Monday, April 30, 2012

Flexibility and Peace

Flexibility has a deep-rooted relationship with peace. It is the cheapest way to comfort! If we can adapt to new situations, we are usually more peaceful. Adapting does not mean submitting or bowing down to others but it means adjusting to a situation in a way that reduces the hurt and increases the comfort for us and for others around us.

It takes a broader perspective to life to be able to adapt. Just like we have to change our clothing according to the climate, we must be able to modify our lives as per the demand of a situation. Imagine wearing two sweaters and a jacket in a hot afternoon, maybe not a good idea.

Sometimes we mistake stubbornness to strength. In urdu, there is a saying, 'Jhookega wahi jisme kuch jaan hai, akad khas murde ki pehchaan hai', which means that the one that has life will bend but rigidness is the sign of a dead body.

A certain level of flexibility is required for any successful relationship and so this is something that all of us are capable of. However, sometimes we tend to forget that and feel stuck in a particular situation, whereas, all we need to do is to take a step back and analyze how can we adapt to this situation in a win-win way.

Remember the saying we have heard a thousands times, 'every problem has a solution'. There is always more than one way to deal with a situation and there is always a way that is peaceful. Today, if you are stuck in a situation, think about what little changes you can make to improve the situation. These changes can be about the situation itself or about your preferences. Take time to think different strategies and evaluate them, see what will work for all and will add peace to your life. Sometimes, just slowing down and taking baby steps increase calm in our lives. Smile and be peacefully flexible!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Time to Teach Peace

Recent violence in Afghanistan, continued killing and arrests of civilians in Syria, conflict between Sudan and South Sudan, killings in Northern Nigeria, shooting of a teenager, Traven Martin, in the US are just some very sad examples of how human beings behave to gain control over a situation.

Let us take a minute and go back in time, into the childhood of the aggressors in these events. I wonder how many of them received formal or informal peace education growing up? If they heard conversations at home around the importance of peace and its impact on their well-being? If they had the opportunity to go to school, they had peace education as part of the curriculum?

When we learn certain values in our childhood, we are very likely to retain them all our lives. Our personality is mostly shaped in our early years. Therefore, we, as States, schools, parents, must find ways to integrate peace education in our homes, classrooms, and in our society at large.

Little jingles and poems with simple messages can be written and taught to toddlers that can have a long lasting impact on them. Many cultures already have a treasure of peace related stories, poems and some countries like New Zealand (http://www.disarmsecure.org/Peace_Education_in_Schools.pdf) have peace curriculum in some of their schools. Here are a couple of examples of peace poems (can be translated in other languages) for little children:

Peace with my brother and peace with my sister,
way of life, way of life
No more quarreling, more and more smiling,
that's my life, that's my life
— Anjana Dayal


Or a poem written by a child (http://favicons.blogspot.com/2012/04/poems-by-children-on-diversity.html)
Peace begins with saying sorry.
Peace begins with not hurting others.
Peace begins with honesty and trust.
Peace begins with showing cooperation and respect.
World Peace Begins With ME!
--Halley Hall 

As responsible adults, lets make simple modifications in our educational systems to ensure that our future generation has better skills for conflict resolution because with increased sophistication in the weapons, humanity will not be able to survive many wars. Therefore, my dear readers, as we teach our kids to walk, let us teach them to walk on the way of peace...

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Economy Says, No More Wars!


When as adults, we see our child in a fist fight with another child over something, we intervene and help them understand that probably fist-fighting was the not the most appropriate solution to whatever the situation was. At the same time, when we look at our mutual problems, which are more complex, we tend to forget to practice what we preach. From time to time we, intelligent and mature adults, fail to handle problems, disagreements and conflicts in the most appropriate way. And like the two fighting kids, we too get focused on winning without thinking of the consequences of that victory. Sometimes, that victory or efforts towards it, ruin a relationship. At a macro level, it escalates into wars. Can we as honestly say that nothing could have prevented the bloodshed of our fellow human beings? There are always peace options but desire for quick conquest overpowers the efforts for a meaningful collective victory. Let us build a case for eliminating or substantially reducing wars from our society by looking at: cost benefit analysis, finding common grounds and shared vision.


Cost-benefit analysis

Wars affect the economy both positively and negatively. On one side, many make big profits on weaponry production, contracting and construction. Some local people are recruited for these activities and are able to make money. But these profits do not reach the majority of the population. On the other side, a nation looses money in investing on the training, equipments, maintenance of the troops and other requirements. In the war zones, the devastation and loss of infrastructure incurs major damage to the economy for many years to come. With (a) thousands of people losing their livelihoods, (b) hundreds of acres of land polluted with mines, and (c) current and future workers impaired physically and mentally, there is a much bigger cost to pay than any profit wars may bring to the global economy.

Those who advocate that wars will lead to some kind of well being to specific countries and/groups must analyze the potential benefits of any war against the cost being paid. Cost of the current wars around the world is (a) immeasurable resources, (b) hundreds of thousands of lives (c) physical, psychological and social wounds, (d) destruction and devastation in affected areas, (e) future adverse effects of wars such as unexploded ordnances and finally (f) increased hatred, which may lead to several other conflicts. What benefits are worth of this price? Can an ideology be truthfully promoted at this cost? 


Finding Common Grounds

Since the cultural/ethnic filters amongst nations/groups are very different from each other, there will be conflicts but we need to change the ways of conflict resolution. When we begin to look beyond our cultural filters and linguistic interferences, deep inside all societies advocate for forgiveness, peace and love. The holy Quran says, “In the name of Allah, the Merciful, the Compassionate”.  Jesus was not advocating for revenge and hatred when he said, “Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either”. The Dalai Lama posits love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive. Buddha said, “Hatred does not cease by hatred, but only by love; this is the eternal rule. Rabbi Menachem Mendle said, “Our only way out is to learn compassion without cause. To care for each other simply because that ‘other’ exists”.  Mahatma Gandhi objected to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent.

We cannot to start a process of coming together until we forgive, accept and empathize with each other. It would be easier to find common grounds if we look at common needs. In order to find common grounds we need to (a) refine and use our diplomatic skills more than ever, (b) negotiate while respecting each other’s leadership (c) utilize a collaborative processes for creative problem solving, (d) be flexible and (e) where agreeing is not possible, agree to disagree deferentially.

Assiduous dialoguing is essential to reach a mutually acceptable pact for parties involved. Focus of such processes must be the ‘issues’ and not 'people'. In addition, agreements are sustainable only if they are understood and acceptable at the grassroots. A bottom-up approach is recommended to set the framework for negotiations. Both communities and governments have significant roles in peace-building and sustaining peace. 


Shared Vision

Let’s take a moment to visualize that all the resources, power and wisdom that is being spent on wars around the world is diverted to feeding the hungry, providing shelters to the homeless, giving appropriate health care to the sick and bringing smiles to faces covered with dirt and wet with tears. I recognize that no matter how beautiful this vision is, it not practical and probably cannot be realized in a short span of time.

However, as responsible citizens of the world we must try to move towards this vision. Especially, now, when many players in the world are equipped with Nuclear weapons. We cannot continue to risk our future. Recently, a young graphic designer in a conversation expressed his fear about a potential nuclear war. He said, “If the world leaders do not learn to negotiate and there is a nuclear war, the world would go back to stone age”. His fear is not based on any research but is important because it represents the fear of thousands of youth around the world.

In today’s age of globalization, where there is much greater interdependence between States, it is the best time ever to develop a shared vision.  Whether rich or poor states, developed, developing or under-developed countries, all hold overlapping dreams that can constitute a shared vision, such as (a) Economic prosperity and international trade opportunities, (b) Freedom to serve God according to local traditions, (c) Opportunities for optimum growth and development for children, and (d) Well being, respect and independence. It might be difficult and painstaking but it can be done. 

World leaders, before you decide for another war, I request you to think about what do you want to leave for your great grandchildren, ruins because of nuclear weapons or opportunities that come through peace and prosperity.

Monday, April 9, 2012

US in Afghanistan?

Recently I read Joe Klein's article in the Time magazine regarding the length of US mission in Afghanistan and its impact on the troops. According to the article there are many veterans who are looking for clarity for the current mission in Afghanistan. Being a veteran's wife, I too find myself in midst of those conversations and truly there no satisfying answers for having 89,000 (figure from February 2012) soldiers on ground, especially after the killing of Osama Bin Laden. 


No war is ever good, even if it is fought in the name of peace. However, I recognize that in complex state of affairs in Afghanistan, merely peaceful negotiations and restoration activities may not present a comprehensive answer and other military and political tactics might be needed for a long-term solution. I wonder if we can re-evaluate our mission, strategies and resources required to carry them out. Seriously, putting 89,000 precious lives in harms way does not sound like the most appropriate strategy in the current circumstances. 



For more than a decade, priceless lives and billions of dollars (in the times of recession)  are lost. There are long term mental health and psychosocial issues for combatants, local civilians and the families of the combatants (NATO personnel as well as the insurgents). Other impacts include destruction of already scarce infrastructure in the Afghanistan and further deterioration  in relationship with Pakistan. Last but not the least, time is the most important resource that is being lost everyday that there is no resolution to the situation. 

From the humanitarian point of view, I thought that maybe US presence is needed there to avert human rights violations in the country, especially after Time magazine's cover (July 2010), which illustrated the plight of a Afghan woman. But this Sunday's newspapers were full of worrying statistics pertaining to violence against women, children and elderly right here in Puerto Rico. And then I did a quick research for violance against women in the US and I found some more concerning numbers there as well. Here are some facts in the US and Puerto Rico:
  • Three women are killed by a current or former intimate partner each day in America, on average. (http://www.nnedv.org/docs/Stats/NNEDV_DVSA_factsheet2010.pdf)
  • Approximately 2.3 million people each year in the United States are raped and/or physically assaulted by a current or former spouse, boyfriend or girlfriend. Women who were physically assaulted by an intimate partner averaged 6.9 physical assaults per year by the same partner. (http://www.nnedv.org/docs/Stats/NNEDV_DVSA_factsheet2010.pdf)
  • 27, 934 Domestic violence cases against women in Puerto Rico in 2012. {Maricarmen Rivera Sanchez, (April 8th, 2012), El Vocero, San Juan Puerto Rico}
  • 26 women have been killed as a result of domestic voilence in 2012. {Maricarmen Rivera Sanchez, (April 8th, 2012), El Vocero, San Juan Puerto Rico}
  • 30,000 cases of child abuse and elderly abuse in Puerto Rico {Gloria Ruiz Kuilan, (April 8th, 2012) El Nuevo Dia, San Juan, Puerto Rico}. 
  • More info on Human Rights issues in the US: http://www.amnestyusa.org/our-work/countries/americas/usa
Let me join thousands of Americans who have been advocating for the best way forward, which is to bring back the troops and focus on improving the situation back at home, financially and socially. Let Afghans be the leaders in designing their future. They have survived for generations and they will continue to evolve as a society in their own style and their own pace.


Organizations such as US Institute of Peace, Washington DC are exploring ways of resolve the situation in Afghanistan in ways that will protect lives, improve diplomatic relations and will probably be more economical.  For example, tomorrow, on April 10, USIP will host an event called Prospects for Peace in Afghanistan. One can also watch the live webcast tomorrow at 10:00 am EST at www.usip.org/webcast



It does not matter which side wins the war in the end, it is the civilians involved and the families of the combatants who lose. Conflicts are and will remain part of the ever-dynamic global society but ways of conflict resolution must be modified in the age of nuclear weapons to prevent irreversible damages. It is time for the US to lead the world towards creative problem solving through diplomacy and dialoguing. 


Friday, April 6, 2012

Good Friday: Foundation of Victory!

Today is Good Friday, a day to remember that Jesus Christ son of God was crucified so that by His sacrifice our sins would be forgiven. If you believe this story then the forgiveness and grace that flowed  with His blood from the cross is still able to give you a new life.

I wonder what must be going on in Jesus' mind when He was carrying the cross… Fear? Nervousness? Trust in God that He will be resurrected the third day? Or in addition to all that, 'focus' on the mission. Focus on the greater cause than the humiliations hurled at Him. Focus on the hope for future than the painful present. Focus on the spiritual gain than the physical suffering. Focus on His capacity to love others than other's capacity to hate Him.
An actor portraying Jesus: Photo from Google
On the cross He personified of forgiveness, tolerance, love, acceptance, and perseverance. He gave His greatest teaching not through any parable but by executing it. Not sure if He wanted beautiful Church buildings all over the world but I am pretty sure that He wanted to build Churches made out of 'people' that could forgive, tolerate, love, accept and persevere.

Today is the day to celebrate our suffering because Jesus too suffered. Today is the day to learn to forgive because Jesus too forgave those who persecuted Him. Today is the day to look beyond our current situation and trust in God that He will take us through this.

Yes, it is a Good Friday because it shows us the right way of living, no matter what religion we follow or what socio-economic status we have or what political party we belong or what preferences we have or what color of skin God gave us… through forgiveness, tolerance, love, acceptance and perseverance, we will march towards victory!  

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Red Cross Needs You



I wrote this poem while I was working with the American Red Cross, Puerto Rico chapter during hurricane Irene ( August, 2011), which affected several States in the US, caused significant anxiety amongst the emergency managers/disaster responders and happened to be one of the most expensive hurricane in the country. This hurricane did not claim too many lives but every single death affects the whole family and the entire community.

During the response, I met with hundreds of survivors and many of whom were very poor. Their roofs dripped, their beds were wet, and food was damaged. Thankfully, at the same time, I witnessed how Red Cross volunteers were making a difference in their lives. Just as one death can affect a community, one volunteer’s life can benefit many people.

More and more people in the communities need to be prepared to assist their families and neighbours post disaster. Organizations such as Red Cross provide trainings around the world to prepare local citizens to be able to protect and assist their communities before, during and after a disaster.

If you are interested in being a hero for your people, look for local branch/chapter of Red Cross in your State and register as a volunteer! Not only you will be able to serve others, you will also develop as a better human being. I know Red Cross changed my life for good, it can change yours too…


Mantra to Meet the Needs Appropriately
Together, we can save a life
Together, we can bring a smile
Together, we can touch a heart
Together, we can comfort a soul

Together, we prepare
Remember, it is worthwhile
Neutrality and impartiality is our style
Together, we assist on both sides of the aisle

Red Cross needs you, come on now!
Together we will overcome, it may take a while
For those who are in need,
Together, we will go an extra mile

Sunday, April 1, 2012

I see Him beyond the rituals… I meet Him more on the streets than in the church… He talks to me more through lives and events than through books, He teaches me more freedom than limitations… He tells me to embrace not to reject… He comes across as a father and a friend not as a judge… Forgiveness is His trademark not punishment, inclusion He preached not isolation… He doesn't seek too many words but expects solid actions…

Ah, The Moments of Faith!

Faith and fear, How different they are, To find a place in my heart, They're always at war! There are moments, When fear w...