The “Happiness” Problem

“If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.”

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Dr. Sandor Klein

Those words attributed to Albert Einstein were quoted by Dr. Sandor Klein, Vice President of the World Council for Curriculum and Instruction (WCCI), in his response to the speech of WCCI President Jessica Carter Kimmel at the 18th World Conference on Education held in Rome, Italy from July 15-20, 2018. The Conference offered enriching opportunities for one to hear inspiring presentations of educators from various fields who shared their studies related to the “Role of Education for Global Citizenship in Promoting Social, Economic and Environmental Justice.”

On my flight back home to Manila from the US three weeks later Einstein’s words kept playing in my head like a song’s refrain. Even while enjoying two weeks of vacation with family, I realized that questions kept coming to the fore in my consciousness about the ironies of the world and my experience of happiness in its midst.  I kept asking myself: WHAT IN THE WORLD IS OUR PROBLEM? And is there ever a solution to it?

The book I was reading (on “Spiritual Paths to an Ethical and Ecological Global Civilization: Reading the Signs of the Times with Buddhists, Christians, and Muslims”) seemed to echo my thoughts. It enumerated many signs of the times—e.g. ecological and financial crises, corruption in government, failure of modern religion to explain life’s real purpose and its complex ramifications to its adherents, inequality, burnout, consumerism, death of bee colonies, plastic contamination, immigration and urbanization, child labor, drug addiction, etc. It also highlighted the urgency of the need for an “interreligious transpartisan method” in which “a more basic and inclusive global spiritual consciousness, one which seeks dialogue among all religions” link dogma and practices to global human experience (Raymaker, Grudzen and Holland, 2013, p. 14).

It made me feel more grateful about the privilege I have just had of being able to contribute to this awakening of “global spiritual consciousness” at the WCCI conference in Rome where I presented my own study (based on two decades of work of The Peacemakers’ Circle Foundation, Inc.) in Interfaith/ Interreligious Dialogue (IRD). In it I highlighted the importance of integrating IRD into the curriculum as a proactive means of creating a counter cultural force to violent extremism. The positive responses to my presentation from esteemed mentors and colleagues were encouraging. Of note were the affirmations of Dr. Toh Swee-Hin, our keynote speaker, who spoke of the importance of exploring new pedagogies for developing “glocal” citizenship, and Sister Merceditas Ang of Saint Paul University in Tugegarao (northern Philippines) who has done impressive work in opening their university to students of different faiths and cultures so that it is now a veritable hub of education beyond international borders.

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With Aisha Isah of Kano, Nigeria

The urgent need for integrating religious values and Interfaith/Interreligious Dialogue in peace education was apparent to me throughout the Conference.  The presentation of Aisha Isah, a young Muslim woman from Nigeria, also highlighted this fact. She spoke of the need in the Kano State for the integration of Islam into the largely Christian curriculum of the Adult Literacy Education Program (ALEP) which is facing numerous challenges due to inadequate education facilities, unqualified facilitators, inadequate funding, and unsuitable curriculum models.”

From Rome I joined my family in the US where I tried to shed off the cares of the world by playing guardian to my grandchildren’s “galaxies” in Florida’s “happiest place on Earth”–Disney World! It was an eventful and exciting two-week vacation for all of us from thereon, and I managed to actually enjoy the break from the all too familiar sense of concern (about the problems that beset our ailing human condition) that usually keep me company.

We survived a bolt of lightning that struck Blessed Days, our family’s rented home in Avon, Northern Carolina where we were to attend a niece’s wedding with other members of the Africa clan. It was also there where we celebrated the 8th and 4th birthdays of my grandchildren. Then we were off to New York where we eagerly immersed ourselves in the carnival atmosphere of summer in Manhattan and enjoyed theater nights on Broadway. It was truly a happy vacation for the eight of us despite our aching feet from the long walks, and the memory of the lightning bolt that struck our Blessed Days home in Avon!

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Photo courtesy of John & Maricel Feser

So I was surprised to hear my grandkids let out a loud cheer when their mother announced (after the long drive from the airport in Manila) that we are “home now”! I imagine that, for four-year old Alonzo, this must have felt like returning “back to Earth” where he is reunited with his “yaya” (nanny) and everything dear, comfortable, and familiar to him. We are glad and grateful that our vacation together as a family was safe and happy despite the lightning scare!

Yes, it was a happy time for all of us, and happiness is certainly a measure of a good vacation.  Now we are back to “Earth,” back to the challenges of “real life” as we face it in our every day.  Truth to tell, I feel that I could use more time to prepare to face those challenges again today.  How nice it would be to be able to luxuriate in the happiness of vacation much longer!

Happiness. As I reflect on this I remember my Tibetan Buddhist friend and colleague, Reimon Sonam, who once spoke of peace as “an ecosystem.” I realize that happiness is an ecosystem, too!

The more I reflect on my “happiness experience,” the more I experience myself awakening to the realization that, like peace, it cannot be sustainable if we remain oblivious to the fact that happiness comes with something else for it to be true and lasting. It comes with listening presence and conscious awareness of our selves as being interconnected and one with others.

The great Einstein was right about how we need to understand problems in order to find the right solutions. Perhaps if we spent more time reflecting on humankind’s “problem” rather than going around in circles hitting every symptom with a hammer and wondering why we are not solving any, we could try listening to happiness and understand what it is, and what it is not?

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In Disney World (dubbed the “happiest place on Earth”) people seemed happy, never mind the huge amount of US dollars spent on every single move they made—from buying drinking water in plastic bottles to buying a hamburger or a huge leg of roasted turkey meant for one person to consume (the size of which can feed an entire family in the slums of the Philippines), from stroller and wheelchair rentals to buying Disney stamped China-made raincoats and umbrellas.

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While I was thrilled to ride my banshee as my avatar in Pandora, and enjoyed the expressions of awe in my grandkids’ faces as they saw real animals in Animal Kingdom, I was troubled by the wanton consumerism and the careless use and disposal of plastic cups, bottles, utensils, and bags everywhere! They all had to be disposed somewhere, but how and where? Plastics were also used in abundance in airplanes and airports in Rome and the places we visited in the US. I wonder how long happiness can be sustained in this “happiest place on earth” if plastic pollution got so huge a problem that we’d find ourselves buried in it!

Happiness was only marred by intermittent rains that prevented kids from a second ride on Aladdin’s magic carpet. This was summer in Florida, and rains were not supposed to come this early. Climate is changing, but does this worry us enough to take heed of it? Perhaps not. This was a vacation and we chose not to worry but to be happy.

It rained in Avon, North Carolina, too, and my sister’s car could not wade through the flooded road that led to Blessed Days, the house our family rented there. The thunder and lightning storm we experienced past midnight a couple of nights later was a wake-up call that scared us, but it was just a hiccup in our vacation that we were grateful to have come away from unscathed.

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In Manhattan, New York it drizzled too. But despite the threat of rain, it was largely sunny and, as always, the place had the peculiar effect on me that was invigorating. It is the only place in the world I’ve visited that gives me the feeling of being amid a throng of humanity so diverse that it is a veritable microcosm of the world! I loved the experience of interviewing our Uber drivers in Manhattan–there was WeiWei from China, an Indian from Pakistan named Waheed, a Yemeni, and a Tibetan Buddhist whose colorful hand-embroidered collar got me curious about him and his origins. And I loved the sight of Asians, Indians, Africans, Latin Americans, Europeans, etc. seated together in a row across me in the subway trains, and hearing the different languages spoken around me!

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Eight-year old Luna brought chuckles in a deli when she loudly exclaimed, “Asian Food!” She missed rice, I was surprised to hear her say, for she doesn’t seem to enjoy eating it at home. When asked, she replied: “But Gwama, I eat rice there every day!” Going without rice in America for two weeks made the little Filipino girl yearn for it, just like we adults did. In New York, there were different kinds of food for different races and creed, even for vegetarians like me!

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Happiness was easy to come by for vacationers like us in the “melting pot” of races that is Manhattan in New York. As I reflect on my experience of it I realize that perhaps  the problem besetting our humankind today is a happiness problem. We have difficulty being happy on a daily basis, and we seem to be able to do so only with some effort to be away on “vacation” from the realities of our daily lives. Perhaps, for happiness to be sustainable, we need to develop conscious capacities for nurturing our “happiness ecosystem.” We need to develop our capacities for–

  • Childlike IMAGINATION, for believing in something out of the mundane and ordinary and making it special and magical. Waheed, our Indian Pakistani Uber driver (who has sought political asylum in the US and lived in Coney Island as an Uber driver for over two years) spoke of how thrilled he was about his “magic box”—the GPS gadget—that he raved about with relatives back home in Pakistan because it enabled him to go around and earn a living while being his own boss in this foreign land. Imagination fuels hope, and hope enlivens our journey through life by giving it some direction. This was the magic of Disney World, too, I suppose! Imagineers have a way of creating the illusion that dreams can come true!
  • AFFIRMATION OF GOODNESS, and appreciating this in ourselves and others. There is godliness everywhere, even when this might not be readily apparent. We just need to open ourselves to it and connect with our fellow human beings to find it. I experienced this goodness when talking with people. The lady guard at The Metropolitan Museum who spent hours standing by the doorwacofy to the hall of classical paintings admired my sandals saying, “They look comfortable.” I replied to her with pride, “Yes, they are,” I said, “they’re made in the Philippines!” She smiled. Similarly, my grandkids took time to listen and dance to the music of an old soldier playing a solo saxophone in Central Park and dropped some coins in his box. He must have been moved by their appreciation that he asked to shake their hands. Waheed, our Uber driver, also gave Luna a lollipop, and when I taught her to say “sukran” to him he smiled and said that I was “kind” and that he will “never forget me.”
  • CONNECTION, and seeing ourselves as part of a bigger whole. This is always a humbling experience. Knowing that we are not here by “accident” but that we are part of an awe-inspiring ongoing story of Divine Creation, of human history constantly unfolding, of our family with all its frailties and imperfections constantly bonding, breaking, and re-bonding. The visit to the Museum of Natural History, The Met, and 9/11 and Korean War Memorials, and the glimpse of Lady Liberty from the ferry to Staten Island gave me this sense of connection to great human beings in the past with their remarkable accomplishments in various fields, and the triumph of the human spirit in the midst of adversity and pain…even four-year old Alonzo enjoyed seeing the skeletons of dinosaurs, and following the story of the universe even when this made him yearn to “go back to Earth!” Earth is home, a place where he experiences security and love with his family. This is where he wants to be. This is where we all want to be too, I guess.
    • RESPONSIBLE ACTION, arising from a deep sense of care and concern for each other’s home, our home—Earth. The signs of this neglect are evident everywhere. Obesity is a sign of disrespect for oneself, plastic pollution and other forms of pollution is a sign of disrespect for our shared home. Violence, the invention of 3-D gun templates in America that allows people to make their own guns to kill others, racism, and other forms of intolerance and human rights abuse is cofdisrespect for life. Happiness cannot thrive in these dire conditions. We need to awaken in conscious awareness and bring to the fore the highest teachings and ideals of our respective religions and faith traditions to engage in responsible co-creative actions to save ourselves, and our “common home.”

So I think that perhaps the problem of our humankind is a “happiness problem.” We all want to be happy, but we do not know what happiness truly means. We mistake happiness for the momentary feelings we get when on “vacation mode” from our real everyday lives, or when we attain some measure of success in our quest for power, wealth, and fame even at the expense of the wellbeing of others.

But happiness is an ecosystem. If we do not awaken from our indifference and begin to nurture it in ourselves and with one another, the rains will eventually stop the joyrides even in “the happiest places on Earth,” the floods will ruin weddings and other happy family occasions, lightning will strike and kill in many unexpected places, fire will consume forests and communities, war memorials will disappear with the ashes of what once were safe places of human habitation, plastic bottles will choke the oceans, and drug use and abuse will numb our senses until happiness becomes an illusion in a place we call “Earth” where we can no longer find ourselves returning back home to.

If we had one hour to solve humankind’s problem, perhaps we need to make time to understand what happiness truly is and what makes us happy. Maybe then we can begin to finally find some solutions to the problem of our ailing human condition…

 

What I learned in Mindanao about Love & Forgiveness

Image  I have always wondered how forgiveness works, and how love comes into the equation in this. Do we have to love our enemies first before we can forgive? Or do we forgive first before we can say that we love? I wondered and pondered on this throughout my fifteen years of endeavors at building relationships of mutual respect, understanding and cooperation between Muslims and Christians in conflict-affected grassroots communities around Metro Manila.

    Last year, with the help of Dr. Ruben Habito of the Perkins School of Theology (Dallas, Texas), and with funding from the Fetzer Institute (Kalamazoo, Michigan) and a happy partnership with Balay Rehabilitation Center, came the opportunity for us at The Peacemakers’ Circle to conduct a pilot action-reflection training program on INTRA-FAITH DIALOGUE FOR MUSLIM-CHRISTIAN UNDERSTANDING in North Cotabato, Mindanao. This was a three-phase pilot program that spanned a period of one year.

    Inspired by the disciplines of Moral Imagination that I had  learned from my earlier training under John Paul Lederach, the program was designed to help Muslims and Christians in areas of armed conflict learn to address fear, anger and hatred so that they are able to build mutually respectful and harmonious relationships with one another.

  20130906_09323820130910_090023 Phase I of the program focused on INTRA-FAITH DIALOGUE and this consisted mostly of modules on Inner Work (or jihad’un nafs, as Muslims would call it) that encouraged them to look inside themselves to find the “enemy” within that hindered them from opening up to the “other” without fear. Muslim and Christian participants went through separate three-day workshops that encouraged them to reflect on the teachings and ideals of their respective faith traditions and how they were living their lives as true Muslims or true Christians based on those teachings. Activities for Self-Awareness and Transformation engaged head, heart, and hands to ensure that the experience was holistic and the process had a good balance of yin-yang forces. A presentation on the History of the Mindanao conflict (by Rev. Fr. Bert Layson, OMI) capped the experience of self-awakening as the participants became aware of the circumstances in the past that lead to perceived injustices today. This paved the way for Phase II of the program.

20130726_104620    Phase II  was a call to action. This challenged the participants to carry on with their action-reflection intra-faith learning process by creating SALAM and SHALOM INTRA-FAITH DIALOGUE CIRCLES in their respective grassroots communities.  The Intra-Faith Dialogue Circles provided safe spaces for deepening of the participants’ understanding and appreciation of the teachings and ideals of Christianity and Islam on Love and Forgiveness.20130726_092727 The participants, together with family and friends of their own faith tradition, met twice a month in their respective Dialogue Circles to share reflections on how they have lived into their faith in their daily lives, what difficulties and challenges they faced in the process, and how they were able to or intended to overcome them. This Phase II program consisted of modules for eight (8) action-reflection sessions that spanned the period of four months.

    Phase III brought the Muslim and Christian participants together for the first time in a three-day workshop on INTERFAITH DIALOGUE FOR MUSLIM-CHRISTIAN RELATIONSHIP-BUILDING (held last January 30 to February 2, 2014). This third and last phase of the training included activity modules on Storytelling, Heart Listening, Moving From Darkness to Light, Creating a Web of Peace, Seeing Differences in Position and Disposition, Dialogue and Conflict Transformation,  Moral Imagination, and Creating Safe Spaces and Common Grounds for Relationship-building. This was a turning-point workshop that was to determine the success of our efforts at promoting LOVE and FORGIVENESS between the Muslims and Christians in the areas of armed conflict. And I was astonished by the results. I say astonished because I and members of my facilitating team, Orlan de Guzman and Analisa Ugay, were at first not sure how well the modules would work so that Love and Forgiveness could come about in their midst. But happily, it did. So upon reflection on the process, I am struck by the answers that came to me about how we human beings might turn from the darkness of fear and mistrust towards the light of Love and Forgiveness.

Candle in the dark    I believe that the turning-point exercise in the workshop that helped make the transition from fear and mistrust to love and forgiveness possible was that of Moving from Darkness to Light. Lying on the floor in darkness The module consisted of these three activities: 1) Creating a Safe Sanctuary within oneself, 2) Facing that which one fears, the “Enemy” out there and expressing negative feelings non-verbally through ones hands using clay dough, and 3) Using the Listening Stone in the practice of deep listening and hearing the response of the “Enemy” that is being expressed back non-verbally.

Freeing pain from the body

LIstening Stone
Confronting my demons

Shedding tears of contrition

   

   

 

   

   

    The turning-point is that moment when one is able to shift ones attention away from the raging noise of anger, resentment and hatred in one’s head, tune in to silence, and in that silence hear the sound of one’s pain echoing back to oneself from the heart of the “enemy.” It is that moment when one hears the cry, “It hurts!” and one realizes that this cry is coming from a human being other than oneself stumbling in the darkness of his/her human frailties. “Naawa ako sa kanya kasi tao rin pala sya,”  said one participant hearing this cry in his heart. I felt sorry for him because I realize that he is a human being too, he said.

Love letters   Muslim women healing each otherShaping love & forgiveness

Freeing the spirit in shibashi

Colorful stones

    His realization made me stop and reflect on what this means in the context of my interfaith relationship-building work. I realized that in conflict transformation and peacebuilding, FORGIVENESS is the turning-point that moves the person from darkness to light. It is an experience of “humanizing” rather than “demonizing” the one whom one considers the “enemy.” It is a choice to love where Love prevails over Fear; a choice to tune in to stillness where one is able to hear with the heart humbly and listen to the silences speak clearly of that which is in the heart of the “other.” In this listening silence, one finds oneself in oneness with the “other” in a sacred place that is deep within oneself yet is beyond and transcending all boundaries of fear.

Salam group & yin-yang    This realization affirms what I have come to believe about Fear and Love, that they are two opposing forces that cannot co-exist at the same time and in the same space. Fear contracts. Love expands. These two opposing forces give rise to two very different movements of soul that make the person think and act in very distinct ways. A relationship that is motivated by fear is very different from that which arises from love. One is rigid, stifling and confining. The other is spontaneous, expansive and liberating.

    So I figured that when one chooses to love, one is moving away from the darkness of fear, anger and hatred to be able to see the light of goodness in the “other” although this goodness may not be readily apparent. And when one forgives, one is seeing the light of goodness in the “other” because of the light of love within oneself that enables one to see the light in the “other” even in the midst of the engulfing darkness.

    This is what we at The Peacemakers’ Circle humbly hope to accomplish in our endeavors at building relationships of mutual respect, understanding and cooperation in the areas of armed conflict in Mindanao. We strive to help our ailing Muslim and Christian brothers and sisters illumine each other’s darkness with the light of Love and Forgiveness.  We saw this happening before our eyes, and are thrilled by the success of our concerted efforts. Yes, Love and Forgiveness is possible among people in conflict! And we would love to see the realization of this unfolding elsewhere in the country and in other areas of armed conflict around the world! INTRA-FAITH DIALOGUE FOR INTERFAITH UNDERSTANDING can be a powerful tool for bringing about healing and relationship-building among people of diverse cultures and beliefs everywhere.

    We are aware, however, that this is just a small beginning. For the success of this project to be sustainable, the journey of building relationships must continue on the ground. One year is not enough. With enough help and support, we look forward to accompanying the process of nurturing and strengthening the efforts of the members of the Intra-Faith Dialogue Circles in the grassroots communities in North Cotabato (Mindanao) where we have started, and to the creation of more Dialogue Circles elsewhere where they are needed.

    Meantime, we hope that this may be a helpful contribution to the successful implementation of the Peace Agreement between our Philippine government and the Bangsamoro people in the grassroots. And may this generate more light among those who are inspired to support this project to make its success sustainable and its impact far-reaching.

SALAM-SHALOM group photo

When enough is enough

(First published on July 27, 2009)

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As I sat by myself in the quiet of the night in my home away from home, a question that someone once voiced in an interfaith circle returned to me: How will I know when enough is enough?

    This is my eleventh year in the journey along the path of interfaith dialogue and peacebuilding. I have gotten used to friends and family looking at me quizzically and saying, “At least you have something to keep you busy,” or “Tsk, tsk…that hobby is taking too much of your time, no?”  Even my priest friend who has been engaged in Muslim-Christian Dialogue for over two decades seems puzzled by my choice of “apostolate” and every time we meet I would brace myself for what I was almost always sure would be coming. “Tell me, Marites,” he would ask, “Why are you doing this?”  And I would always be stumped, not having easy answers.

    Sometimes I find that the word “vocation” comes handy, but then again the thought of having to explain it away without sounding like a convent reject makes me want to run away and avoid the conversation altogether. I am not a religious person by my parents’ standards, although I’ve been religious by their standards too at an earlier time in my life. However, truth to tell, those were times when fear seemed to be largely the moving force behind my devout prayers and religious practices–fear of displeasing God and of being thrown into the fires of hell where my soul would be consigned to eternal damnation!

    I’m not saying that fear has no hold on me now. I still fear straying away from godliness into the darkness; and I fear death, especially the death of that which gives my life meaning. So I keep listening to that which keeps me going, and I keep seeking to find that which gives meaning to who I am and what I am doing.

    I guess this experience is not unique to me for I’m sure there is in each one of us the same longing. So I must say that mine has been sustained all these years by a passion—some call it “fire in the belly”–that awakens me in the morning with new ideas on how to realize the world that I wish to see, and how to engage new ways of doing things so that that world would become a reality.

    But there are times like this in the evenings when I find myself embraced by a blanket of darkness woven from the fabric of my own fears. And the fears are many. They are lurking behind one thing or another within me. There is the dull and sometimes sharp pain in my lower left abdomen (that has visited me again lately) that I fear. There is also the fear arising from feelings of inadequacy, of being alone in my views about my work and ultimately accountable for my failures and shortcomings, of no longer believing in the dream, of thinking myself naive or insane (or both!) for having believed in it in the first place, of running away and giving up on it and, finally, of giving up on my “good and godly” self and my hope-filled striving.

    Like night and day my dreams and reality are so disparate that interfaith peacebuilding, in my experience, is a painstaking and difficult endeavor. This is especially so when dealing with the challenge of addressing people’s differences in ways that are respectful and non-violent. When will enough be enough for me? I wondered as I curled like a fetus underneath the blanket of the night.  

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    Will enough be enough when the Muslims and Christians (in the grassroots communities that we are serving) give up and refuse to collaborate for peace? Will enough be enough when the individuals, institutions and organizations that support The Peacemakers’ Circle stop believing in us and no longer share their resources for our work? Will enough be enough when the funds run out? Or will enough be enough when the pain in my body keeps me from waking up in the morning with renewed hope and optimism, or from waking up at all?

    When will enough be enough? I guess I will never know, not perhaps until the physical realities of my world keep me from dreaming new dreams and from pursuing them with fire in my belly. But, try as I might to douse it, the fire remains alive and burning. Sometimes it blazes so bright it threatens to consume me, and I no longer know where my puny self ends and where the dream begins! So I keep holding on to my dreams as I keep striving with faith and hope to crawl out unfazed from the blanket of my fears.

Being change

VLUU L100, M100  / Samsung L100, M100

Dialogue with Muslims at Salam Compound in Culiat, Quezon City, Metro Manila

(First published on September 21, 2010)

     Perhaps it is true that the only constant in life is change. People, relationships among people, their circumstances, and just about everything that we can think of, do change! Some changes are for the better, while others leave us with only a deeper yearning for what we desire and hope for.

     But, change comes slowly, unfolding ever so subtly on various levels in our midst that, more often than not, we hardly even notice it happening.

     For those expecting swift and discernible outcomes, patience tends to wear out easily and the easiest way of coping with frustration is to complain, criticize, blame, protest against, renounce, or even remove those whom they perceive to be obstacles to change, or are faulty instruments of it. Few are wont to see themselves as part of the big picture of change unfolding, or being involved in the process and therefore partly responsible and accountable for its outcomes.

     For those expecting little or nothing, everything or nothing may come as a surprise, and life goes on, as always, perhaps either happily or helplessly, whatever their disposition and circumstances may be.

     But, for those who have committed to be instruments of change (no matter what their culture or beliefs may be), there is the challenge of “active waiting” to face, and the aspiration of “being the change” that they “wish to see” to live up to and realize.

     My interfaith peacebuilding work these past twelve years has been inspired by the desire to respond to the need to bring about change for the better in the relationships among people of diverse cultures and beliefs. The compelling words of Mahatma Gandhi–Be the change that you wish to see in the world!–fueled my endeavors with the conviction that I, too, can be part of the movement for a better world.

     However, in my endeavors, I have experienced a tendency, even among esteemed colleagues committed to change, to focus largely on peacemaking as a means to an end rather than also as an end in itself, on the goal rather than on the process. Though we speak of wanting to bring about peace, justice and healing in our midst, our ways of being–of thinking, feeling, and acting—towards one another remain wanting of change.

     We expend much of our time and energies trying to level the playing field searching for similarities among us that, in the process, we fail to listen to, respect and appreciate those whose views or ways of being differ from our own. It is ironic that, in our desire for peace to happen, we deal with those whom we perceive to be obstacles to it in ways that belie the very principles and essence of peace. It is easier to demonize, exclude, and even remove them from our organizations, institutions, communities, etc., rather than to recognize and respect their position, interests, values and needs and make room for our differences to enrich our relationships and move our shared endeavors forward.

     Indeed, listening to each other with the heart rightly and creating safe spaces for our differences to be heard, respected, and even appreciated takes too much time and energy. True heart listening involves the disarmament of the heart that is possible only when we make ourselves vulnerable to the “other” in the spirit of humility, openness, and willingness to allow the other to “live in me.” Even for many of us who are not new to peacemaking, this is a noble ideal requiring painstaking and tedious inner work to realize. More often than not, this way of being is forsaken in relationship-building.

     But, what then is the point? Why engage in dialogue and peacemaking if our efforts cannot bring about change for the better in people’s relationships despite their differences? Why call ourselves peacemakers if our ways of being cannot help bring about peace, unity and harmony in our midst?

     Being a “peacemaker” is an ideal that many aspire for but fail to live up to. Those of us committed to peacemaking as a way of bringing about social change will find that there is a need to cultivate at least three essential capacities within ourselves that must be realized in our relationships with others. These are: the capacity to see with the heart rightly, the capacity to seek for answers to questions that liberate the human spirit from the bondage of fear, and the capacity to be with others (even our “enemies”) in the endeavor of bringing about the change that we wish to see. Simply put, we need clarity of visiondepth of conviction, andintegrity of co-creative action.

     In interfaith dialogue and relationship-building, clarity of vision in the light of faith allows us to see through the darkness of our fears and anxieties and find our way to that sacred place within us—that common ground–where we can truly meet the “other” in the spirit of oneness despite our differences, and where our silences can speak and our hearts can truly listen. This is where moral imagination is awakened and transformative action is inspired.

     Moral imagination, as defined by John Paul Lederach (renowned lecturer and trainer on Conflict Transformation and Peacebuilding) is “the capacity to imagine something while rooted in the challenges of the real world yet capable of giving birth to that which does not yet exist.”  Seeing with the heart rightly is essential to the moral imagination, as is the ability to create something new–new ways of attaining and realizing our highest collective human potentials for good—while being rooted in the difficult realities of our physical world.

     Clarity of vision inspires conviction, fuels passion, and gives a sense of direction to our actions. What we see with our hearts rightly gives rise to questions within us that compel us to seek for answers. And answers may come sooner or later with the awakening of those whose minds are open and hearts are listening, and whose actions are in harmony with the divine scheme of things that are ever unfolding.