How to Be Happy

One of the problems that naturally occurs when a light is shone on pain and suffering is that those who are looking at this picture are overwhelmed by pity.  This might seem like a good outcome – surely if we are sorry for someone we’ll try to help?  Well the answer to that is not a definite ‘yes’.  Sometimes when we feel sorry for people we also feel angry, or resentful or superior or confused.  We wonder how this can happen and why they can’t help themselves just like we have to do and if they have some inherent shortcoming that precludes them from building a wholesome and sustaining life for themselves… Continue reading

Gender Neutrality

In 1993, the constitution of India was amended to stipulate that one third of positions as village chief were to be reserved for women. These positions were randomly allocated. The results were not always as positive as one might hope – often even the women complained about the female leaders.  However, there was one very significant outcome – follow-up research suggests that once a village has had one female leader the bias against female chiefs disappears and their candidacy and actions are judged by gender neutral standards. (1)

The same would seem to be true in Ireland – having had two consecutive female presidents – both of whom did a marvellous job – the electorate has moved into a very gender neutral place and we now have a male president. The expectation is that he will bring to the job many of the same characteristics of care, community development, human rights protection etc., that Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese made the trademark of their presidencies.  Michael D. Higgins was elected because he is who he is – nothing to do with his gender – and this is due at least in part to us being used to female presidents in Ireland.

If gender neutrality is achieved in political and public life by simply adding women (properly) to the mix – what other emergent advantages might equality – gender and racial and social – bring to all our societies?

Photograph – 11th November 2011 – Inauguration of President Michael D Higgins at Dublin Castle. (The former Presidents Robinson and McAleese, are dressed in red)

(1) Nick Kristoff and Sheryl Woo Dunn, Half the Sky pp 217-18

The Roots of Rights

On December 10th, 1948, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).

Nowadays, when we think of human rights, what exactly do we think?

Do we think that human rights are nothing to do with us?

That human rights are best left to activists?



Eleanor Roosevelt, Chair of the UN Commission that wrote the UDHR, had a very different vision of human rights –

In small places, close to home—so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.

Butterfly effects for human rights?


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.*


Two Races of Men

We worry about our differences when we should really concentrate on the ways we are similar.

We all laugh, cry, argue, worry, grieve, love, play – we are more alike than we are different.

We have plenty of common ground on which to build, if we are interested in finding it.

As Viktor Frankl said,

There are two races of men in this world, but only these two – the ‘race’ of the decent man and the ‘race’ of the indecent man.  Both are found everywhere; they penetrate into all groups of society.  No group consists entirely of decent or indecent people.  In this sense, no group is of ‘pure race’… (1)


Photograph – UNICEF – Daily life: Play #9
Pakistan, 2010: And play is especially important in times of crisis, helping restore a sense of normalcy. In Sukkur City, a boy somersaults into muddy water in a camp for people displaced by flooding. Play is essential to children’s physical, mental and emotional development. It teaches friendship, trust, and problem solving – and it’s fun! In all situations, UNICEF supports children’s right to play.
(1) Man’s Search for Meaning, p. 94