I believe cynicism is the refuge of the fearful. Our job is to treat cynicism with gentleness and simply ask questions about why the person feels as they do
We were extremely pleased to welcome Dr Scilla Elworthy as our guest at the 4th Campfire forum sofa session. As well as treating Campfirers to a powerful and resonant keynote speech at Campfire Convention 001.UK, Scilla is well known for her writings and lectures. Her new book 'The Business Plan For Peace' is just published and this proved to be perfect timing for a Campfire catch up last night. Described by @Nadia Chambers as "an amazing and uplifting forum" it gave us all some light to move forward and feel we too can engage others in different ways of communicating and keeping the idea of peace in mind as a very achievable goal.
Here's what happened :
Greetings, Campfirers... we've just opened the thread for our 4th Q&A sofa session and I'd like to welcome Scilla Elworthy to the Campfire
Please can you tell us a little about your upbringing and formative years?
Hello everyone. Born in Scotland, I was the fifth child with four older brothers. I love spending holidays in Scotland with my youngest brother Edward and his wife Heather, walking the hills round their home in Pitlochry. My two elder brothers died of dementia, and my third brother was killed in a car smash when he was 20 and I was 10, an accident that knocked the joy out of my life for years and years.
How did the notion of peace become such an important concept in your mind?
In 1956 when I was 13, I watched Soviet tanks charging into Budapest in Hungary to crush the rebellion. I rushed upstairs and started packing my suitcase and my Mum came up and asked what I was doing and I said "I'm going to Budapest" I didn't even know where Budapest was. And then I burst into tears and bless her, she understood how important this was to me, to go and try and stop the violence. So she arranged for me to get trained in a holiday camp for concentration camp survivors when I was 16 and from then on I trained myself by going into war zones.
Nadia : You talk and write a lot about the importance of us 'doing our own inner work' if we are to be effective as agents of change for good. Could you explain what you mean by inner work.
Yes Nadia, what I mean is adopting a daily practice of self reflection or meditation or self knowledge of some kind and then done systemically, such a practice increases the effectiveness of what we do in the world by ten times.
Kimm : You talk often about the importance of women as world leaders and peace campaigners. I agree that woman and their natural disposition towards non-violence hold the key but it seems also that when some women(and well-intentioned men) get into positions of power they can often be at best helpless and ineffective and at worst, become heartless and violent themselves.
What hope is there when the likes of Aung San Suu Kyi fall from from grace so abysmally? Could it be true that women who find themselves in such positions are unaccustomed to functioning in such aggressive male dominated worlds that they find themselves having to join “the club” to survive themselves this rendering them ineffective?
Yes, Kimm. I agree with you. It's very hard to survive with feminine intelligence in male dominated decision making circles. On the plus side there are many many developing their feminine intelligence and we need to join with them in this work.
Jonathan : I read that you see great importance in a new brand of leaders who have a good connection between their inner selves and outer action. Do you think that we can nourish the emergence of such leaders around the world, e.g. by supporting those with strong personal qualities - integrity, compassion - so that they can become politically successful?
Absolutely, Jonathan. We have many young Mandelas among us who do not have to spend 27 years in jail to fully develop and with the support of people like those on this Convention they can be encouraged to prioritise good listening, compassion, inclusiveness and service to others as well as integrity and compassion, as you say.
Please tell us about your new book
I wrote the book 'Business Plan For Peace' for three reasons.
1 So that business people can realise there is more money and satisfaction in preventing war than there is in the tired old business of supplying arms.
2 Because nobody has ever done it before - a fully costed account of 24 methods to prevent war that can be scaled up effectively over ten years.
3 Because my inbox is full of people asking 'what can I do.. the world is in such a mess'.
So the last two chapters spell out 31 actions we can take in our local community or wider afield to resolve and prevent conflict.
And the last chapter is about the skills we need to develop to do this well.
I believe you recently met the Dalai Lama?
Yes, it was incredible. I was asked to speak at a conference he organises for his monks to get updated on western neuroscience and new ideas. To my amazement, in the final session I found myself sitting next to him and he asked me to speak straight from the heart, so I ignored my powerpoint and told him about this book I was writing. After fifteen minutes, she stood up and bowed. Me too. And then sat down and gave a ten minute commentary on what I had said and the phrase that struck me most was the following " We pray for peace, we long for peace, but the numbers...that's what matters!"
Louise : I was very moved by your campfire address last year - it left a lasting impression. As a Quaker I have found myself drawn more and more towards peace witness. We (as a Quaker group) visited the Peace Hub in Birmingham earlier whilst DESI was on in London and one of our members travelled to London to protest on the day of Faith groups gathering. I have a family and a business and I want to get involved in peace work. Where does a busy mum-of-two start to be the change we want to see in the world?
What a great question, Louise.
One great thing you could do is ask your kids' school if they would consider introducing a five minute silence at the beginning of the day. You could even volunteer to hold that silence as a Quaker. Because the Dalai Lama says that if every child learned to meditate there would be no war anywhere in thirty years. Or, if your children are older, you could encourage them to start a list of local heroes in your area to replace the frivolous celebrity lists which clutter young peoples' minds. That way, they could celebrate the unknown people who spend their lives serving others (there are 31 suggestions like this in the last chapter of my book).
Kimm : In your latest book under things we can do . . . You suggest the following: “Draw up a list of qualified women to fill policy-making roles on peace & security in your country” Who would we find on your list for the UK?
Thanks for the question, Kimm.
The very top one would be a Quaker woman who is a top civil servant, first in the cabinet office and now in Defra. She is extraordinarily honest, transparent and full of integrity.
The second would be Ellen MacArthur who sailed around the world single handed and now uses what she learned to build an organisation to reduce fossil energy consumed in manufacturing.
Thirdly, I would prioritise the powerful women in this country of Pakistani origin who are leading dialogues on why the Koran would not approve of suicide bombing.
In response to your question, Kimm, I will develop the full list in due course and post it to Campfire Convention when I get a moment.
Julie : I'm looking forward to reading your new book. I'm particularly intrigued by the 31 actions we can take in our communities, but I would have to admit I tend to avoid conflict rather than address it. Lack of skills / confidence, I guess. So my question is, when you're involved in a negotiation, say, or attempting to resolve conflict, how much of what you do is down to training and knowledge of how best to proceed, and how much is your personal intuitive response?
Absolutely great question, Julie
It's a mixture of three things :
1 Really listening to not only what the other person is saying but intuiting the feeling behind the words so what is it that they really need?
2 Continue asking questions rather than instructing or preaching until the person or people feel totally heard. That way we can move from the brain ("I'm right and you're wrong") to the heart, namely ("Oh, is that how you feel?")3 You're right that your personal intuitive response is vitally important.
What do you say to young people who want to do something but don't know what or how?
I ask them three questions :
1 "What breaks your heart?" Why? Because that's where the passion will be, whether it's refugee children, abandoned animals or the bees dying
2 "What are your skills?" They may say I'm good at social media or I can organise, or I can get a team together, or I know how to raise money...
3 Please can you marry your skills to what breaks your heart and find others who feel the same.
And then... after a year stand back and observe how much joy it brings you to be doing what you do well for what you care about most.
Kimm : The North Koreans and the USA are engaged in some seriously disturbing actions and rhetoric just now.
I try to put myself in the shoes of both sides and while it is about power and fear as usual I can also understand why other countries feel they may have the right to have these weapons when the West has them. What can the peace movements you support do in the face of a situation like the current US/Korean Crises?
We have two immature human beings, one in the White House and one in Pyong Yang - both are insecure sociopaths and know no better than to issue threats and grab the headlines by upper the tension. The only way in that I am aware of that could work is to approach Kim Jong Um through the US basketball hero he admires. And I understand that approach is underway, hopefully to find out what could satisfy his profound need for respect, which Trump consistently refuses to give him.
The peace movement world wide could ensure that everyone they know understands the consequences of the detonation of even a 'small' nuclear weapon. It is not just the blast and the burns that kill, but the vast fires that will ignite for miles and miles. That will throw up into the atmosphere so much soot that vegetation as we know it will not survive. So there will drought, famine and massive migration. Some predict that within twenty years human survival on earth will be impossible. So we need to ensure that all of us in the peace movement find out the facts and bombard our media with this information.
Louise : How do you guard your peace of mind (for want of a better word) are there ever times where you have felt less than inspired/motivated and if so what helps you remain so remarkably resiliant?
Obviously sometimes, I sink below the waves without trace like this last week when I was in Poland in a bad infection and had to make three speeches and run two workshops - I came back utterly exhausted and feeling hopeless. However, once I get back in my garden tomorrow morning, I know my October roses and digging up my plot in my allotment will restore my sanity, so thank you Mother!
Nadia : Scilla, I am finding it increasingly challenging to know how to respond the the levels of cynicism I hear around me. I sense that there's something about reconnecting with the joy that there is in everyday life but sometimes I just don't know how to move the conversation in that direction. How do you deal with cynicism?
I believe cynicism is the refuge of the fearful and I observe that in the words of a woman at Standing Rock, we are "being systematically farmed for fear". So our job is to treat cynicism with gentleness and simply ask questions about why the person feels as they do. Then ask if you can repeat back what you heard and check if you got it right with them. They will be surprised that somebody actually listened and heard their fear. Then you have moved from the brain to the heart and there is more chance of a dialogue.
Bruce : A bit superfluous probably, but hey... you look amazing for your years.. what's your secret, Scilla ?
Thanks Bruce. Very flattering. I do what I love and I'm a gardener and having my feet planted in the earth, filthy clothes and hair all over the place, I'm really happy. I do feel that all of us need mother earth to ground us.
Photo credit : James Rock