Stories & practices that empower real change

TRANSCRIPT Scilla Elworthy: Part 2 – Developing Peacemakers

in dialogue with Walter Link

To watch the full episode, click HERE.

 

Scilla Elworthy

Respect is the antidote to humiliation, and humiliation is, as you rightly said, the driver of most conflicts.

 

Very active listening in that way, in a way, maximizes energy because the person – your personality as the listener or your ego isn’t getting in the way. As you say, allowing this energy to pass through. A greater intelligence can then operate then anything that’s in here.

 

Walter Link

Welcome to GlobalLeadership.TV, my name is Walter Link. I’ve always been fascinated by the question of how we move from our many challenges into our full potential as individuals, organizations, and whole societies. In this television series, I inquire with some of the most innovative leaders from around the world about how they manage to move from inspiration to real change. Please join us in this exploration because we all make a difference and we all can get better at it. Therefore, on our website, we not only show other dialogues and publications, but also the kind of practices that these leaders and their organizations used to move from inspiration to real change.

For Parts 1 and 2 of our dialog, I travelled to meet Scilla Elworthy at her home in the English countryside near Oxford. Scilla is one of the pioneers of modern peacemaking, and has been nominated three times for the Nobel Peace Prize. She founded the Oxford Research Group that conducted ground-breaking research and facilitated innovative dialogues among nuclear weapons experts. Scilla also founded Peace Direct to fund, promote, and learn from local peace-builders in conflict areas. Her many books include: How Nuclear Weapons Decisions are Made; Tools for Peace; Soul Power; and Making Terrorism History. Scilla and I became friends when she joined the Global Leadership Network that I co-founded with social innovation and leadership experts from around the world. Please join us for Part 2 of our dialogue in which we explore the heart of peace.

What would you say are the qualities, the human qualities that allow people to be effective peace builders? And how do you cultivate them?

 

Scilla Elworthy

I think probably the two beginning with C, compassion and courage, are the uppermost because you need that blend of the heart that opens to the plight of somebody else. And again, courage and the word courage comes from the heart, the coeur. And that the courage is there to fuel that person to take action. I think it’s those two, primarily. But it’s also a sense of oneness. Desmond Tutu would call it Ubuntu. It’s a phrase very well known in southern Africa. Ubuntu is a feeling of belonging, it’s: I am because you are. And, therefore, what’s happening to you is happening to me. And if there’s something I can do to make your life less painful it’s my job to do it.

 

Walter Link

And it’s also a term that is very much ingrained in the tradition, in the traditional justice system and the traditional peace-building system of the tribal civilization.

 

Scilla Elworthy

Yeah, exactly.

 

Walter Link

Say more about that because I think it was on this very profound tradition that the peacemaking processes in South Africa, which is now being also repeated in other places, has been built. And I think we often just think of that high media attention process, but not back to the tradition out of which it grows.

 

Scilla Elworthy

Yeah. Well, you’re absolutely right. It’s a centuries-old tradition. And I don’t think it’s even tribal. I think it’s just all across southern Africa and East Africa as well is this notion of Ubuntu. And it’s deeply ingrained. In an article in a newspaper, Desmond Tutu said that in a community a man can be as rich as you like. But if he doesn’t possess Ubuntu, he’s not respected. Whereas a very poor person who would nevertheless offer their life for someone else or give you their last piece of food, that person has Ubuntu and is to be respected. It’s really what we would call a respect for integrity and the worth of the individual no matter how much money they might have.

 

Walter Link

So we have, on the one hand, integrity and compassion and courage and both rational and emotional intelligence that are key qualities for peacemaking. And I think another one that’s also key is respect because, in my understanding, conflicts on all levels, from conflict in a personal relationship to conflict within and between nations, the loss or the lack of respect is a tremendous wound to the human heart to which it reacts very violently.

And yet there is so much structural violence and structural humiliation built into the systems from the political systems between nations and ethnicities in nations to also the economic systems that force people into particular positions that feel humiliating to them. And then out of this humiliation comes often a violent response. You’ve written about that in your book about terrorism, and I’d like you to comment more on concrete situations in the world that help us understand how this plays out.

 

Scilla Elworthy

I’m totally with you on this as a very basic concept in the whole question of how to prevent and resolve conflict. Perhaps the most illustrative story that I know is one that happened in the Iraq invasion. In just two months after the Americans invaded Iraq, an American platoon was going down a street in Najaf when you still could do foot patrols. And suddenly people began pouring out of the houses on either side of the road screaming, yelling, clearly enraged.

And these young American soldiers, none of whom spoke Arabic, had no idea what was going on and they were terrified. And their commander, one Colonel Chris Hughes saw what was happening and immediately strode into the middle of the crowd with his weapon pointed downwards and shouted an order to his men and said, “Kneel.” And they wobbled to the ground in their heavy packs and their helmets and their weapons, and he told them to put their weapons into the sand, barrel first. And a complete silence fell because these furiously angry people saw these heavily armed soldiers kneeling.

And there was complete silence for a few minutes and then everybody went home. And that just – that moves me so much because, in that instant, that young man, Chris Hughes, was so present that he realized there was a massacre in the making, and he realized that if his men showed respect it would calm everything. And it did. It gives me shivers even talking about it now because to have that presence of mind was extraordinary and to have so deeply ingrained into you that respect must be shown when there’s violence brewing.

 

Walter Link

And that the one with the power is the one who has to show the respect, which I think many people would hear this story and feel aghast. Like, how can our soldiers fall to their knees? It’s their role to show strength because it is with strength that you enforce peace. And yet obviously in this story you show that their show of humility.

 

Scilla Elworthy

Yes. I believe it goes as far as I would say that respect is the antidote to humiliation. And humiliation is, as you rightly said, the driver of most conflicts. And the way that many on the extreme Islamist side, for example, they are so enraged by what they see as Western culture humiliating Islam or humiliating women – and let’s leave aside what they do to humiliate women – but the way they see it is that they are being humiliated by this enormous Western Empire. And so their response is to become very, very violent. And if we respond to that with violence, that’s what they understand. What they would be completely taken aback by would be some gesture of respect.

 

Walter Link

And in your work you are addressing this fact that in fact in most situations violence is a very ineffective response to violence. That in most situations there are more effective methods to counter it. Tell us more about that.

 

Scilla Elworthy

Well they are not easy. To respond to violence with violence is actually easier than the other way. It requires being able to step back, to step away from one’s immediate emotional reaction. And here I am reminded again of the story of Mandela in jail because he asked and asked and asked countless times for a piece of ground because he wanted to grow vegetables. And he was constantly refused. “Just get away from here Mandela. What are you talking about, growing vegetables in jail?” And he went on asking.

And eventually they gave him a strip of land, a very stony ground. So he composted and he eventually got some seeds and he planted the seeds and these hungry prisoners were watching these cucumbers and tomatoes and courgettes all growing, fresh food, and very excited about who was going to taste this food. Mandela took the first vegetables and gave them to the warders.

Now that is an extraordinary ability to show respect where respect had not been shown to him. And of course, what we know now is that the warders were completely disarmed by this gesture and asked if they could be educated by the prisoners. So the prisoners ended up teaching the warders to read and write and eventually to do university degrees.

 

Walter Link

It’s very touching, isn’t it? I think that’s the beauty about knowing the background of these situations. That they reach so deeply into our humanity. And that, at the shell outside of so many situations, you see the grim reality and it seems all very mechanical and hard as if there was no possible soft entrance into their humanity. And that you can see that if you are cultivating that humanity in yourself, you can come with the surprising gesture. That’s what you were talking about earlier also, the surprise of being met in this humanistic way.

 

Scilla Elworthy

Exactly. And to do that, as you are inferring, requires that you almost have to pull something out of yourself. It’s almost like you are taking your guts and offering it because it’s tough to offer something to somebody who has harmed you or killed a member of your family.

 

Walter Link

Yeah, so it really goes beyond the Golden Rule, do upon others what they do to you. Goethe speaks very beautifully about that. He says if you treat the other from the perspective of their potential, then you really better the world. If you just treat them the way they are, then you just keep the status quo. So what these stories tell us about is to see that behind whoever you meet, be it a terrorist or a soldier or a more systemic violence through a certain way –

 

Scilla Elworthy

Road rage.

 

Walter Link

— of doing business or road rage or something. Behind that is a human being. Who am I responding to? Am I responding from the depths of my humanity to the depths of their humanity, or am I responding just to this kind of destructive behavior? And that of course takes us right into the core of, for example Buddhism, or all spiritual traditions where you say you separate the act from the actor. And you always look at what’s possible for this actor.

 

Scilla Elworthy

Yes. And the difficult thing to do is to have the presence of mind in the moment to do that. You know when somebody cuts in front of you in your car, to have the training – it’s like training – I believe that meditation is so vital for this. It’s almost like training for the Olympics. And it’s as tough as training for the Olympics because you’re training yourself to be present in the instance when something happens.

 

Walter Link

Right. And as in the Olympics, the instance is too late to start with the training. So I train a lot of – I support a lot of leadership development for people who work in very intense situations, maybe from business or from civil society or politics and other fields. And what they discover, of course, is that if you try to fix the situation or yourself in the moment of the intensity, then you just have what you have. If you have worked over days, weeks, years to develop, for example, an inner spaciousness, an inner compassion, an inner intelligence to respond differently to a situation, then in the crisis situation this will be easily and naturally available to you.

And I think that’s the profound shift of perspective also in regard to education and the development of people that we need to consider to also bring in this inner dimension and the interpersonal dimension rather than just a kind of intellectual dimension. And you have worked, of course, a lot with education at various levels and I wonder what you have to say about that, how peacemaking, peace building and the kind of deepening of our human potential can be furthered in these educational environments.

 

Scilla Elworthy

What you’re saying is so true and it’s in families that we get to practice this because it’s in families where we feel those tensions building up. And they are deeply rooted. They got right into our childhood. And so if we can practice on what we would call nonviolent communication – and this is a wonderful training by Marshall Rosenberg that’s now available all over the world – to actually communicate with those with whom we have severe disagreements by speaking only in the first person and telling each other what we feel and what we need rather than pointing a finger.

And the key words, I know when I’m going seriously wrong if I’m saying, “You always,” or, “You never.” That’s the key. Those are the – what do you call it – the words that give you away. It means I’m really out of it if I’m saying, “You always do that,” or, “You never,” to my partner or my family or whatever. So we really get to practice at home. And then the other thing I would say is, with children, you know children actually love to meditate. And I was told recently that a child can meditate one minute for every year they are old.

So I thought I’ll try this with my neighbor’s little boy who comes to do gardening with me. And he’s eight years old. His name is Cossimo and he’s hyperactive, this child. He’s very clever and he charges around, he knocks things over and so on. So we are in the greenhouse and I really don’t want him breaking glass and whatnot. So I said to Cossimo, “Would you like to meditate?” And he said, “What’s that?” So I explained. So now when he’s coming home from school, he comes running down to the garden, into the greenhouse, he pulls out the stool and my chair and he sits down and he says, “Now we’re going to meditate.”

I said, “Are we? You’re eight years old, Cossimo can you meditate for eight minutes?” He says, “Yes, of course.” And so I say, “What shall we meditate upon?” And he thinks for a bit and he says, “Rhubarb.” It was March when he said rhubarb so I said, “Well, let’s just close our eyes and breathe for a bit and think that we are underneath the ground and it’s very cold and we are a piece of rhubarb.” Anyway, that’s how we go, so we get into the idea being rhubarb or being a peapod or something like that. And he loves it. He comes and suggests it now.

 

Walter Link

Yeah, which is a profound practice to put yourself into somebody else’s roots or shoes.

 

Scilla Elworthy

I think the Dalai Lama said that if every child learned to meditate in school there would be no violence in the world in two generations.

 

Walter Link

And how about your work with corporations? Tell us how this perspective fits into that world of business?

 

Scilla Elworthy

In the large corporations, I only work with very few large corporations, those that are really intent on developing a different culture and different values. I’m not interested in green wash corporate social responsibility stuff. I’m interested in companies that want to change their contribution to the planet, really, because I believe that the mantra of this century – if the mantra of last century was “What can I get?” the mantra of this century is becoming “What can I give? What contribution can I make?” because, if we don’t, there isn’t going to be a future.

We have to learn to give back and regenerate the world now, and that seems to make sense to people, to begin to delve into the kind of values that they hold and examine them. And see how they, as a culture in that company, want to not just produce a nice document to put in the annual report, but actually, how is this going to change our culture in the office? How are we going to talk to each other? How are we going to listen to each other? And learning through very simple practices, exercises, how to listen, because most of us think we are very good listeners. And most of us are not. So one of the things I enjoy most is inviting people to test their listening skills. And they are dumbfounded.

 

Walter Link

So how do you test for listening capacity?

 

Scilla Elworthy

Well, the exercise I might do, if I was doing it with you, for example, I would invite us to sit opposite each other – more closely than we are now – say you would be sitting about there. And each of us would have a turn for five minutes, and we would decide on a mutual question. And it might be something like, “Tell me, Walter, what is your highest potential?” Right? So I would ask you that question and then my job would be to shut up for five minutes, not say a thing, and not nod at you because, while you are speaking, if I’m nodding like this, I’m giving you signals that I agree with you or whatever.

I want to leave you to say what you really – what your gut says. So I ask you the question and I keep eye contact and then I keep quiet for five minutes. During that five minutes, you take that question, you put your full attention on the question, you put your full intention on knowing the truth of the answer for you now, you take the question from your mind to your belly, and you look and see what’s there in your gut feel.

And you report what’s there and only what’s there. You don’t tell me the whole story. You just say, “My highest potential right now is to make the best possible film I can,” or whatever the answer would be. And then you do that process again. And I listen in such a way that I would be able to repeat back to you at the end of five minutes most of what you said. And so it’s amazing how people – first of all they struggle to keep eye contact because it’s not normal.

And they struggle not to nod. You are nodding now, which is natural. And they really struggle not to be thinking about their own answer to the question or what’s going to happen next or what’s for lunch or all the things that the brain does. So giving you my absolute full attention for five minutes is not easy, and it’s very interesting to test. And people end up stunned, not only by what they learn about their partner, but what they learn about themselves.

 

Walter Link

I actually think that you could teach everything you want to say about meditation by substituting the word “listening” because really what you’re talking about now is a meditation practice that includes both your self-awareness and includes the other. And not only their words but their being. I mean you could build this out further, as I do a lot in the work that I do with people. And what I find is that not only do you get more information, you also develop a much more intimate but also actionable relationship and it’s such a rare gift to be listened to, that there is a profound effect on the other just by your simple and yet profound quality of listening.

 

Scilla Elworthy

Absolutely. And it’s exactly what you’ve been doing for the last hour here sitting here. So I feel quite energized, glowing now because I’ve been so beautifully listened to for an hour and a half or whatever it is. And everybody feels this. Your child feels it, your grandmother feels it, your wife or husband feels it. To be really listened to.

 

Walter Link

Yeah. And in that sense our action in the world, I think, can be also described as listening. I mean we are listening to the situation as it is. We are listening to what the situation requires. And then our action becomes the response. And I think that’s where the term transparency, or as Buddhists call it “emptiness,” is so profound because if you are empty of your interference with the situation then life can use you as part of life to respond to the situation of life. So life really is an incredible dialectic cycle of interaction of a myriad of players.

 

Scilla Elworthy

Exactly.

 

Walter Link

And I think that kind of responsiveness can only arise out of the deep contact that listening makes possible.

 

Scilla Elworthy

Absolutely. Absolutely. You put it succinctly. And what you’re saying shows that very active listening in that way, in a way, maximizes energy because the person – your personality as the listener or your ego isn’t getting in the way. As you say, allowing this energy to pass through. A greater intelligence can then operate then anything that’s in here.

Do you do that when you are in corporate situations? Do you yourself introduce practice in listening? Does that come up?

 

Walter Link

Yeah. And I think listening is such a generally accepted word now that it’s much easier to use than, for example meditation, which is still a little bit suspect. So I try to not impose any language, but I like to listen for what language is easy to use in a situation. And then use that language to introduce new practices, new concepts because I think there is a certain violence that is when we impose from a position of authority that I’m generally in, language.

 

Scilla Elworthy

 Yeah. Yeah.

 

Walter Link

And also, if you use language that is used by others and valued and respected by others, then you have all the support of that respect to support what you are introducing. And so I work, for example, in global corporations and in very innovative corporations. I work in activist nonprofit settings, and I work with community leaders in the global south. So they all have very different cultures. But they of course all share humanity.

So if I can look more into what is already respected in their culture and build on that, it makes it much easier to offer them something that they can rapidly draw value from. I’m thinking of working in Sri Lanka. You know we talked about my work with Sarvodaya and Dr. Ariyaratne there, and they have, first of all, a strong Buddhist community in the country. It’s the largest spiritual community there. But besides that, the organization itself is built on the fundamental humanist values that are Buddhist values.

But while they have these values, they haven’t necessarily practiced so well how to put them into action in a strategy meeting. So here I am with the 200 main leaders of the organization–village elders, younger people, microcredit bankers, women activists, a very, very diverse community–but they share this general idea that Buddhist values and meditation are a good thing.

So then I can get them in the strategy work to do these kind of practices and suddenly to discover, wow, why were we not using silence and deep listening to each other when we were working on strategy? We were doing it maybe in the short practice before or we were doing it when we go to the temple, but we are not doing it when we are kind of developing the strategy for our organization. So by taking the value that’s already placed in these ideas and bringing them into the strategy moment, you then can give them the experience of the value in action. And that’s really what I like to do.

It’s to bring the depth of inner and interpersonal work into situations of action. And not tell people that that’s a good idea, but let them discover by themselves that suddenly they are much more creative, more innovative, more powerful, more capable, and then they wonder, how did that happen? And then, from that positive experience, we come back to the practices. Then suddenly the practices become interesting, rather than theoretically tell them how great it would be if they were to listen or meditate. I think humans get convinced by experience.

 

Scilla Elworthy

Absolutely. And that, the work with Sarvoyada reaches a vast number of people through this network, doesn’t it?

 

Walter Link

Yeah. I think Sarvoyada is clearly the most impactful movement. It’s not really an organization in that country. And it stands for integrity. We spoke today a lot about integrity. I think nobody questions the integrity of the founders and what the organization stands for. And I think, especially in countries that are joining kind of the global movement toward economic development that brings in very new values of materialism, of competition, of ways that are different from traditional values.

I think it’s very important to have such a movement that, at the same time, stands for this integrity of values, of ethics. And at the other way also demonstrates how we can really do this modern life differently.

 

Scilla Elworthy

Yeah.

 

Walter Link

So at the moment, for example, we are transforming a traditional non-for-profit microcredit institution that did great work in the community but without ever making profit. In fact, because it was subsidized by donations from mostly Western countries, it was able to operate at a constant loss. So we are now transforming it into a fully regulated bank.

And first of all, it allows us to offer more services to the poor of Sri Lanka and actually, also not only the poor, but those that are gradually through entrepreneurship moving into the lower middle class and the middle class. But also to show the society that you can actually run a company very differently, that you can actually put a contribution to the world first and yet be meticulous in your operation and be profitable also. And I think that’s what in a way the world is yearning for, in a personal level and also at an institutional level, is models that demonstrate that we can do things really differently.

 

Scilla Elworthy

Exactly. And this is one great big, enormous model. I mean it’s the biggest civil society movement in the world, isn’t it?

 

Walter Link

Well, I can’t really say that.

 

Scilla Elworthy

It’s very big.

 

Walter Link

It’s very big and, of course, it has also international impact because many people are deeply inspired. I think what makes them special is also that they touch all aspects of life. So normal consultants would go into organizations and say, “Focus, focus, focus.” There, focus is easy – everything. And I think that’s really very powerful. And I think also their early motto is really powerful because they said, “You build the road and the road builds you.” And at the time when they started over 50 years ago, they were doing a lot of infrastructure work that the government wasn’t doing at the time.

And so they would come into a village and help villagers to help themselves to build, for example, a road. But besides only building the road as a practical manifestation of their interaction, they would also have classes, cultural events, meditations, conflict transformation interventions because suddenly this whole village had to interact. Oftentimes these people came from different religions, different material backgrounds, different genders, different age groups.

And so, like in a large city, you have also in a village, of course, lots of little conflicts and bigger conflict and separation. And here they had to suddenly work together. And they had to do something very practical. It wasn’t just getting them together to talk. They were actually acting. And in the acting you have to do things together. And everybody was contributing whatever they could. Some people were digging up the road and others were maybe cooking food and others were donating a piece of land and others had some wood from the forest to contribute, et cetera, et cetera.

So everybody could give and that was very satisfying. But also everybody had to cooperate. And so, in the end, they didn’t only have a road. They had a whole different society.

 

Scilla Elworthy

That’s amazing.

 

Walter Link

And so we go into these villages and help them to develop their own governance structure. And what I particularly love is that not only do they end up with a real democracy–because they are really engaged and do something together. They don’t only go vote–but they include both the elders that are often of course out of the picture, and they include people as young as 7 and 15. So they have one group for the very young people and then of the kind of teenagers because they say, “It’s your future.”

 

Scilla Elworthy

That’s fantastic.

 

Walter Link

On our website, GlobalLeadership.TV, you will find additional footage, other dialogues with innovation leaders from around the world, and also the hands-on practices that help them and their organizations to move from inspiration to real change.