Fighting Terror with the Will to Peace

New Straits Times, 8 January 2002

THE Chinese character for the word “crisis” is made up of twin concepts -danger and opportunity. The shock waves of 11 September (known more infamously by its digital equivalent 911) are reverberating through the globe.


The collapse of the twin towers in New York has unleashed its own “twin terrors” - the brutal use of “might is right” and the rapid dismantling of universal principles of justice and peace, erosion of human rights principles and increase in racism and other hate crimes.


All this has created some despondency and even hopelessness. It is not helped by the recession and the wild terrorism of the dark side of free markets and “carpet bombing” of propaganda. Is there hope for us to climb out of this abyss?


History has shown that there is hope as long as there are thoughtful and committed people. Even if there is only one person, it can make a difference.


Is there a recipe for building this hope, thinking and commitment? Yes, there is “multiversity” inthem. My favourite was sent by a friend based on the teachings and struggles of Mahatma Gandhi.


His life and death held many lessons. He advocated non violence. Yet his assertiveness, steadfastness and courage powered a revolution of change in South Asia, South Africa and the deep South of the United States of America where Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King followed in his footsteps.


Among Gandhi’s more memorable sayings is, “In a gentle way, you can shake the world.” Here are 10 things that have been distilled by change makers from his commitment and dreams.


The ideas are not original, nor mine, but they have helped guide many of those engaged in the lonely struggle for peace and justice.


·         Know that all significant change throughout history has occurred not because of nations, armies, governments, and certainly not committees. They happened as a result of the courage and commitment of individuals.


·         Believe that you have a unique purpose and potential in the world. Believe that you can and you will make a difference.


·         Recognise that every thing you do, every step you take, every sentence you write, every word you speak or don’t speak counts. Nothing is trivial. The world may be big, but there are no small things. Everything matters.


·            You don’t have to be loud. You don’t even have to be eloquent. You don’t have to be elected. You don’t have to be particularly smart or well educated. You do, however, have to be committed.


·         Take personal responsibility. Never think that “it is not my job”. It is cop out to say, “What can I do, I’m only one person”. You don’t need everyone’s co-operation or anyone’s permission to make changes. Remember this little gem, “If it is to be, it is up to me.”


·         Don’t get caught up in the how of things. If you’re clear on what you want to change and why you want to change it, the how will come. Many significant things have been left undone because someone let the problem solving interfere with the decision making.


·         Don’t wait for things to be right in order to begin, Change is messy, Things will never be just right, Follow the advice, “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”


·         The genesis of change is awareness. We cannot change what we don’t acknowledge. Most of the time, we aren’t aware of what’s wrong or what’s not working. We don’t see what could be. By becoming more aware, we begin the process of change.


·         Take to heart these words from Albert Einstein, arguably one of the smartest change masters who ever lived, “All meaningful and lasting change starts first in your imagination and then works its way out. Imagination is more important than knowledge.”


·         In order for things to change, you have to change. We can’t change others; we can only change ourselves. However, when we change, it changes everything. And in doing so, we truly can be the change we want to see in the world.


The great Sufi Bayazid had this to say about himself:


“When I was young, I was a revolutionary and all my prayers to God was -Lord, give me the energy to change the world. When I was middle aged, I realised that half my life was gone without changing a single soul, I prayed to God just let me change my family and friends, When I was an old man, I realised how foolish I have been. Now I just say my prayers - Lord, give me the grace to change myself.


“If I prayed for this from the beginning, I would not have wasted my life.”


So, the message is that too often, we think too much about changing humanity and too little about changing ourselves. We can overcome the twin terrors and secure it step by step, non-violently by asserting “peace by peace”. And never, never forget our humanity and oneness.

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