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Those Far Away Places Could Be Next Door

I knew when I began my first book that my main character would develop a telepathic link with a woman who lived far away. It didn’t realize that my love for places that are difficult for me to get to would continue on into the remaining five books in the collection, with each book each containing events occurring in a remote part of a different continent. But that is how they turned out.

Two things about far away places appeal to me. One is how different they are. The other is how similar they are. I think I like the second fact even better.

The modern and independent young Nigerian woman I write about in x0 has a run in with her village’s older practitioners of traditional medicine, known as dibias. In order to make her conflict as realistic as I could, I researched the history of traditional medicine in her Igbo culture, and enjoyed what I learned. It did not surprise me that mixed in with the sorts of superstitions that plague humans everywhere, was both wisdom and centuries old knowledge of ways to heal the human body.

I tried to include the point of view of the dibias, and to accord them respect, even while my character was in conflict with them. And yes, I loved learning about the ways of others that were so different than my own.

But I never forgot how half of my story ended up taking place in Nigeria in the first place.

It’s a country I have yet to visit, which makes it an odd setting for a beginning novelist. But I began the book right after taking a new job in the Houston office of a Nigerian company. They were cramped on office space, and several of us were crowded into a large workroom. Most of my co-workers were young Nigerian scientists and engineers and over the ensuing months I became seeped in their conversions, their food, and their memories of home.

Did I hear about things that were exotic to my ears? Occasionally, and some of those are in the book. But far more often what I heard were things like this as they made their phone calls home.

“Yes, mom, I am eating well. I know. Vegetables.”

“Of course I miss you, dear. It’s just that last night you caught me still at work, trying to get something done. I had a big presentation today.”

“You’ve got to pass chemistry. Email me the your review sheet your professor gave you. We’ll go over it together. Tell mom not to worry. I’ll help you.”

Sound familiar? Of course it does. It’s the sound of humanity, from my home town and from every one else’s home town in every far away place in the world.

You see, we have our differences, and I think that they are fascinating. But then we have our common ways of showing care and concern for those we love. And I think that commonality is even more amazing. That is why I watch with dismay as the United States turns more towards nationalist politics and embraces a fear of the rest of the world.

I no longer live in Houston. Today, I live in the Blue Ridge Mountains, so I was interested to find the John Denver Song “Take me Home Country Roads,” being performed by Playing for Change. I’m a big fan of this multimedia music project that “seeks to inspire, connect, and bring peace to the world through music.”

I can’t help but notice that much of the nationalist movement that concerns me so is being driven by people who live on country roads, just as I do. But a lot of the world lives on country roads, and drives home on them each day to those we care about. We all have that, and so much more, in common.

Enjoy this video of musicians from Japan to Brazil  as they sing “take me home country roads.”

(For more thoughts on Far Away Places see Leaving a Light Footprint in a Far Away Place, Caring About Far Away Places, As Far Away Places Edge Closer  and The Courage to Embrace Those Far Away Places.)

 
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Posted by on May 9, 2017 in empathy, music for peace, Nigeria

 

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No one person should have first strike capability

Every once in awhile you come across a fact and think that can’t be right. And then you find out it is. That’s what happened to me when I received a plea to ask my members of congress to discuss restricting the first use of nuclear weapons.

My first response was Oh, you mean if someone lobs a nuke at us, we tie the hands of the president so that she or he can’t strike back? Do we really want to do that?

No, I was told, the bill has nothing to do with responding to a nuclear attack. It only concerns being the one to first launch the nukes.

Queue the response: that can’t be right. So I have to ask. Did you think that the president could launch a nuclear weapon for any reason right now? With no declaration of war? All by himself? Well, it turns out that he or she can.

I admit that the next thing I did was guess that this bill had been introduced because of the rash immaturity frequently shown by the man now occupying the white house. And I admit that part made sense to me. But it turns out I was wrong about that as well.

The bill was originally introduced in 2016 during the Obama administration, with the encouragement of the Union of Concerned Scientists. This group believes that we need to have a robust congressional discussion about the wisdom of giving any president, no matter how cautious or how brash, the unilateral power to initiate a civilization-ending event. I think they have a good point.

Our current situation increases the probability of nuclear war in a real and dangerous way. It makes perfect sense to me that we should insist that Congress take these dangers seriously and that we should work to change a system that puts all of our lives at risk.

Right now both measures (known as Senate Bill 200 and House Resolution 669) are sitting in committees (Foreign Relations and Foreign Affairs) while congress spends its time handling what they believe to be more pressing matters. (Don’t get me started on that.)

If you haven’t developed the habit of contacting congress yet, it is an easy and worthwhile activity. Find out who you should be contacting at whoismyrepresentative.com. Then search for them by name, go to their website, and hit contact. The easiest thing to do is to fill out their little form with your information, and then type in something simple like “Please lend your support to bringing House Resolution 669 on restricting the first use of nuclear weapons to the house floor for a vote.” A poorly paid intern will note the subject matter of your email and will tally up your opinion on it.

It’s a little bit like littering. If just you do it, it really doesn’t make much of a difference. But if five percent of the population does it, everyone is going to notice.

 
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Posted by on March 10, 2017 in peace

 

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Peace is Boring

You don’t have to spend much time walking around the parks and government buildings of any city to notice that monuments are erected to warriors. Battles are commemorated. If there is a memorial anywhere to a thousand days of uninterrupted peace, I’ve never heard of it.

furious2You don’t have to write novels like I do to grasp that humans enjoy hearing about conflict. It is exciting to watch emotions flare and buildings explode. There is a reason that “Fate of the Furious” (eighth in the Fast and Furious franchise) is coming to a theater near you and a movie about a quiet afternoon nap in a sun-dappled park is not.

But what we find entertaining is not the same as what we want in our everyday lives. I want good health, quiet moments, and easy travels for me and those I love and even for those I don’t know. So while it’s true that I like to read about a good fight, it’s also true that I want my life to be a series of soft spring mornings and cozy winter nights. I want a life that would make a terrible novel.

And that is why I believe that people in the entertainment field make horrible choices for politicians.

For a wonderful explanation of how Ronald Regan’s experience making World War Two movies influenced his behavior forty years later as president, read Rachel Maddow’s insightful book Drift.

For a look at what I mean now, well, take a look around.

war-statueAlthough we’ve all heard that the current U.S. president thrives on conflict, it wasn’t until a friend asked me what I thought of his exchange with Australia’s Prime Minister and his announcement of having put Iran “on notice” that it occurred to me that our foreign policy was being orchestrated by an entertainer. It had seemed obvious to me that the campaign rallies were cleverly staged theater, but I never considered the implications of having the same philosophy applied to our dealings with other nations. We all know what makes for good entertainment, and for ballads and statues as well.

So the implications for world peace have really sunk in for me. Whether you love or hate the man’s domestic policies, the fact is that he’s approaching international relations like a reality TV show. The implications of that for the chances of a peaceful four years could not be worse. I think it is fair to say that if what he does today doesn’t cause sufficient ignition, he’ll find a way to provoke others tomorrow. In fact, he’ll probably provoke others either way.

Some of my friends think he sees himself as a warrior hero, although he’s never been either one. My husband thinks he just wants to make sure that he gets a great big statue of himself erected somewhere near the Washington monument. I think he not only likes to put on a good show but he also finds the conflict itself exhilarating, Unlike most of us, he does not have peace as a goal.

The problem is that if he doesn’t enjoy world peace, we don’t get to either.

 
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Posted by on February 10, 2017 in peace

 

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A way to wish you joy and peace

sunriseI woke up to this sunrise today,  a reminder that every day brings us a fresh chance to embrace, improve and enjoy this wonderful gift we call life.

It’s been a tough couple of months for me, and for others who want to encourage tolerance and empathy. I’m looking for positive ways to deal with my concerns about the direction in which my country is headed, and I hope that you are too. Lucky for me, my sister, who is full of good ideas, had a suggestion for me.

With her encouragement, I reviewed, edited and sorted through the 159 posts on this blog and put the best of them into a new book called “Face Painting for World Peace.” This short (121 page) volume of essays attempts to be both humorous and thought provoking as it examines what I like to call “intra-species harmony” (aka world peace) from a wide variety of angles.

The eBook is available for FREE on Smashwords, for a short time. Soon it will be published on Amazon as well, and distributed by Barnes & Nobel, Apple and other retailers, at which point I will be required to charge ninety-nine cents. This is not intended to be a money making project; I have pledged to donate half of all proceeds to “Doctors Without Borders”.

Here is the description:

I am passionate about the cause of the world peace. From early 2012 on I have maintained a blog in which I often write about empathy and peace. I have arranged these short essays in book form, to be published for Christmas 2016. A lot has changed in the world over the past four years, but what has not changed is how I continue to cherish time with those I love, and how others do the same throughout the world. This book is my holiday card; my way of wishing hope, joy and peace to every human on earth, with no exceptions.

Please download, please enjoy, and please share with others. Meanwhile, I will try to wake up every day during this coming year, catch a glimpse of that beautiful dawn, and then seek out positive ways to add my voice to the chorus still being sung by those who believe that kindness should guide our politics, our words and our actions. I invite you to sing along, too.

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on December 23, 2016 in being better, empathy, peace, writing

 

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Seeking your thoughts on world peace

I will soon be publishing a book of essays on world peace, and I am seeking YOUR thoughts on the subject. If you would like to contribute an short essay (approximately one to five thousand words) please contact my character Lola.Zeitman at her gmail account or ask me for more info here. Any thoughts expressed with an open heart and good intentions will receive serious consideration for inclusion. Pieces with unique perspectives or unusual ideas are most likely to be used.

seeking

The book will be published electronically in about 4 weeks on Amazon and Smashwords. It will be sold for ninety-nine cents but there will be several promotional giveaways, so no significant profits are anticipated. Half of any proceeds that are received will go to the humanitarian organization “Doctor’s Without Borders.”

tshirtAll essayists will retain the full rights to their own work but must grant me permission to use their words in this publication. Writers of all pieces that are accepted for inclusion will receive full credit for their work in the book, as well as a “Telepaths for World Peace” t-shirt in a size of their choosing, and the chance to use their essay as the cornerstone for a guest post on this blog. I hope to hear from many of you. If the world ever needed our ideas on this subject, it is now.

 
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Posted by on November 25, 2016 in peace, writing

 

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Happy International Day of Peace, Lahcen and Najet

The Airbnb site says my hosts at the Riad speak English, French and Spanish along with the local Arabic, but it only takes a few minutes for me to realize that the claim regarding English has been exaggerated. Lahcen, the helpful house manager who greets me, probably does know several hundred words of English, compared to my several dozen words of French and two of Arabic, but his ability to answer my questions is limited. Najet, the cook and custodian who assists him, speaks some French and no English at all. Soon the three of us are communicating with gestures, key phrases and facial expressions, and it’s not going as poorly as you might think.

img_3275Still jet lagged, I get a slow start the next morning and Najet is anxious to begin cleaning my room. I am sitting in the public area getting organized for my day when she gestures to her cleaning equipment and my quarters and gives me a questioning look. I nod my consent. She pauses.

“No douche?” she asks clearly and politely. I’m sure that my eyes widen before I remember that douche is the French word for shower. “No douche aujourd’hui,” I declare, thinking that sometimes even a few words in a common language can make all the difference in the world.

When I return that evening, there are lots of things that I want to ask Lahcen. Is Najet his wife? A relative? Is he from Marrakesh? Is this his full-time job? What does he think of tourists, of Americans? But every time I start talking he nods and smiles and looks confused, which is exactly what I do when I can’t understand someone.

img_3290The next day he volunteers some information. “I love Hollywood,” he tells me. “I love your movies, but I watch them in French.” He shrugs, a little embarrassed. “In English I can’t tell what they say.” And I get that I’m like one of those movies to him. He thinks that he ought to understand me but I talk fast and use idioms and shortcuts and make no sense to him at all.

“I wish my French was half as good as your English,” I reply and I mean it.  I think he understands me for once because he gives me a genuine smile back.

“I think that all of your country should learn Arabic. In school,” he adds. I’m sure my eyes widen at the idea. “And we should all learn English here. In school.” He looks at me hard for signs of comprehension. “If we could understand each other, then we would get along.”

img_3284I get where he is going with this and I have to admit that I like it a lot. I appears that my gracious host is a kindred spirit of mine, someone hoping to bridge the gap between cultures, filling it with empathy and a compassion born of recognizing our common humanity. I lack the vocabulary and the inclination to argue with him about the practicality of his plan, so I just say “I hope it happens.”

When I settle my bill, ready to move on to my next destination, I leave him and Najet a generous tip. He takes my luggage to the cab and speaks to the man in rapid Arabic. I realize that he is using part of my tip to pay my cab fare, which I also notice is a only small fraction of what the cab drivers have been charging me. I appreciate his gesture.

I remember my last encounter with people with whom I could not speak. A few months ago a couple in Portugal named Alberto and Maria helped my husband and I rescue our rental car when it became stuck on a dirt road. A few days later, when I discovered it was “International Day of Peace,” I wrote a post about them, and about how the wordless experience was so intense that Maria and I hugged each other afterwards with tears in our eyes.

img_3304I have enough cultural sensitivity to realize that a hug would be inappropriate with Lahcen, especially in such a public place. But I am equally grateful to him and Najet and I wish them both joy and peace, even if I do not know how to tell him so. I can only nod my thanks to him as we part, two souls seeking the same harmony in a fragmented world.

(For more about my trip to Morocco see  That’s Why you Make the Trip, I see ghosts , It’s an angry world in some places and My Way on my other blogs.)

 
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Posted by on November 22, 2016 in empathy, peace

 

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Happy International Day of Peace, Alberto and Maria!

Thanks to a crude bomb that just exploded in a dumpster in New York, much of the world learned that the United Nations General Assembly is preparing to convene in New York, as it does it does every year at this time. What much of the world does not know is that at the same time the U.N. sponsors an annual International Day of Peace “devoted to strengthening the ideals of peace, both within and among all nations and peoples.”

1-multiGiven that I write a blog about world peace, I’m a big fan of this day. This year, I will celebrate it in another country. I’m also a big fan of travel. I believe that war is often (though not always) the result of old grievances and common fears being nurtured and ignited by politicians eager to preserve power and prestige for themselves and wealth for their friends. I recognize that any interaction that results in armed conflict is complicated, and that many people try to do what is best. However, my own reading of history tells me that “bloody few” armed conflicts were ever noble or unavoidable; the only thing they all have in common is that they were bloody.

Those of us not in politics have few ways to steer the human race away from the machinery of war. One of those is travel. As we spend time with others who are currently demonized, or who once were, we learn to question the assumptions about other nations, religions, races, continents, and what ever else you have when you describe “those people” in terms vile enough to make the average citizen believe that they must die. Of course, you can’t just get on a bus or plane and go somewhere. You need to interact.

roadYou need to try to drive up a road that your GPS should never have thought was a road in the first place. You need to try to turn around on a steep, narrow hairpin curve and manage to get your rental car stuck with its nose in the dirt and its ass two feet off the ground while your tires spin. You need to hike down the hill, stand out on a highway, and hope that some decent people will stop and give you a hand.

Odds are they will. If you are lucky, someone like Alberto and Maria will pull over cautiously, looking nervously at their daughter in the back seat. They will see how sweaty and frustrated you are, and ask what is wrong in a language of which you speak only a hundred words quite poorly. You will figure out that they speak no English, but you might manage to convey carro for car and espouso for husband and point up the hill. If you are very lucky Alberto will say “cima?” very clearly, like he cannot believe both the car and husband are up there, and you will recognize his word for “on top of” from your hours with Rosetta Stone and you will nod.

On a good day, Alberto and Maria will take it from there. They will drive their old car up the road that brought you to a standstill, chuckle with sympathy when they see your predicament, and gesture to the two of you to help them lift your car and literally set its rear end down in a better place. While you marvel that it is even possible, it is done. You will try to press some money into their hands, helpless to thank them any other way, and they will not want it, at least not until you insist. Maria will give you a hug and, as she does, you and she will both have tears in your eyes, brought on by the intensity of the exchange you have managed without a single word. They will drive off and you will never see them again.

c_norman_rockwell_do_unto_others_2But later that night, as you read about the ideals of learning to coexist with your fellow humans, you will think of them, and understand how one can travel for world peace.

So, Happy International Day of Peace, Alberto and Maria. May others always treat you with the same kindness that you showed to us. And happy Peace Day, as well, to your seven billion brothers and sisters, most of whom have needed help at least once or twice and, in turn, have helped a stranger or two along their way.

(For more vacation-inspired epiphanies see The Moon Rises on my c3 blog, Our Brand is Crisis on my z2 blog, and That’s Why They Play the Game on my d4 blog.)

 
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Posted by on September 21, 2016 in being better, empathy, peace

 

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