that you’ll be glad you did watch it.


Blind Spots

Nowadays it’s widely accepted, in our rapidly shrinking global village, that we need to learn to work together – learn to live together.

And yet we resist it.

We insist on concentrating on the differences between us.

Colour, race, nationality, religion, politics, culture, gender, age, status, beliefs, thoughts.

Sure we’re different.

There’s no doubt about it.

But how about the ways we are the same?

Why don’t we really concentrate on what we share instead of what separates us?

I really mean that as a question – why don’t we?

What stops us trying to work together?

What are the obstacles to our seeing our similarities?

Can we talk about that?

All Change at the Event Horizon

An event horizon is the point of no return near a black hole in space where the gravitational pull becomes so great escape is impossible.  Once you cross the event horizon – that’s it – you get pulled into the black hole – into the singularity – no argument.

But right up to the event horizon nothing is predetermined.

So.  My question is this – are there ‘event horizons’ in human actions and societies?

There do seem to be event horizons in evil.  It does seem as if once a threshold of sorts is crossed it can be difficult not to be pulled into the vortex of evil.

But if that is true then it must be true that there is also an event horizon of good.  A place that once we cross it we will be pulled – inexorably – towards goodness.

Like a physical event horizon, up to that very point it might look as if we are just wandering aimlessly in space when all the while we are working our way towards a big, important and valuable change for the better.  Inching along –

Tiny, discrete, butterfly action


Tiny, discrete, butterfly action.

The man who removes a mountain begins by carrying away small stones.

William Faulkner



To see things in the seed, that is genius. Lao-Tzu

Peace on Earth – War Children

Emmanuel Jal was born in Southern Sudan c. 1980. By the time he was seven, his father had left to fight with the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and his mother had been murdered by government soldiers.

After that he was recruited by the SPLA and trained as a soldier.  For five years he fought with the army, but as the fighting became unbearable Jal and some of the other children ran away.

They wandered for three months, many of them dying on the journey until they reached the town of Waat.  Emma McCune, a British aid worker who was married to a senior SPLA commandant, insisted that at 11, Jal was too young to be a soldier and adopted him and smuggled him to Kenya. There Emmanuel went to school and even though McCune died in a road accident, her friends continued to help him.

Jal began singing to ease the pain of what he had experienced, he also began to work at raising money for street children in Kenya and his first single, “All We Need is Jesus” was a hit in Kenya and received airplay in the UK.

Jal tries to unite young people through his music – he believes that music can help overcome ethnic and religious divisions.  His first album – Gua – is a mix of Arabic, English, Swahili, Dinka and Nuer.  The title – Gua – is a symbol of the unity for which he is striving as it means ‘good’ in Nuer and ‘power’ in Sudanese Arabic.

His second album, Ceasefire, is a collaboration with the well known Sudanese Muslim musician Abd El Gadir Salim.  The collaboration between Jal and Salim demonstrates their vision of unity.  On the album they emphasize their musical differences as a symbol of co-existence.

Jal dedicates his life to the wellbeing of children, believing that music is a vehicle for uplifting the spirit and surviving tragedy.  The commonest theme of his songs is the campaign for peace – particularly in his native Sudan – and his condemnation of using children as soldiers.

A documentary about Emmanuel Jal called War Child was made in 2008 by C. Karim Chrobog. It made its international debut at the Berlin Film Festival and its North American debut at the Tribeca Film Festival, where it won the Cadillac Audience Award. An autobiography under the same name was released in 2009.

Jal’s charity, Gua Africa, builds schools and tries to help children and Sudanese war survivors.

Those of us who are lucky enough to live in relative peace should never underestimate the suffering caused by war or give up working to eliminate it.

Sometimes a Trail of Tears can lead to Kindness

The Trail of Tears is the name given to the forced relocation of Native Americans following the Indian Removal Act of 1830.  The relocation was mostly from the southeastern United States to present day Oklahoma.  The removal included the Cherokee, Muscogee (Creek), Seminole, Chickasaw and Choctaw nations.

This forced movement not only dispossessed many Native American nations, it also resulted in thousands of deaths from exposure, disease and starvation. The name, Trail of Tears, originates from a description of the removal of the Choctaw Nation in 1831.

Sixteen years later, in 1847, the Choctaw survivors of the Trail of Tears heard of the Great Famine in Ireland. They heard about the dispossession and starvation that had been going on in Ireland since 1845. Though clearly not wealthy or advantaged themselves, they responded by collecting $710 and sending it to help starving Irish men, women and children.

According to a written account at the time, “Traders, missionaries, and (Indian) agency officials contributed, but the greater part of the money was supplied by the Indians themselves.“(1)

The Choctaw sent the money to Memphis – one of the cities in which the military had gathered them before they set out on the Trail of Tears.  From there it made its way to Irish famine victims.

The astounding actions of the Choctaw are an example of how suffering acquires meaning when it is transmuted into understanding and generosity.


Photograph – Famine Memorial, Dublin, Ireland.


Really Human

Dr. Sunitha Krishnan has dedicated her life to rescuing women and children from sex slavery.  She and her organisation – Prajwala – have rescued and helped to educate, train and reintegrate thousands of victims of this form of slavery.  She is an inspiring, forceful and committed individual and she has some very specific requests.

She asks that everybody moved by the horrific stories she tells, takes it upon themselves to tell two people of the plight of children and women who are sold as slaves in the sex industry. She asks that we each tell two people and try to convince them to help.

That’s a pragmatic idea.

Her other request is even more heartfelt and if we all took it to heart it would probably change everything in the lives of all children, everywhere.

She asks that everybody give these victims acceptance, support and love.

Not because we are kind or altruistic.

Not as philanthropy.

Not as charity.

It’s nothing to do with us.  We should give them our love and support because they deserve it – as human beings.

As Sunita herself puts it –

Because no child – no human being – deserves what these children have gone through.

Simple truths are the best arguments.

(Be aware – this video is worth watching but know that it is also graphic and disturbing)

A Radiant Heart

A radiant heart is a wonderful thing.

It simply makes everything seem better when we are the recipients of purity and kindness from a radiant heart.

Roots of Empathy is an anti-bullying programme that was begun by Mary Gordon, in Toronto, Canada in 1996. Since its inception, Roots of Empathy has reached more than 450,000 children worldwide.

There are hundreds of anti-bullying programmes but ROE is a programme with a difference – the teachers are all babies.

In the Roots of Empathy program, a parent and baby (two to four months old at the start) visit a class nine times over the course of a school year. A trained Roots of Empathy instructor comes to the class along with the family to guide the children as they observe the relationship between the baby and his or her parent.

The instructor leads the children in noticing how the baby is growing and changing. The children also watch the loving relationship between the parent and baby and see how the parent responds to the baby’s emotions and meets the baby’s needs.  The relationship between a baby and parent is an ideal empathic model.  The children in the classes learn to understand the perspective of the baby and are helped to use this information to help them better understand their own feelings.   This emotional literacy helps to not only reduce bullying but also helps children to challenge cruelty and injustice.

Roots of Empathy places babies in the role of teachers because babies love without borders or definition. Babies respond intuitively to love. They are blind to differences as defined by the world. It is only when young children learn from the adult world that some are more worthy than others, because of some perceived difference, that we see the unfolding of the intergenerational legacy of racism, classism and a host of other “isms.” (1)

There is extensive evidence regarding the success of the ROE programmes and in 2012, the Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences at the University of Washington, in Seattle, USA, will undertake a study that will include neurophysiological evaluations that will look at structural (MRI) and functional (MEG brain imaging) changes associated with participation in the programs.

There is no heart more pure or radiant than a baby’s heart – we can learn a lot from them.


(1) Roots of Empathy, Changing the World Child by Child, Mary Gordon, p.7

Photograph – Northern Buttercups, Alaska – 1973 – photographer – Dennis Cowals

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The Story of the Long Spoons

There is a Jewish folk tale that tells the story of a man who wanted to understand Heaven and Hell.

First, he travelled to Hell.

Here, row after row of table was piled high with platters of food yet the people seated around the tables were starving to death. Each person held a full spoon but both arms were splinted with wooden slats so they couldn’t bend either elbow to bring the food to their mouths.

Next he went to Heaven.

The setting was the same here as in Hell – row after row of long tables laden with food and all the people had their arms splinted so that they couldn’t bend their elbows. But the people in Heaven were happy and well fed.

He couldn’t work out why things were so different so he watched for a while.

As he watched, a man picked up his spoon and dug it into the dish before him. Then he stretched across the table and fed the person across from him. The recipient   thanked him and returned the favor by leaning across the table to feed his benefactor.

The man ran back to Hell to tell the poor souls trapped there what he had discovered.  He whispered the solution in the ear of a starving man – “You don’t have to be hungry,” he said. “Use your spoon to feed your neighbour and then he will return the favour and feed you.”

But instead of being grateful, the starving man became angry.

“What are you talking about?” he shouted.  “You expect me to feed that man?  I hate him!  I would rather starve than give him the pleasure of eating.”

Then the man understood – both Heaven and Hell offer the same circumstances and conditions. The critical difference was in the way they  treated each other.


Rescue Work – Dayton, March, 1913

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Horses for Courses

If it is true that we see what we believe, then it may also be true that we get what we expect.

As we go about our lives we imagine that unless we intend to influence things, we have no effect on what happens.  But is this true?

In 1904, William von Osten, believed he had taught his horse, Hans, to add, subtract, multiply and divide. Clever Hans’ talents weren’t limited to mathematics, he could also spell, read, solve problems of musical harmony and answer personal questions – all with taps of his hoof.

But investigation revealed that though von Osten wasn’t a fraud, his horse was not as smart as he seemed.

It turns out that Hans could only get the right answer if the asker already knew the answer. It seems that the reason Hans could answer questions was that the questioners all exhibited a number of subtle, involuntary and unconscious signals that the horse could ‘read’.  Neither consciousness of the possibility of giving these signals nor attempts not to give them were successful.  These are involuntary cues in the truest sense of the word.

This phenomenon became known as the Clever Hans Effect. Even today, comparative psychologists – who study animal behaviour – generally test animals in isolation to avoid this effect.

Human being are equally susceptible to the Clever Hans Effect.  Our expectations are not just vague, harmless whims but can actually influence outcomes.

So, whenever we are with others it’s worth asking ourselves if the way they act is just the way they act, or could it be, at least partially, influenced by how we expect them to act?