Awakin Calls » Scilla Elworthy » Transcript
Scilla Elworthy: Wisdom in Action: Global Peace and a World that Works
Guest: Scilla Elworthy
Host: Alyssa Martin
Moderator: Aryae Coopersmith
Welcome to Awakin Calls. Every Saturday, we host a conversation with an individual whose inner journey inspires us and whose work is transforming our world in large and small ways. Awakin Calls are an all-volunteer run offering of Service Space, a global platform founded on the simple principle that that by changing ourselves, we change the world to create a more compassionate and service-oriented society. Thank you for joining us.
Alyssa: Aryae will now introduce our guest, Scilla Elworthy, and get the ball rolling on this conversation. Aryae?
Aryae: Great! Thanks, Alyssa. It's a real honor to be able to introduce Dr. Elworthy. But honestly, it's a bit of a challenge because she's done so much that I could spend the next hour and half just introducing her, but I'll just give a few highlights and then we'll get started.
Dr. Scilla Elworthy is a distinguished activist for peace who has worked around the world on peace-related issues for over 30 years. In 1982, she founded the Oxford Research Group dedicated to researching defense decision-making, and developing effective dialogue between nuclear weapons policy-makers and their critics. She met with scientists and nuclear weapons policy makers in all five nuclear powers of that time, of the US, Britain, France, the USSR and China. For this work, she was nominated three times for the Nobel Peace Prize and in 2003, she was awarded the Niwano Peace Prize from the distinguished Niwano Peace Foundation in Japan.
She founded Peace Direct in 2002 to fund, promote and learn from local peacebuilders in conflict areas and co-founded ‘Rising Women, Rising World’ in 2013, and FemmeQ in 2016. From 2005 to 2007, she helped set up the Elders Initiative and acted as an advisor to Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Richard Branson. Her book “Pioneering the possible: Awakened leadership for a world that works" was published in 2014 and received acclaim from experts around the world. And her latest book is, which was published last year is, “The Business Plan for Peace: Building a World without War” which digs deeper into shifting our global systems to build for peace. Scilla, thank you so much for joining us today and welcome!
Scilla: I'm delighted to be here with you.
Aryae: So, for the first question, here's what I want to ask you: You've been involved in so many ways, in so many places and on so many levels with peace initiatives in the world, that it's really hard to know where to begin. So let's start with the present. And if you look at the initiatives that you've started, that you've supported, that you're involved with today, what really has the most energy for you right now?
Scilla: What has most energy for me right now is the business plan for peace, because nobody's ever done that before and I was amazed that nobody had. Especially when I look back on 45 years working at the sort of top level of nuclear weapons policy-making, as well as the grassroots, with locally-led peace initiatives. I know enough. We all in the business know enough about how much it would cost to actually prevent war worldwide. And so that's what I did in this book. And just to give you a little bit of contrast, do you know what we spend on militarisation worldwide every year?
Aryae: I do not.
Scilla: Its 1686 billion dollars every year. Whereas it would only cost 2 billion to put into action the 25 tried and trusted methodologies that we know work to actually prevent war and armed conflict worldwide.
Aryae: Wow, that sounds like it could save what, about a trillion and half dollars, something like that?
Aryae: Wow, that's amazing. So say more about that. So how do you present that in your book as a business plan? What are some of the highlights that are involved?
Scilla: Well, I've put forward 25 tried and trusted strategies and costed each one over a period of 10 years, scaled up, to cover all the conflict areas of the world. And the cost is perfectly doable when you consider what we spend on militarisation today. So this has had an extraordinary reaction. I rather hoped I could write the book and then stop, and do my gardening but I can't! So we're taking forward now 9 of these initiatives immediately, because people have come forward and offered their skills, their partnership, in some cases their funding, to enable this to get underway, and it's incredibly exciting. I don't think I've ever been as excited about anything, as I am about this.
Aryae: Really. Wow! And you've been excited about a lot of things. So, just one more question about this. So what are some of the next steps that you see possibly unfolding with this?
Scilla: Well at the local level, we know from our experience with Peace Direct and other organizations that help locally-led peace initiatives, that they are really the most effective bang for the buck, if you like, in terms of stopping armed violence, before it escalates. So we're planning to fund another 120 of those initiatives worldwide, that we know are waiting for some kind of financial support. And we also offer them media support, so that those who are risking their lives in areas of hot conflict can feel a bit safer, if the western media knows about them. They're less likely to be assassinated.
And then we're also bringing forward initiatives to get more women at the negotiating tables for peace. Currently, there are only somewhere between 3.5 and 5% of those who sit around peace tables are feminine. And that is one of the reasons why peace agreements today tend to only last 5 years. Can you believe it? Whereas when more women are involved, those peace agreements last up to 15 years and more.
And there's a very good reason for that. And that's because women bring to the peace negotiations, the concerns of those most affected by war, namely orphans, the bereaved, the wounded, and of course, those suffering PTSD, who may have been serving in the armed forces. So all those people need to be, their needs need to be met, so that the conflict doesn't simply flare up again.
Aryae: That's fascinating -- what you're saying -- 5 years versus 15 years. So is that what -- you founded an organization called FemmeQ. Is that what FemmeQ is about?
Scilla: FemmeQ is partly about that. But FemmeQ is actually about something that I think would interest your community a lot, and that is that, in all the work that I've done, on initiating and supporting peace movements and peace activities, what we find is that it is vital for those who carry out this work, to have done a lot of inner work. In that, by that I mean self-reflection and looking at our own shadow sides, at our own anger and fear, because otherwise what we tend to do is project them out onto other people, so we argue and try to be in the right and all these things. Whereas if we've done some inner reflection, we're much more able to actually open our heart and listen to what the other person has to say. And good listening, good listening is one of the biggest and strongest peace-building skills.
Aryae: So why is that associated with FemmeQ?
Scilla: Well, women are particularly good listeners. Can you believe it?
Aryae: I believe it. (Laughs)
Scilla: And they tend to need less trainings as compared to their male counterparts and so we tend to find inner work in countries like Colombia, the Congo even Northwest Pakistan, and it's women who are leading the way. I'd love to simply tell you the story, if I may, of one of the people we work with.
Aryae: Yes, please do.
Scilla: Well she's an extraordinary young woman called Gulalai Ismail who lives in the Swat Valley in Northwest Pakistan, which is probably one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a woman. And when she was only 15, she started getting young girls into school with her colleague, Malala Yousafzai who you may remember got shot in the head for doing just that and then was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Now, completely undeterred, Gulalai carries on and now what she does, you won't believe this. She trains young men and women to go into the madrassas, the schools where some young men are being trained for Jihad and to go home with those young men to their families and discuss with the parents why the Quran would not approve of suicide bombing. And so far they have dissuaded over 203 potential suicide bombers from carrying out their assignment. So if that's not active peacebuilding, I don't know what it is.
Aryae: That is a beautiful story and I guess it's hard to even imagine how many lives that she has saved by doing that.
Scilla: Exactly. When you think of the number of people who could have been killed in those suicide bombings.
Aryae: So you've been working with Peace Direct now since 2002 and is this the kind of thing you do with Peace Direct, going into these local places and working on the local issues?
Scilla: Yes, what we do is we have what we call ‘ambassadors’ in nearly every conflict country and they help us to identify those locally-led peace initiatives that really work and produce results. When I say locally-led, what we found is that actually, it's local people who know what to do when there is an armed conflict brewing up in their area. Just as you know, we would know what to do in our own town. So, we decided to work with local people and what we do is provide them with very small amounts of money, but mainly enable them to build their skills. So for example with those that we work with in Congo, we enabled them to get together with other initiatives and teach each other there what they found that works. And this is really what they need and what they value and what they asked for and they thrive on it. Actually getting together once every six months or a year and swapping stories and encouraging each other, so that they don't feel so alone and out on a limb.
Aryae: That is terrific and that is so exciting. I want to sort of switch over, if I may, to another topic that you mentioned and that is that you have dealt at a senior government level with nuclear policymakers and defence strategists and scientists from different countries. And you worked with those kinds of people in all five major nuclear powers. Can you tell us a little bit about how you got started way back when doing that work?
Scilla: Yeah, well it actually all started in New York. I was working at the UN and helping to host non-governmental organizations at a big UN conference on nuclear disarmament and it went on for two weeks and achieved very little, and I was despondent at the end of it, because we all had such great hopes. And I was strap-hanging on a tram on Broadway and suddenly I had this flash that came into my head that says you're talking to the wrong people. The people at the UN can't do that. You have to go and find out who actually makes decisions on nuclear weapons. I thought to myself well, who is that? And I figured out it must be the people who actually design the warheads, the people who strategize with nuclear weapons, that people who provide the intelligence which appears to make the weapons necessary, the people who signs the checks, the people who build the missiles and the submarines that carry the weapons and finally the politicians who sanction these weapons. And so I stopped what I was doing and came home and set up a research group to find the answer to these questions around my kitchen table, literally three of us on my kitchen table.
Aryae: Amazing and what an amazing shift in consciousness from talking to the politicians to talking to the strategists and the scientists.
Scilla: Yes, exactly. Well, it took a long while to figure out how the whole system worked. It took us four years to write, and produce and publish, with a very good publisher, our first book, that was called ‘How nuclear weapons decisions are made’ and that had wiring diagrams. That means diagram showing how each of the organizations like Los Alamos interacts with the military, and how the military interacts with the intelligence people, and so on and so forth. So we were the first people ever to find out how the whole system worked and funnily enough, later when I was visiting some of the militaries in their offices, I would see a copy of my book on their bookshelves.
Aryae: You must be kidding!
Scilla: And I would ask them to take it down and it was a very well-thumbed copy because it was the only source of information they had really. But then we set out on the very difficult and challenging quest to actually engage in dialogue with these individuals and that took a lot of time and a lot of inner work. I had to overcome, what was driving me at that time, which was mainly fear and anger.
I was very angry about the dangers to which we were being exposed and fearful for my children and stepchildren, and so I had to deal with that. And it helped a lot when I learned to meditate and I became a Quaker, and it was a long, long quest to actually address these personal issues and it was only when I’d done that, that I was really able to make contact with some of these individual policymakers.
I started with the British as it was easier to access them and I interviewed them at great length for my doctorate. I did a doctorate then and the interviews were really to ask them why did they do the job they did. And for 12 out of 13 of them, it was a feeling of being threatened and I was so fascinated. I drew cognitive maps of how they thought and then went back and showed them these maps. So we ended up having about four hours or so of discussion, and that let them to trust me enough that they would be brave enough to come to a meeting where they could talk to their opposite numbers from other countries.
Aryae: So when you say that they were motivated by feeling threatened, threatened by what or threatened by whom?
Scilla: Well, it was very interesting. They weren't all clear. It was just a general feeling that there is an enemy out there. And interestingly the first set of interviews I did was before the Cold War came to an end, when the Berlin Wall came down. And then I did the same interviews after the Berlin Wall came down and the threat didn't change. Very interesting. So when the enemy we thought we knew -- the Soviet Union, was not the enemy anymore, we still needed to find a threat.
Aryae: That's fascinating!
Scilla: And in a way, it was understanding this motivation that enabled us to make a safe-enough environment for individual policymakers to come actually to a Quaker Retreat Center just outside Oxford where I lived and meet their opposite numbers and we did this all well below the radar. So no press, no communications and you would never have heard about it.
Aryae: Now when you say their opposite numbers, who specifically was involved?
Scilla: Well, for example, the head of Warhead design from Los Alamos in the United States would be meeting, in fact, at a later meeting would be meeting his opposite number from the Soviet Union. Eventually through a series of very fortunate coincidences, I was able to develop a relationship with the Chinese and to take delegations of British Military and Military from Germany and France to China including some Americans to meet the Chinese nuclear policymakers. I couldn't quite believe what access we were granted -- astonished everybody, I think.
Aryae: I think that's amazing. You know, when you and I were talking earlier, this question occurred to me that I want to ask again in this format is, why would the people who were entrusted with what I imagine as some of the most important secrets of each country, choose to meet with each other? And also how did the security clearances work, sort of a related question. It's a fascinating thing.
Scilla: Well, yes, first of all, we didn't ask them to talk about their hands-on responsibilities. What we ask them to do for example was to investigate the problem of the proliferation of nuclear weapons. In other words, the amounts of plutonium and uranium that were freely being moved around the world and they were very interested in doing that. So that's where we started and once they sort of gained confidence in each other, we were able to help design the basis for future formal treaties to be developed. So we didn't ask anybody to divulge their personal codes or responsibilities and so forth and so, therefore the clearance for them was easier, I think.
Aryae: That makes sense. So you were really choosing a common problem that presumably all five countries would have in common which is to prevent nuclear proliferation.
Scilla: Yes, exactly. That was what -- that was what we started with.
Aryae: So there's there's one incident that we shared about that I think this would be a good time to bring up, so much of what your work is about and what you've already brought up in our conversation is the power of doing the inner work in order to have the effectiveness of the outer work and you spoken of meditation, and I'm wondering if you can share with us this amazing story about the meditators and their effect on this nuclear discussion process?
Scilla: Well, I'm happy to do that. As I said, I learned to meditate and got to know some very much more profound meditators than I was, and I realized the power of inner work and meditation in all our lives at the time. And so I asked five very well-versed, well-qualified meditators, if they would come and sit in a library, which was underneath the meeting room, where we were all together and meditate for two and half days while we had these discussions and they agreed. And I called them the ‘Standing stones’, like the standing stone circle, and I didn't know what the effect was tangibly. Until on the second day of the first meeting when we did this, your representative from the state department came to me and he said to me, “Scilla, this is a very special room!” He was describing the vaulted, beautiful room in which we were meeting above the library. And I said, “Yes, it was built in 1360 and is very, very special.” And he said, “No, no, no, it's very special.” And I said, “Yes, well people have been doing yoga here and communicating and listening to one another for many years.” And he said, “No, there's something coming up through the floorboards.”
And I said, “Yes, there is, do you want to know what it is?” And he said, “Yes, yes.” So I told him and he went white. And I said, “Well, if you don't believe me, ask the people who serve you your lunch, the older people. It's them who are doing it.” So he went to lunch and he came back and he just smiled at me and made a little salute and he had understood what was going on, and I can't tell you how strong this influence of meditative support was for all the work that we did from then on.
Aryae: That is an amazing story. I think so many of us think the thoughts about changing ourselves and changing the world, but to hear it in such a concrete fashion is just super reinforcing of all that.
Scilla: Thank you.
Aryae: Yeah, so speaking about the inner work, in your book, ‘Pioneering the possible,’ Chapter 7, where you really focus on that and you offer 13 signposts and there are things like listening to self, developing a practice, using conflict as an opportunity, doing nothing, going into the shadow, learning how to serve. I realize there's there's a lot there to talk about, but I'm curious anything you might want to say about any of those signposts? And how you have learned that they can be part of a self-transformation process that makes us more effective out in the world?
Scilla: Well, I do think it's a step by step process and everybody's way of doing it will be different. But so what I've done is just to sketch out the kind of things that have been useful to me and to my colleagues and, I think it's it's very important to have a group of colleagues around you when you're doing difficult work like this, and we find that when we meditate together or simply spend time quietly even gardening together, it's very sustaining and it gives us the courage to go back in there, when things don't work. And inevitably, there are always setbacks, and if it wasn't for my colleagues who understood this, I don't think we could have done what we did because we supported each other so much. I think that's really, really vital.
Aryae: Yeah, the key is having colleagues, but this isn't something that most of us could possibly do on our own, I think is what you're saying?
Scilla: That's right. Another key thing is learning to listen. What we found in the meetings of people who basically disagreed with each other fundamentally, we found that if we could ask individuals to work in pairs and actually, listen to each other without interrupting for five minutes, and then feedback to that person what they'd heard, that was so useful, so respectful, that it broke the interaction that normally exists in an argument. Which says I'm right and you're wrong and both people are saying that.
Whereas if we listen to the other person carefully, so carefully that we can feed back to them what they said, they begin to feel listened to and that shifts the attention from the brain that says, I'm right and you're wrong to the heart that says, oh my goodness is that how I feel. And that's, that's invaluable. I teach that to Corporate Executives and they are amazed at how it resolves. One group of very senior corporate executives for the biggest luxury goods chain in the world, I was teaching the 21 Global presidents and they said that what I taught them, in this respect, enabled them to resolve in 15 minutes what would have taken four hours, and still be not resolved. (Laughs)
Aryae: Isn't that amazing? It sounds like part of the business plan for peace.
Scilla: It is actually, it is, indeed.
Aryae: Wonderful. Well, you know, there are a couple more things on your list that I'm curious in hearing you say a little something about, and one is using conflict as an opportunity. How does that work?
Scilla: Well, I think most of us view conflict as a problem. It's scary. It's scary to be in conflict with somebody, and we tend to run away from it, or hope it will go away. Whereas what I found is that if we walk towards what most scares us, that is the way to transform it. It does take courage. It does take courage. But if instead of avoiding or ducking, if we are willing to just, to walk towards and accept and really look deeply into what this conflict is about, and our feelings about it, that is often half the battle.
Aryae: So do you mean that in an inner way like examining what I am frightened of, or do you mean it in an outer way -- walk into a conflict area, or actually both?
Scilla: Actually both but it's good to practice on one's own. For example, if my inner critic, do you have an inner critic, Aryae? Most people do.
Aryae: Oh, yeah. (Laughs) .
Scilla: Okay. Well, you know that inner critic sits on your shoulder and mutters at you or wakes you up in the middle of the night, well when I get one of those waking me up at 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning, and I toss and turn for half an hour and try to go back to sleep and it doesn't work. What I do is I get up and I make a cup of tea, because I'm British and the British do that. And then I sit and I literally put two cushions and I say to my inner critic, I see it as a dragon actually, I say to the dragon -- why did you wake me up at three o'clock in the morning? And then I actually go and sit on the other cushion and speak in the dragon’s voice. And you wouldn't think you could do that, but actually it's exactly what happens and then the dragon will say something like well you haven't prepared for your talk tomorrow and you're going to fall flat on your face and you can't do this and how you could do much better and so on and so forth. And so then I go back to my cushion and I say that is not very helpful. What is it that you really want me to know, because I know that the dragon does fundamentally want to help me, and then I go back to the dragon's place and he says well, you know, I suggest you should do more research and find out what you need to say about XYZ. And so I come back to my feet, and then I say, okay. And what do you think is the essential piece that I need to say, and blow me down, the dragon knows exactly what it is that I should be saying in my talk the next day. I always find that process helps me to resolve my inner conflicts, which often take up, as we know, so much psychic energy.
Aryae: That's a beautiful example. I love the dragon. So I'm thinking about these nuclear policy makers from the different countries that you brought together. Besides becoming more comfortable with each other and talking to each other, did you see any changes, personal changes, in them, and in how they were, or how they looked at the world, and what were they?
Scilla: Oh, absolutely. First of all, they were willing to not just physically take their jackets off, but take off the huge responsibility that they had on their shoulders for the time of our conversations. Because each policymaker has a big responsibility, and it's hard for them to take that off. And when they do, it allows them to think much more freely. Many of them became friends not only with each other, but with our team. I remember when we were in China once, after I think it was 10 days of discussions -- I took with me a British General, an Air Vice-Marshal, head of the Air Force, a German head of Military Intelligence, an Admiral and various other people from the Ministry of Defense -- and they ended up showing pictures of their families to their Chinese counterparts! It amazed me, and the Chinese counterparts responding. I was astonished that this could happen, but it did.
Aryae: Wow, wonderful example. So they were also changing themselves and changing the world, in that way, that it was happening, then?
Scilla: Yeah, they were amazed by the process and have said to me since that it was one of the most extraordinary experiences they’ve ever had.
Aryae: Oh, that's wonderful. Okay, so I want to turn to maybe a darker side of all this. I understand from reading a little bit about your work that being a peacemaker isn't necessarily always sweetness and light. You've been at the receiving end of some pretty fierce disapproval, both from the British establishment, which banned your Oxford research group, and also acts by private individuals. Can you tell us a little about what happened? Why you think they found you so threatening, and how did you find the strength to keep on going?
Scilla: Well, I think it was natural for them to find us threatening because what we seemed to be doing was opening up the whole process of nuclear weapons policy making when traditionally, in our country at any rate, it's been very secretive. I think it's true in all the nuclear nations. (Aryae: Oh, yeah) For example, in those days there was no debate allowed on whether or not we should have a new Trident Submarine Fleet. It was just announced in Parliament by the Prime Minister and that was that. There was no democratic debate at all.
One of the reasons I started doing all this is because I wanted to make the process accountable. People could understand it and ask questions about it. And of course that was challenging to the establishment. Particularly, in those days when it was very difficult to find things out -- there was no internet in the 80s when we started, so we had to piece things together and ask people. But we were always very open about what we were doing.
At one point, the Ministry of Defence took a dislike to a book that we published. And that was the reason for them to ban us. And so I went to see the Permanent Under Secretary of Ministry of Defence. That is the highest civil servant, or official you would call them, in the Ministry of Defence. And asked him, why he had done this. And when we were able to discuss it, and he can see me as a person, not as a threat; they lifted the ban. But all these things require a perseverance and patience and certain amount of courage. And a very supportive partner. Who picked me up, off the floor when I was devastated, and discouraged and exhausted. And made me chicken soup, to keep me going. (Laughter).
Aryae: Ah. That’s great. And what about the responses of some individuals, who took aggressive action against you, I understand?
Scilla: I don't know.. I mean..in the very early days, my tyres were slashed. I was very lucky actually. I went to the garage to get some petrol. And the garage attendant said, “Do you know that your tyres have been cut?” And I said no. And he said, “Yeah, right around the inside, with a razor blade. And if you had gone over sixty miles an hour, your tyres would blow.” And I said, “Well you better change them please!” (Laughter). And it was things like that. But who knows, I mean. There was no point in getting too uptight about it. Just carry on.
And a lot of the people that I work with now, all over the world, are facing, far far far bigger daily threats, than I could ever imagine. My colleague in the Congo, for example. He used to be a child soldier. He had been captured by the militia, and made to kill people at a very -- I think he was thirteen when he was captured. And he managed to escape, by running...he walked three days through the bush and ended up, at I think a church centre, for the resolution of conflict. And they trained him. And he decided to devote the rest of his life to freeing other child soldiers. At least that is what I heard about him.
When we send him a small amount of money, say like a hundred dollars, he gets on his motorbike and he rides into the bush. And he buys a herd of goats. And he herds the goats to where the militia are hiding. And that in itself is taking his life in his hands. Because the militia don't like intruders. And they are high on drugs and they are trigger-happy. But he knows how to talk to them. And he bargains one goat for one child. And the goat cost five dollars. And he brings the children home to their families. Girls and boys. Terrified and then the problems and challenges arise of how to, how to de-traumatise those children.They have been made sex slaves. Or they have been made to kill their own relatives. To show that they were brave. Its horrific what people are facing.
Aryae: Wow! So you are saying whatever opposition, difficulties -- whatever you faced is very little in comparison to what all these people, such as this young man are facing. What gives them the courage? Why do that they risk their lives about this? What is their energy source?
Scilla: Good question! I think it comes from different things. I think for some people, it is their religion. He is a Christian, this guy. He treats it as his mission, his duty. Having been freed himself. And for some it is just pure passion, I think. In case of Gulalai in Pakistan. She does this because she cares so much about people not being blown up. And this is what she feels she can do. People are extraordinarily brave, you know. We just don't hear these stories enough. What I love most of all, would be for the media to really, print or film or write about some of these incredible people. Because most of what we see on the media daily, is bad news. And frightening news. And depressing news. While there are these amazing stories of what people are doing. Which are so inspiring.
Aryae: That’s one of the things that I believe, that you mentioned in your book. That if there could be more films, and visual stories presented of these people, and made available to everyone -- that could have a big difference.
Scilla: Yes it certainly could. You know, I would love your public broadcasting, or one of your networks, to take this up as a series. And we could provide them with access to the people we work with, in different parts of the world. And they could go and interview them. And film their stories. And that would be amazing. I would really like that.
Aryae: What a wonderful idea. Maybe one of us can have some connections at PBS! (Laughter). Look, I am just going to ask you one final question and then I will turn it over to Alyssa for some further discussions with other members in the community.
I want to go back to that famous story. When you were thirteen years old. (Laughter). And you are watching your black and white TV set. And you see the Soviets tanks rolling into Budapest in the 1956 Hungarian revolution. And you tell your mother - you tell her what you want to do about that. Can you share that story with us?
Scilla: Yes .. the grainy old black and white TV was showing these kids my age, being mowed down by tanks and I was so upset and angry. I rushed upstairs and started packing my suitcase. And my mom came up and said what are doing. I said I am going to Budapest. I did not have a clue where Budapest was. And she said what for? And I said there is something terrible happening there. And told her.
She said don't be so silly. And I burst into tears. And bless her -- she got it, she understood. How much it meant to me. And so she said, well, you listen, you are too young - I was only thirteen - too young to be any use. If you just unpack your suitcase, I will see to it that you get trained. And she did. She set me off to work in a home for people who have been in concentration camps, during the war. And I spent a whole summer peeling potatoes. Listening to them tell their stories about what had happened. And then I went to work in an orphanage in Algiers, at the end of the Algerian civil war. And then also cared for Vietnamese refugees coming from the Vietnam war to France. And so on. So I got myself sort of trained, with her support. And she was a wonderful mother. Because she never doubted me. She never said that is too dangerous. Or you can't do that. She always trusted me to get out of a tight corner.
Aryae: What a wonderful, wise mother indeed. And the rest is history. (Laughter). So Scilla, I am going to ask Alyssa to come in and take over from here.
Alyssa: Thank you both for what's been a really wonderful conversation, that I'm excited to move now to the question and answer portion. I just wanted to remind people that the queue is open and so at any point you'd like to ask a question feel free to hit *6 on your phone and you will be prompted when it's your turn to speak. You can also email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or submit a question via our webcast forum if you are listening online and we will go ahead and turn it over to those questions.
Before we do that though, Scilla, if you don't mind. I had a question myself in listening that wonderful conversation. One of the things that struck me is that it obviously seems that the inner work of peace is incredibly important. I can imagine that there might be some policy makers and people out there that are so focused on this sort of external intervention on sort of the outer work that maybe they don't fully appreciate or don't see the point as much on focusing on some of the inner interventions that you have discussed, so I was kind of curious as to what do you say to that and how do you deal with these sorts of situations?
Scilla: I think for a lot of people in public positions, especially those who are very senior, they got where they got to perhaps without doing any inner work. It's up to us who want to approach them, persuade them or develop a conversation with them, it's up to us to do that inner work -- at least so we are conscious a bit of our own motivation, our own drive, and what's propelling us. You see, if I try and open a discussion or a dialogue with somebody and I am very angry, it's going to show, to come across. Those people aren't gonna want to listen to me at all. So, I need to deal with that first. Does that make sense, Alyssa?
Alyssa: Yes, it does and you are putting it back on me because the point is you can't really focus on what other people's inner journey is. At the end of the day, you have to focus on your own and there is still a lot to unpack there, if I'm understanding correctly. A lot of it depends on inner work and stillness and being able to engage in those discussions with others.
Scilla: Yes, and I think it's such a worthwhile journey because that way we learn so much and we make so much more progress. We become much bigger people, much more competent, much more able and less inhibited by our misgivings or inner critique that we were just talking about, and so on.
Alyssa: Wonderful. Well, we have questions coming from our online forum and also we have some people starting on the Q&A. I'm gonna turn to the Q&A at this point and I will also turn to some of the online questions that have been submitted. The Q&A is now open and there is someone on it.
Question 1 (Paul): My question for Scilla relates to the Middle East and what's happening to the Palestinians, and world peace, and the sad situation is Sudan and the rest of the world. What's being done that you are aware of, where you were participating? Thank you.
Scilla: Thank you. That's Paul, your name. Right? Um, I um. I've been many times to Palestine, and Israel as well and work with people in Ramallah and also in Jerusalem and mainly with women, who...My very good friend there, is the founder, the leader of one of the main Democratic parties in Palestine, Zahira Kamal, and we work together on these issues, mainly with women, and they are, they're up against such difficult conditions. It's heartbreaking, heartbreaking for everybody, I think, in the Middle East at the moment.
And when we saw what was happening in Syria, it was...the lack of insight and understanding on the part of our leaders was just saddening. So, um, I think you were also asking about South Sudan. Peace Direct, my organization has a number of initiatives in South Sudan and is helping to build a very, very fragile, on and off peace talks there, which are incredibly challenging. But um, I'm not an expert on South Sudan, but if you look on the website of Peace Direct, that’s just www.peacedirect.org, and then look for South Sudan, you'll find out what we're doing there. I hope that helps to provide the information. Thank you.
Alyssa: Thank you so much. And we now have a couple of reflections that were submitted to us via the web chat. And if you don't mind I would like to go ahead and share that with you. It is, so bear with me, because I think they're both, a couple of reflections that are in some ways, sort of, in the same spirit and so I'd like to share both of these and we can then discuss them. So, here is a reflection from William: “At the age of 53, when I was recovering from heart surgery, I was confronted by two bullies. I was swimming laps in a pool in my apartment complex. Two youngish men, 28 to 35 positioned themselves on either end of the pool and the lane I was swimming in. When I arrived at the end of the lane, face-to-face with one of the men, I stood up. I'm not sure what possessed me that I simply looked in the eyes and said, this is not you, you don't really want to do this, do you? He looked quite startled and slowly got up and walked away. His buddy followed him. In the moment while I had some fear about how things might unfold, I simply realized how infantile their behavior was. And also how unlikely that they were really acting how they wanted to be in their highest self. That awareness allowed me to sort of speak on behalf of their higher selves. Apparently. I was right, they didn't really want to behave that way.”
Alyssa: Yes, beautiful. Wonderful story.
Scilla: Wonderful. Thank you, William
Alyssa: And David Doane also shared in a somewhat similar light. He says you deal with a bully by speaking truth to the bully, by speaking firmly, directly, and honestly without becoming angry or violent. In response to violence and oppression, I have become angry and mean and I don't recommend it because in the process I was just like them. I added fuel to the fire and contributed to the increase of violence and felt sad and upset. And so, following up on these...
Scilla: That's a wonderful reflection. That's so, so true. And I'm really grateful to that caller for having spelled that out. David, thank you for spelling that out. It's really, really helpful. So sorry Alyssa, I interrupted you.
Alyssa: No, no, not at all, I think both of those are quite beautiful, as you have noted and you know, I think one of the things that they touch upon is, it's quite easy, um, you know when faced with violence, um, you know, faced with a bully to sort of respond in kind and so speaking to that phenomenon and the ways that we can address that, and I know you've already touched on that throughout.
Scilla: Well, anger never works with a bully because what bullies understand is the use of force and so being angry with them cannot work. The responses that David and William have described are very good model responses for how you deal with it effectively. So, thank you.
Alyssa: Thank you. Now. We have a question from Wendy, who I believe may be on the line, Wendy, can you, are you there?
Caller (Wendy): Yes, I'm here. And thank you, Scilla, for your wonderful work, your stories that you've told to us. I'm curious. I'm very intrigued of course by the focus on women in your organization's take and I'm wondering what kind of actions do the women in these environments of conflict, what kind of actions do they take? And what kind of support do they give each other as well, and as what kind of support do the men give the women?
Scilla: Um, sometimes the men oppose them! In fact Gulalai Ismail, who I described in Northwest Pakistan, is very much supported by her father. He totally believes in her and her sister, they both do this work. But, the men, the elders of the community are very disapproving, and in fact, armed masked men have been found waiting for her, when she comes home from a trip and her dad phones her at the airport and says don't come home. So yeah, her life is under threat all the time for doing this kind of work.
I think she's very much supported by other women, but in that particular culture, they may not be able to show it very much because, you know, it's extremely daring to do what she's doing. But in other places, women are so in solidarity. For example, we've been trying to get more women at the peace negotiation tables that I was talking about, and in a number of countries, women have been so supportive, collecting and sending in the biographies or CV's of suitably qualified women so that they can be put forward to take part in peace negotiations. So there's a lot of support taking place, now more than ever, I would say.
Caller (Wendy) It sounds like then there are also young girls who are being mentored by women who have come together and to make peace.
Scilla: Definitely, that's the way it works. And I think everybody was very impressed by the spokeswomen, the young spokeswoman, on behalf of the students at the high school that had the shooting. We all saw it, all around the world what that, I think her name was Emma, that young woman, stood up and said, and what a model she was for holding the space and without violence, just encouraging all students around the country to, ask for gun control to be introduced. We marveled at that.
Caller (Wendy): Are there are some methods of inner work that you find women are doing in this process that might be different than men in terms of their inner work?
Scilla: Not really distinctly. I do notice that women form circles and there seems to be circles of women spurting out everywhere at the moment, women getting together to pool their ideas and support each other and so forth. I think women do that perhaps more naturally. Um, but there are also wonderful groups of men in this country, in the UK, who are, for example, organizing themselves to meet up with young men who are released from prison, who don't have a job and don't have a future, and these grown men support these younger men to improve their skills, to gain self knowledge and to be able to get themselves a job and so forth. And it really is very tangible support by men for younger men, and I deeply appreciate that.
Caller (Wendy): Thank you. This is very inspiring.
Scilla: Good. I'm so glad!
Alyssa: We also have a question from Gayathri in India. She asks: "Your story how of how you overcame threats and the time the garage attendant pointed out that your tires have been slashed, almost sounds like you have been divinely protected and guided. Do you feel that that's true? What is your conception of the divine? And do you have any advice on how we can align ourselves better with, and listen to that intuition/divine heart/wisdom, whatever one would call it?”
Scilla: Well, um, I do believe very much, in a higher intelligence. I cannot but see it all around me, in nature, in the way the abundance of nature comes about in each season in different ways. So I've no doubt that there is a higher intelligence, and I call on it myself in the form of a Chinese goddess of compassion called Kwan-Yin. And she's been my invisible mentor for many, many years.
When I moved into my present house, where I'm speaking to you from, 20 years ago, out of that empty cupboard rolled a poster, and it was this picture of a woman in white, very poised, riding on the back of a huge red dragon who was churning his way through a stormy sea. And this was her and she was pouring compassion out of a bottle into the sea of compassion. And I was just so struck by this balance of the divine feminine with the divine masculine in the form of this strong, powerful, red dragon, that I've kept that with me, all the way through. In fact, I'm looking at it now and when I teach sessions on the feminine divine, I've made postcards of that poster, and I give them out to all the participants, so they can see what I'm talking about. You can Google her if you like -- you may be able to find her on the internet.
Alyssa: Wow, that's adorable. No, that's amazing. And I would love to, after this is done, I may try and circulate that image, so we can all see what you are seeing.
Scilla: I'll send the image to you when we finish the call.
Alyssa: Thank you so much. That is absolutely wonderful. The dragon now seems to be a recurring image, which is just fascinating.
Scilla: It is, definitely.
Alyssa: We had a question from someone, we have another question from Gayathri actually, which also seems to be very timely: “Do you feel there is much hope for the denuclearisation of the world? And what do you think of the world today, seeing as the political leaders of the nuclear powers do not seem like very wise or steady leaders, and these feel like worrying times to live in?”
Scilla: Yes. I agree with the caller. The occupants of the White House and the capital of North Korea are not very mature people, to put it mildly, and I believe that...I don't feel depressed about this because I believe it's such a wake-up call for us all. It's time for us to really value the freedoms we have in the West and to get off our butts and get into action. Now is the time, if there ever was a time, because after all, we are the most privileged three percent of the world in terms of wealth and having a roof over our heads and enough to eat and nobody's shooting at us. So, if not us, who? And if not now, when? So I believe it's absolutely an opportunity that's being shown to us by Mr. Trump and others who appear to be such buffoons. I don't know if you use that word in America...?
Alyssa: (chuckles) Yes, we do!
Scilla: You know, very childish and it's time that we put, make sure that adult, mature people especially, I believe in the States, many more women are applying to be representatives in your Congress and that's very, very good news.
So, I think this is an opportunity. I don't think we should be depressed about it. I think we just need to get into action, whatever your preferred course of action is. And actually in the latest book that I've written, this one called the Business Plan for Peace, which you can find on my website. If you just go on my website, just my name. Scilla Elworthy, you can order a book or an e-copy, if you want it. The whole of the last part of the book is full of suggestions of what people can do -- 35 suggestions of what any of us can do in our own locality, like, you know, in our child's nursery school or in the community, or at work, in the workplace. So there's loads of ideas now on what people have done and what works and what doesn't. So I really hope it's helpful.
Alyssa: Wonderful. Thank you! Actually following up on that thought because it's very important the sort of ‘what can we do’, because I think maybe there's potentially a misconception that the work of peace is only, you know something that happens in the echelons of government or something like that, but it sounds, based on what I'm hearing from you and from your work it's you know, there's a very important local and personal component to it. It's not just we have to wait on policymakers to do XY and Z.
Scilla: Exactly. I couldn't agree with you more. In fact, I think that now is the time for what you might call the bottom-up approach. When I look out across everything that I know of the world, the real action is coming from the grassroots. And it's almost like green shoots coming up through concrete! Whereas our leaders appear to be stuck in the same old, same old, non-understanding of the problems, and inaction, so the real action is coming from below and locally and so I encourage everybody to get into, to begin locally and see what you can do. Particularly young people really want to know now what they can do so that they don't get hopeless and depressed.
Alyssa: Do you mind maybe just giving us like, one or two examples of something that we could just do on our own, or do locally?
Scilla: Yeah, sure. For example, a neighbor of mine had a child at the local nursery school and she was very worried because there was a lot of bullying going on and a lot of very noisy children and she went to the head teacher and said, "Would you mind if as an experiment, I came in and offered the children 10 minutes quiet at the beginning of the day?" and the teacher said, “Yeah, help yourself, if you want to,” and so she came in and she started this. She did it beautifully and very engagingly and after a week, the kids were actually loving being quiet for six or seven minutes at the beginning of each day, and so it gradually spread throughout the school. And that's the kind of thing that really any of us can do is to help our schools to become more peaceful places.
Another thing that young people can do is to boycott the kind of celebrity lists that are really so tiring and boring. Celebrity culture is so empty! By suggesting to the local media, local newspaper or TV show whatever, that they feature a list of those who make the biggest contribution to the community. For example, listing those kids who organized pickups for people who need transport, those kids who've done little cleanups or managed to unclog the local river or waterway. And it's amazing what people do, but unless we really applaud them, that won't increase. So we need to replace the rich lists of this world or the celebrity lists of this world with people who are really contributing to making everybody's life better.
Alyssa: Well, thank you so much. And I think before we close the call we would like, we like to close with one final question for you. So thank you so much for the time. But our final question for you is how can we, as the larger ServiceSpace community, support your work?
Scilla: Oh, what a lovely question. Oh, so many things. First of all, have a look at the book and there are 25 initiatives that that I'm proposing and if one of them appeals to any of your participants, any of your listeners, please get in touch through my website. Just my name will get you on my website and let me know what you could offer. It might be your skill. It might be your partnership. If you have an organization or what we're most in need of, at the moment, is funds. So if there's one initiative that we are taking and you'd like to support it, please let me know and I'll explain to you how you can do that. We'd really welcome that kind of support. So, I can imagine there are people out there listening who have immense skills and experience and we'd like to use that, if we can. Thank you.
Alyssa: Wonderful. Well, thank you so much so much. Thank you, Aryae. Thank you everyone who was involved in this call and for all of the invisible work that goes into making these calls happen. I think it's been an incredible discussion with so many insights and the things, so many things that struck me, among them being how much peace is a very realizable goal. You know, I wasn't really aware of that. You know, just by spending some of the just of small chunk of the money we'd spend on militarization, on peace building, we could really prevent war in a very realizable way. That's a really important point.
And the other thing that stood out to me is how much peace is an inside job and all of us, I'm sure could do a lot of work to advance the inner work of peace, and address the fear and anger that plague a lot of us. And ultimately it's, you know, peace is not just a top-down job, it's really a bottom-up job. They're a little concrete things that we can be doing now, some of those touched upon and we will circulate a link to her website and encourage everyone to look at those initiatives and to also contact Scilla. She mentioned if there's a way we can have some really wonderful partnerships here. And so, thank you everyone so much for joining and we'd like to close, I would like to invite everyone to hold a collective minute of silence and gratitude for this wonderful conversation. So, we'll go ahead and do that.
Scilla: And thank you Alyssa and all your colleagues in ServiceSpace for making this possible. Thank you very much.
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