Educate Girls and Change the World


There is no tool for development more effective than the education of girls.
Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary General

I can’t say it better than that – or this –

http://itonlytakesagirl.blogspot.com/

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.

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Photograph – Famine Memorial, Dublin, Ireland.

(1) https://pantherfile.uwm.edu/michael/www/choctaw/retrace.html

Joy Gives Us Wings


Joy gives us wings! In times of joy our strength is more vital, our intellect keener, and our understanding less clouded.

We seem better able to cope with the world and to find our sphere of usefulness. (1)

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(1) Paris Talks, ‘Abdu’l-Baháp.184

All Change…


On the 6th of December, 1992 racial riots broke out between Hindus and Muslims in the city of Ayodhya, in India. More than 2,000 people died in the violence that followed. 

Forty kilometres away in the city of Lucknow, hundreds of school children – the students of the City Montessori School – and their parents took to the streets singing and carrying posters with slogans like: ‘We should live in unity.’ ‘The name of God is both Hindu and Muslim.’ ‘God is One, Mankind is One.’ ‘All Religions are One.’

The governor of Lucknow asked the City Montessori School to provide a meeting place for the heads of all the city’s religions. Every day while the violence raged nearby, these leaders of the religious community held public meetings at the school surrounded by children singing about unity.  And it worked. Lucknow completely escaped the violence.

Could it be that these simple, earnest demonstrations by schoolchildren and their parents stopped an outbreak of violence?

Well, it helped but the many years of work behind it probably deserve most of the credit.

In 1959, Mr. Jagdish Gandhi and Mrs. Bharti Gandhi borrowed $10 and founded the City Montessori School. For over forty years the school has focused not only on academic excellence but also on educating children to be better people. As well as academic subjects, the pupils also focus on defining values and learning about peace: students follow lessons in world citizenship, social responsibility, peace issues and religious values. Every CMS-event starts with a prayer for peace in the world.

Parents, grandparents and teachers all work together to teach the children respect for others, how to be of service to humanity and the importance of unity in diversity.

It’s a popular and successful idea.  On August 9th, 2010 there were 39,437 pupils enrolled for the 2010-2011 academic year, making the City Montessori School the largest private school in the world.

This incident in 1992 suggests something we often don’t realise – it suggests that the real power in the world lies in the commonplace. In the ordinary relationships of the home and the playground and the classroom and the community.  Places we all live and work. Places in which we all have power and influence.

Never think that small, seemingly insignificant actions of kindness and justice and love are wasted.  They may not seem like they can influence the world but they are all that can really bring about change.

If you doubt it, just remember that nobody was hurt in Lucknow in 1992, while a short distance away the neighbours were killing each other.

The best advice for how we can effect this simple, attainable and, ultimately, powerful change was given by the most famous Indian of all-time who said –

Be the change that you want to see in the world.*

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The Moral Molecule


Creator(s): Department of Defense. Department of the Army. Office of the Chief Signal Officer. (09/18/1947 – 02/28/1964)

Persistent URL: arcweb.archives.gov/arc/action/ExternalIdSearch?id=531280

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Desmond Tutu’s Message on Child Marriage


A message to men and boys about child marriage

A few months ago, in Northern Ethiopia, I met a group of young women who had been married around the age of 10 or 12. Many of them had their first children at 13 or 14. It was shocking for me to realise that there are millions of girls around the world who suffer the same fate every year.

I have to confess that I was simply not aware of the scale and impact of child marriage. 10 million girls a year, 25,000 girls a day, are married without any say in the matter, to men who are often much older than they are. These girls almost always drop out of school to attend to household chores, and when they become young mothers themselves face serious dangers of injury and even death in pregnancy and childbirth. Child marriage robs girls of their childhood, of their basic rights to education, security and health.

I thought I had a pretty good idea of the human rights landscape on this precious earth we share. What I have realised is that these girls are invisible and voiceless, making them some of the most vulnerable, disempowered people on our planet.

Child marriage occurs because we men allow it

It is not enough for me to simply say that their voices should be heard, that more money needs to go towards girls’ education or health services and be done with it. That alone will not change what happens to child brides.

Child marriage occurs because we men allow it. Fathers, village chiefs, religious leaders, decision-makers – most are male. In order for this harmful practice to end, we need to enlist the support of all the men who know this is wrong, and work together to persuade all those who don’t. I met religious leaders in Ethiopia, both Orthodox and Muslim, who speak out publicly against child marriage and teach their flocks that neither Christianity nor Islam endorses child marriage.

I want to find more faith leaders like them, men who will say that child marriage is wrong and should end. I want to find political leaders – also mostly men – and persuade them to empower girls, invest in them, and see the positive transformation that will occur throughout their societies as a result.

Harmful traditions must be challenged

I want to encourage boys to stand up for their sisters, and say that girls have the same rights to go to school, to develop and be everything they can be.

Child marriage is not a religious practice – it is a tradition. There are many good traditions that bind communities together. But traditions are also not static – they evolve. Traditions that are harmful, that have outlived their purpose, must be challenged.

Foot binding disappeared once social views about it were challenged and it was outlawed. Slavery was also defended as a ‘way of life’ – repugnant as that sounds. I remember those who defended apartheid on ‘cultural’ grounds. All these practices have, thankfully, largely disappeared.

Child marriage is also declining – but far too slowly.

Child marriage is not a ‘women’s issue’

At current rates 100 million more girls will be married in the coming decade.

We men cannot treat child marriage as a ‘women’s issue’ and avoid talking about the more sensitive issues associated with it; the sheer scale of this practice demands attention at the highest levels.

The world is blessed with the largest generation of young people in history. Imagine what would happen if the girls of this generation all go to school and had the chance to become teachers, doctors, businesswomen, politicians, religious leaders.

We men have to be bold, to speak the truth and stand up for the rights of girls and women to equality, dignity and the rights we all share.

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http://www.theelders.org/article/message-men-and-boys-about-child-marriage

The Trouble with Genocide


The trouble with our definition of the crime of genocide is that it doesn’t go far enough. 

Don’t get me wrong, the coining of the term genocide in 1943 by Raphael Lemkin, was an important conceptual advance for humanity.

Lemkin combined two root words – genos (Greek for family, tribe, or race) and the Latin suffix –cide (which means to kill) – thus creating the word genocide as a description of the deliberate and systematic destruction of any ethnic, religious, racial or national group.

It was also an important advance for humanity when, in 1948, the United Nations adopted the International Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide.

The definition and outlawing of genocide was largely undertaken in the 1940s in the wake of WWII.  It was a hugely important departure and a giant leap of understanding. But now we need to redefine it.  Now we need to come to an understanding of genocide which will help us deal with the needs – and crimes – of our time.

Because the trouble with genocide is that our definition of it is based on the notion of otherness. It is an altruistic notion of otherness.  A tolerant and well-meaning notion of otherness but a notion of otherness all the same.

As a consequence, many atrocities are still taking place in the world because there is international disagreement as to whether or not the crimes constitute genocide.  Very often these situations are recognised as genocide when it is too late to intervene and save the victims.

We need to move towards a situation where we see the entire human race as one genos – one family, one tribe, one race.  Instead of otherness we need to develop our ability to understand and operate a system of oneness.

If we do that, then whenever anyone is targeted for harm as a result of his or her individual belief, race, background or nationality – we will define it as genocide and no longer need to waste time with semantic arguments and bureaucracy.

All crimes against humanity – our family – will concern us.  All injustice.  All suffering.

The nobility of man and his spiritual development will lead him in the future to such a position that no individual could enjoy eating his food or resting at home while knowing that there was one person somewhere in the world without food or shelter. (2)

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(1) http://www.preventgenocide.org/genocide/officialtext.htm

(2) ‘Abdu’l Baha – quoted in Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh, vol. 3, p. 126

The Still Face


Humans are social beings.  We’re not the only ones on the planet but we most definitely belong to that group.

Our interactions with other people do more than just shape our manners and our view of the world, these interactions actually shape our physical brains.  As the saying goes, neurons that fire together, wire together. 

As we lumber about in our lives, we often believe, erroneously, that only our big actions count.

If I don’t hit you or shout at you or curse or show my disdain I can tell myself I haven’t revealed anything of myself – or done any damage to you.

But what if that isn’t true?

What if our sensitivity to response is so ingrained in us and so long-standing that we don’t consciously recognise how subtly influenced – or influential – we can be?

Everybody knows that new-born babies respond to the world around them and we instinctively try to interact even with the youngest babies.  But do we realise how vital this seemingly trivial interaction really is?

Watch the video below – if you can handle it – it tells a very interesting story.

Chaotic Butterflies


Photograph of David Bohm, taken from this page.

David Bohm

In ordinary life chaos means disorder – random, disorganised confusion.  In science it means something entirely different – it means apparent randomness. In other words, things that appear to be random and disorganised but actually obey an order that we either can’t see or don’t understand.

The physicist, David Bohm believed everything was governed by a hidden – or as he termed it – implicate – order.  He demonstrated this using a very simple but graphic experiment copied from a BBC Children’s TV programme.

Take a vessel composed of two glass cylinders, put glycerine (or other viscous fluid) in the space between the cylinders, then put a drop of insoluble ink into the glycerine and turn the outer cylinder.  As the cylinder turns, the ink is drawn out into a thread that eventually becomes so thin it disappears from view as it is enfolded in the solution.

But if the cylinder is then turned in the opposite direction, the thread form reappears and retraces its steps until the original droplet is reconstituted.

Bohm offered this as a visual example of how order exists even when it is hidden and not obvious to us.

But David Bohm is far from the only scientist to suggest that the seeming ‘chaos’ that surrounds us may not be as haphazard as it appears.

In the 1960s, Edward Lorenz, a MIT meteorologist and the originator of the Butterfly Effect theory, tried to explore why it is so hard to make good weather forecasts and as a result chaos theory was born.  Lorenz was the first to recognize what is now called chaotic behaviour in the mathematical modelling of weather systems.

Soon, many other scientists – including social scientists – were attempting to use chaos theory to search for the hidden order in everything.

Nowadays, chaos theory (and it’s offspring, complexity theory) provides us with models we can apply to everything from epilepsy to social problems.

So, organised chaos is not a contradiction after all – who knew?

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.