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Happy Peace Day, Safari Guides Leonard and Marcos

I just missed seeing one of the Seven Wonders of the World a couple of weeks ago, and at the time I didn’t even want to be there. I guess that is how wonders sometimes go.

I and my traveling companions had a rough long drive on bad dirt roads to get to Masai Mara, a large Kenyan game reserve contiguous with the Serengeti. We were off on the adventure of a life time. But, our van broke down on the way, so we also had a couple of hours standing by the side of the road while similar vans and jeeps bounced by us and the zebra watched from a distance as we stood in the dust. Adventures don’t always go as planned. Finally, our unflappable guide Leonard flagged down another van.

An equally amenable guide named Marcos, and his two tourists, took us into their fold and got us to our camp. The next day, Leonard, who would not be deterred from seeing that we got what we came for, drove us deep into the game reserve in our newly repaired vehical. We saw lions and elephants, rhinos, water buffalo and even the elusive leopard before our van broke down again.

Now, Leonard is a man who spends most of his days driving people as close to lions in the wild as he can. He puts up with their complaints and inane requests while he figures out where to best park his van so it won’t get trampled by the elephants. He troubleshoots his vehicle as easily as he scans the bushes for cheetah before he directs his squirming passengers to quick run behind the vehicle and pee as fast as they are able.

I should note that he maintained a straight face every time our party of four women dissolved into giggles as we did this. He pretty well defines calm.

But, we could tell that even he was a tad concerned by this second, more remote breakdown. Soon, he was on the radio calling for a tow truck, and somebody to help with us.

After awhile, a van came by and, of course, it was Marcos. He, and his two less-than-thrilled clients, had not been far away when they heard the distress call. “Don’t worry about it,” he assured us. “We help each other out here. Next time, Leonard rescues my people, right?” His people responded to that with nervous little smiles.

“We just want to go back to camp,” we told him. “We’ve seen everything today.” Continual car trouble is exhausting business. But Marcos had a dilemma. His people, a young couple from Mexico, both grad students in the U.S., had come to Kenya wanting to see one thing more than anything else. And it happened this time of day, on the far edges of the reserve along the Mara River near where we were. We had to go along.

“It’s one of seven wonders of the world,” Marcos whispered to us. “They want to see it very badly.”

What could we say. A wonder of the world? We were lucky to have a ride back to camp at all, so off we went to watch the wildebeests cross the Mara River.

Now, Marcos hadn’t been exactly accurate. In November 2006 the USA Today and the television show Good Morning America created a list of New Seven Wonders chosen by six judges and the Great Migration of the Serengeti and Masai Mara was picked as one of them. This migration included this thing our new travel companions wanted to see, which was the wildebeests swimming across the river.

Turns out wildebeests are timid creatures. Deep in their instinctual hearts they know they must cross the river to get to greener grazing. They also know that while they are safest as a large group, no matter how large the group is, crocodiles will eat some of them as they cross and rhinos will attack others. Not all will not survive the crossing.

Zebras have far more crotchety personalities, and wildebeests need a few zebras to lead them. Even then, they gather together, approach the waters edge, then back off in fear. Wildebeest friends who’ve already made the crossing call to them to come, and after awhile they gather their courage again and approach the waters edge.

This process goes on for hours, as we found out sitting in our rescue van waiting. Windows had to be kept closed due to dust, engines shut off, voices hushed. There must have been twenty or thirty vans and jeeps like ours, quietly waiting and watching while the wildebeests collectively weighed starvation of the many against death by crocodile for a few. I could appreciate that it was a tough choice.

Marcos did his best to sooth us, his unwilling passengers, as fatigue set in and claustrophobia grew while his two paying customers took endless photos of the timid wildebeests. Finally he declared “This is it. They are about to do it.” Even I felt the excitement.

But he wasn’t the only guide paying attention. One of the fancier jeeps revved up its engine and took of in a noisy cloud of dust for a better view. The shocked wildebeests jumped at the sound,  starred at our vehicles like they had just noticed them, and then ran away from the river as one. There would be no crossing that day.

Marcos’s calm frayed at bit. “Stupid,” he muttered. “Now they don’t get to cross, and we don’t get to see anything.”

Like I said, I almost saw one of the seven wonders of the world, and it probably would have been amazing. As we drove back to camp we passed Leonard being towed out of the game reserve and he gave us a friendly wave.

Thursday, September 21, is the 2017 International Day of Peace. I always write about it on this blog, and I try to wish happiness to someone I’ve met in the past year from far away. This year, times being what they are, I’m giving those greetings early and often. So …

“Happy Peace Day, world class safari guides Leonard and Marcos. I wish your calm patience, and spirit of cooperation were as common in my world as they appear to be on the plains of Kenya.”

Actually, I more than wish it. I think we need to get these guys involved in solving some world problems. Seems to me that we could apply what they bring to the table to at least five or six different international crises that come to mind.

So let me rephrase my wish.

“Happy Peace Day, Leonard and Marcos. May your year be filled with few engine problems and grateful customers. By the way, any chance you could find the time lend a hand to rest of us here, as we bumble around trying to figure out how to get along? We really could use the help.”

 

 
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Posted by on September 9, 2017 in Africa, peace, travel

 

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All the empathy in the world won’t help?

(1) I write fiction about telepaths and examine whether the increased empathy from knowing others thoughts could be a key to world peace. (2) I like Rachel Maddox a lot and occasionally watch her show.

driftI read Rachel Maddow’s new book “Drift” because of the second item, but was surprised when I discovered that her central thesis casts doubt on the whole theory of my book x0. If Ms. Maddox is correct, U.S. wars today are waged by our leaders not our people, and all the empathy in the world is not going to stop the fighting. She does a wonderful job of detailing how over the past fifty years the United States has moved from the World War II model of “a nation at war” to the current state of affairs in which our commander in chief uses executive powers and resources to keep conflicts going around the world with very little involvement from most of the citizens and very little consent from other branches of government.

I like how she sticks to the facts and interjects very little of her political bias. Rather, she places blame at the feet of every president, Republican and Democrat, and credits all of them with generally trying to do the right the thing while making matters worse. It’s very un-MSNBC, but all the more compelling.

Her one exception is Dick Cheney, to whom she dedicates the book. He pops in and out of the story over the course of four decades, continuing to push his personal agenda of making war ever easier for us. She never asks why, but begs him in the dedication to let her interview him. As far as I know, he never has.

Her careful weaving of the small decisions that lead to our current ability to wage ongoing wars with almost no emotional involvement could have made for very dry reading, but it doesn’t. In spite of the fact that she has no political axe to grind, her sense of humor shines through, as does her incredulous disbelief at some of the well-intended but just plain stupid decisions that were made along the way. You can almost hear her voice in your head as you read, and you have to smile in spite of how sad a story it is.

The end result, she points out, is that U.S. presidents now have the technological ability and the ridiculous authority to quietly conduct ongoing wars in any corner of the globe for as long as they wish. Yet, Ms. Maddow ends this book on a hopeful note. She argues persuasively that going to war should be hard, and should require the bulk of our people to wish harm upon another nation or at least be willing to hurt that nation significantly in order to stop its leaders.

growing bolder 4Powers that have been given over time, and even for good reason, can be taken away, she says. It won’t happen quickly, but she convinced me that we can make waging war the messy, inefficient, and difficult task it once was. We can make it painful again. If we do, we won’t be quite as good at it, but we will more far more incentivized to find other solutions.

Then, just maybe, superheroes gifted with telepathy could help guide the population towards more compassion and understanding. Okay, that could be bit of a stretch in the real world, but it might make for a fun read.

 
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Posted by on January 25, 2016 in empathy, peace

 

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Not writing books about shallow people leading exciting lives

weird3I am passionate about the cause of the world peace. I believe in our ability as a species to get along without killing each other and it is hard to keep that conviction out my fiction. Yes, I do understand that my stories would be more action packed if I just let my characters continually fire weapons, (or incessantly take each other to bed for that matter), and if I didn’t worry so much about what is in their hearts and minds and souls. But honestly, it is my character’s struggles to be better humans that interests me most. How they triumph over the bad guys is secondary.

So, there you have it. I don’t want to write books about shallow people leading exciting lives. I want to write books about amazing people struggling to lead compassionate lives. I suspect that this limits my potential audience. I accept that. The wall of the spare bedroom that I write in features Kurt Cobain’s famous quote I’d rather be hated for who I am, than loved for who I am not. You wouldn’t think that Kurt Cobain and I had a lot in common, but we do, at least in that I aspire to authentically create that to which I am driven. He, of course, did so.

So as an unabashed peace-nik in the year 2015, I am so happy to have discovered the International Day of Peace.  I came across it a few years ago while doing research for this blog, and have tried to give it mention here each year. Today I will let the organization describe the day in its own words. Please visit their blog, which I quote from below. Please consider a small act of compassion to acknowledge the day.

Then read on to one of my favorite passages from x0 in which my hero Lola wonders whether a telepath is capable of killing another human. Her imagined scenario of war without death was taken from a school paper written by my daughter. The possibility grips me still. Someday there will be at least a short story, and maybe a whole novel, using this idea.

fractal 5A Day Devoted to Strengthening the Ideals of Peace (from the International Day of Peace Website)

International Day of Peace (“Peace Day”) is observed around the world each year on 21 September. Established in 1981 by resolution 36/37, the United Nations General Assembly has declared this as a day devoted to strengthening the ideals of peace, both within and among all nations and peoples. Furthering the Day’s mission, the General Assembly voted unanimously in 2001 to adopt resolution 55/282 establishing 21 September as an annual day of non-violence and cease- fire.

Anyone, anywhere can celebrate Peace Day. It can be as simple as lighting a candle at noon, sitting in silent meditation, or doing a good deed for someone you don’t know. Or it can involve getting your co-workers, organization, community or government engaged in a large event. You can also share thoughts, messages and pictures to commemorate Peace Day on social media. Use this site to find organized events in your area and for inspiration on celebrating Peace Day in your own way.

From the novel x0

Thanksgiving night, after the dishes were done, the television off, and Teddie and Alex in bed, Lola curled up on the couch with her laptop. With both of the older two kids flying home in just a few weeks for Christmas, the Zeitmans had for years passed on the effort and expense of a family reunion at Thanksgiving as well. So, with other family either far away or passed away, it had slowly become less of a holiday for them, with four days off to relax being its chief asset.

She found a series of new links on the x0 website, apparently posted by members. One area caught her eye. Crime statistics. Hmm. She followed a link, to the website of an organization called the Geneva Declaration on Armed Violence, and discovered that there now was a group out there devoted, purely and simply, to reducing the amount of times one human being intentionally uses a weapon to kill another. By any means. War, gang warfare, murder, mass murder. Whatever.

She read that this declaration was endorsed by more than a hundred countries, but the good old U.S.A. did not appear to be one of them. Why not?

According to the website, an estimated seven hundred and forty thousand men, women, and children are shot and killed each year worldwide. She had to wonder how many of those humans would not have died if the person pulling the trigger had been able to read the mind of the life which they were about to snuff out. Would telepathy have prevented every single such death? Most of them?

She doubted it. What about those who were under orders to kill? Those whose fellow warriors faced death or whom faced death themselves if they failed to shoot? Solving that mess required more empathic ability on the parts of those actually giving the orders, she thought, and probably more creative options than shooting for those in the midst of armed conflicts as well.

Lola let herself try to imagine a world in which that problem had been creatively addressed. She saw in her mind’s eye imaginary news footage showing hoards of foot soldiers, armed with Tasers instead of guns. Occasionally a bomb would fall from the sky, spewing pepper spray. The fight for territory, for whatever reason it was happening, was harsh and brutal, but it was being done by soldiers on both sides who were taking unusual pains to spare every life. Why? Because in the war Lola was imagining, the soldiers operated in a world where murder was so abhorrent, so disgusting, that its commission, even in war, would lose the hearts and minds of those they were sworn to protect.

Seven hundred and forty thousand people a year. Could humans change enough to alter the very rules of warfare if society demanded it of them? We’d walked away en masse from cannibalism, incest, slavery, and human sacrifice, she thought. We were capable of declaring some actions not worthy. Why then not the action of taking another human life?

Were there circumstances in which a telepath would choose to shoot? Lola could think of two. The first seemed a contradiction in terms because it required a telepath who could sense the feelings of others and simply not care. He feels the other persons fear, anguish, possible remorse, hope for life, and then he shoots anyway. But to feel and not to feel was an oxymoron, or at least she hoped so.

The second possibility made her shudder as well. In this case the armed, yet caring, telepath sensed the potential victim’s thoughts and feelings, but instead of finding compassion, he or she would find those feelings so reprehensible, and so dangerous, that the telepath would make the painful and yet the fully informed choice to pull the trigger. To shoot anyway. Lola wondered what kind of victim it would take for a caring and moral telepath to make that choice.

(For more thoughts on how my characters’ superpowers might affect their lives see my post If you could see the future would you want to?)

 
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Posted by on September 13, 2015 in peace, telepathy, writing

 

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Cease firing for a day: Saturday September 21 2013

c_norman_rockwell_do_unto_others_2

“Do Unto Others” by Norman Rockwell

Every year about this time, the world celebrates “An International Day of Peace.”  It goes largely unnoticed, at least here in Texas where I live, and this year I’m putting some effort into changing that.

This 32 year old event is also called Peace Day, and you can read about it here. It’s goals extend beyond the ending of wars between nations and include improving relations among all peoples. The website says that observances range in scale from private gatherings to public concerts and forums where hundreds of thousands of people participate.Hmm, not seeing any of that here in Houston.

candleSuggested activities for the lone individual include lighting a candle at noon, or doing a good deed for someone you do not know. Both are fine ideas, on any day actually. However, my personal favorite is the suggestion to consider Sept. 21 as a day of ceasefire – personal as well as political. One could take the opportunity to make peace in ones own relationships while they wish for an end to the larger conflicts of our time.What a day it would be if a chunk of humanity decided to call a cease fire on their own anger and resentment for just twenty-four hours.

A simple idea. The really good ones usually are.

 
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Posted by on September 14, 2013 in peace

 

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