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.



Sacrifice is defined as:
An act of giving up something valued for the sake of something else regarded as more important or worthy: e.g. ‘we must all be prepared to make sacrifices.’ (1)

Sacrifice is an old fashioned idea.  We associate it with punitive self-deprivation. It is a concept associated with misery and joylessness. However, the truth is that sacrifice is a natural phenomenon.  We can’t really have anything unless we are willing to sacrifice something else.

If you plant a seed in the ground, a tree will become manifest from that seed. The seed sacrifices itself to the tree that will come from it. The seed is outwardly lost, destroyed; but the same seed which is sacrificed will be absorbed and embodied in the tree, its blossoms, fruit and branches. (2)

There can be no change without sacrifice, therefore, sacrifice is an agent of change.



Photograph – Sunflower – U.S. National Archives’ Local Identifier: 412-DA-2097.  Photographer: Reaves, Bill, 1934-
Persistent URL:

(1) Online Oxford Dictionary

(2) ‘Abdu’l-Bahá – Promulgation of Universal Peace p. 470

Blood-lines of action – Butterfly Effects for Change


Before 2004, life in Basti Mahran was extremely difficult for everyone but especially for the Hindu minority. Hindu girls were routinely raped by Muslim men, cattle that belonged to the Hindu villagers were slaughtered and attacks on all Hindus were widespread – all of the time.

And then a very ill young Muslim mother arrived at the local clinic.  She had lost a lot of blood in childbirth and needed a transfusion.  The doctors were helpless, they didn’t have any O-negative blood – until a local Hindu man with the same blood-type stepped forward and offered to give his blood to save this young woman’s life.

“I was afraid, for sure. But it was the right thing to do,” says Bachu Ram, the blood donor. (1)

In spite of his selfless gesture, Ram knew there would be objections to a Hindu giving blood to a Muslim.  And he was right. Word spread about his offer and before very long a group of Muslims charged the clinic to find and kill Ram.  The group was led by Mahar Abdul Latif.

Latif hated Hindus.  For three years in the 1990s he had belonged to an extremist group who patrolled the mountains in Kashmir, killing all Hindus who crossed their path.  Latif had previously tried to force the doctors at the clinic to have separate facilities for Muslims and Hindus, so that Muslims were never touched with the same instruments that had been used to treat Hindus.

As Latif and his gang approached the clinic they were stopped by a doctor who told them that Ram was this young woman’s only chance.

“I don’t know what came over me,” Latif says. “I remember thinking that here we were refusing to even shake hands with the Hindus and he was willing to give us his blood. It was a marvelous thing he did. It was the turning point of my life.” (2)

Next morning, Latif visited Ram’s home to thank him.  This was another seemingly small event but it is said that it was the very first time that a Muslim visited a Hindu home in Basti Mahran so the impact of this gesture was soon felt. In a short time, word of Ram’s generosity and Latif’s remorse spread and everything in the village began to change.

The women began to talk to each other, the rapes and attacks stopped and a huge shed was built to house all the local cattle.

“That was a big deal,” Ram says. “Before, you would not see the cows near each other at all. A Muslim would not have touched the milk from a cow owned by Hindus.” (3)

Nowadays everything in Basti Mahran has changed. In the past, everybody hated the members of the other community, now they not only like each other, they actively support each other even in their religious practice.  It is commonplace today for Hindus to attend Muslim celebrations and vice versa.  Latif and other local Muslims contributed time and money last year to refurbish a local Hindu temple and everybody, generally, makes efforts to help each other.

This change has turned out to be of just as much benefit to the Muslim community as to the Hindu locals, as now that they have stopped fighting each other they are using their collective energy to promote the common good.

Women from both communities have joined forces in their cotton selling businesses and nowadays are earning four times what they earned when they were selling separately.  Last year the village successfully lobbied the government to build power lines and they now have twelve hours electricity a day where previously they had none.  Now they are lobbying for new roads and water supply.

“We’ve been so wrong about the Hindus,” Latif says, watching his 7-year-old son Osama play alongside Ram’s 11-year-old boy Sindhal Ram. “The biggest surprise has been that they are just like us. They want to live their lives the same way we do.” (4)

It takes great courage to give, to accept and to forgive.  The people of Basti Mahran showed this courage and are, literally, an example to us all.

The video below is from the Toronto Star and gives a great overview of this amazing story.

TheStar Gift of blood ends Pakistani town’s bloody history.


(1) Rick Westhead, Gift of blood end Pakistani town’s bloody history–gift-of-blood-ends-pakistani-town-s-bloody-history?bn=1

(2) ibid

(3) ibid

(4) ibid

Photograph from the same article.

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.


Truman's future Vice President Alben W. Barkle...

Future US Vice President, Alben W. Barkley, visits Buchenwald, shortly after its liberation in 1945.

You can’t forget what you don’t know.  Take driving as an example. When you become a confident and competent driver you’re no longer conscious of every single thing you do as you drive – in effect you ‘forget’ you are driving.  But it is essential for you to really know how to drive before this forgetting can happen.

So perhaps we can only forget ourselves after we know ourselves.  Nowadays we think of self-knowledge as all affirmations and positivity.  This isn’t necessarily all that there is to knowing yourself.

Regardless of what we think we might do if we lived in Nazi Germany – or any other repressive regime – statistically the chances are that we would, at best, be part of the silent majority who let evil flourish.

So what part of yourself might facilitate this?  What part of me?

In his many lectures, Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson, suggests that we look at ourselves until we can work out our dark side because this knowledge will make us careful of how we act in the world.  His hypothesis is that when we know we are dealing with a loaded weapon rather than some ineffectual feather-duster, this will help us to achieve the great good we are all also capable of achieving. (1)

Self-mastery is only possible through self-knowledge, so perhaps if we are also interested in being selfless as well as being in control of ourselves, then perhaps we must first have a good understanding of who we really are and how we really work.