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Janessa Gans Wilder: Seeing The Other as Brother and Opening to Rivers of Possibility

Nuggets From Janessa Gans Wilder's Call

Last Saturday, we had the privilege of hosting the Awakin Call with Janessa Gans Wilder.

Janessa Gans Wilder is a former CIA officer turned peacebuilder. She discovered in the war zones of Iraq that eliminating the “enemy” did not lead to peace – nor did it solve the more immediate problem of counterinsurgency. One month after the Fallujah incident, she had an epiphany while looking out at the Euphrates River -- she drank in the utter stillness of the river, which also flowed under the Fallujah bridge. A question formed for her: "Which one will you choose?’ … I choose the river, I declared silently, almost instinctively, seeing that it was the more powerful force." Janessa’s epiphany inspired her to create the Euphrates Institute as a grassroots peacebuilding connector between East and West, helping to transform people from seeing the “other” as a “brother.”

We'll post the transcript of the call soon, but till then, some of the nuggets that stood out from the call ...

  • "My grandad, dad and brother were all in the military, so I got the idea early in life of both service, and travel. And I got the idea, as a young person, of America as a force for good in the world, and commitment to American values."
  • "I learned that the CIA helps us understand what is really going on in countries around the world. And how this could support America's role as a force for good. When I first joined the CIA I was very impressed with my colleagues -- their commitment, dedication and hard work. They were incredibly smart people."
  • "I was at Abu Ghraib. I had to question insurgents. It was the most horrible place. I was trying to do the best I could in whatever situation I was placed. But this was pointless. It was very dark. We weren't achieving anything. It was a low point for me."
  • "One day I was sitting by the Euphrates river. It was so calm. It was so beautiful. A question came to me: which picture will you choose? Death and destruction? Or a river of life? Both were in the same place at the same time."
  • "So I put my feet to the ground and said, I choose the river. I want to do something good for the Iraqis. I want to do something positive."
  • "Now I get to be part of this global community who are so willing to dedicate their lives to doing what they can to make a better world. The support we get and give from being part of a community together is so, so vital."
  • "This is what I used to feel as a young person in the community of American service people -- now I feel this in a global community."
  • "Everyone says they want peace, but compared to the resources that go to the war industry, the resources that go to peace making are so small."
  • "A wonderful examples of Iraqis I came to know who inspired me: a young Iraqi woman who was orphaned because of the war, and founded the Iraqi Youth Orchestra when she was 17 years old. Sunni, Shia, Christian, Kurdish kids from all over Iraq -- she brought them together to the orchestra to connect. The orchestra offered the hope that Iraqis from all over could be united. This one young woman was the anti-ISIS."
  • "If we're acting from oneness, of course the other is our brother."
  • "We need to understand this part of the world that we know so little about."
  • "In Islam, the outer door to a person is their heart, and the inner door is their mind. You need to go through the heart first."
Lots of gratitude to Janessa for being our guest this week, to Richard for moderating, and to all the behind-the-scenes volunteers that made this call happen!


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