Europe is speechless with racing rhetoric, opinion-making, hasty declarations, reactions, and helpless gestures, some promoting understanding and some preventing tolerance and openness. Today, as for the last three days, Brussels is frozen with fear and the whole city has stopped functioning the way it used to. In a way, we find ourselves confused and marginalized in the heart of our beloved Europe.
Indeed, the events in Paris last Friday have woken up our population to the fact that we are not one Europe, but a Europe of different communities, many of which are not indigenous, Christian, nor wealthy. In most EU countries 15-20 % of the population live in poverty, and many of us live just above that percentage.
Europe today is a combination of diversity as well as social divergence, the first aspect to be celebrated, and the latter a consequence of the weak and deteriorating quality of our democratic governance and civic culture. Where is that grand European idea for the citizens? Our politicians are torn between populist policymaking and principled strategic choices. The Europe in front of us today is not one with a single mind and heart, but with many, which makes our continent so beautifully (and at times difficultly) diverse.
“Europe today is a combination of diversity as well as social divergence”
I have been working for the past 25 years in many countries in the world, for many organisations, from Eastern Europe, to Africa, to Asia, promoting democracy, dialogue, mediating conflicts, lamenting certain situations and ways of governance, and working (almost) tirelessly to make a contribution to improve the different situations I have encountered. And at one stage in your life, as it goes, you start questioning actions and impact, feeling the energy that has been spent outside and consumed you from inside, and realising one pivotal, essential lesson: that this peace that we are looking for we must begin to culture within ourselves. It is our task to cultivate this peace, a necessary stillness within ourselves that must be shared with others so we can naturally emulate it with our partners, children, neighbors and community. Unless we practice dialogue at home, within our community, and make an effort to reach out to those we do not know, not 1000 miles away but right next door, then we cannot really call ourselves peace builders.
If we cannot advocate and work with our local, regional and national communities, and become an active civil society, according to our abilities, what will propel us to do it elsewhere? If we cannot voice our concerns and needs, and teach others to do the same, how can we dare going out to other continents and encourage anyone to do so? If we cannot even breathe peacefully, be still enough to listen and communicate non-violently, how can we be a model to others or even to each other?
“It is our task to cultivate this peace, a necessary stillness within ourselves that must be shared with others so we can naturally emulate it with our partners, children, neighbours and community.”
The situation in 2015 in Europe should teach us one thing for now, for our children, for our future: that peace is within us all, as a divine gift. Let us not forget to nurture that and be the light to ourselves and to others, using all of our capacities to be of service wherever possible.
For us peace mediators/makers, this means that a return to the source of our practice, an invitation to pause and reflect on our assumptions and practice, and to make sure we can be present where we are, here right now, dedicating our full attention.
It is for this reason that within the practice of peace making I advocate for the following:
- Encourage mind-full action wherever we are, and be conflict sensitive and open for dialogue.
- Promote the search for peace from within through whatever practice, with all of my colleagues – my own path is the practice of Yoga.
- That peace mediation training embraces not only techniques but values of peace.
- Take the chance to challenge ourselves, with our colleagues, to test our assumptions, how we work, and how we deal with one another.
- Give the time and space for self-less action within the community that we live in, and encourage our colleagues to do the same.
- That we promote actively and fervently the practice of dialogue where we work, and live. It is not a question of resources; we can do it all (especially if we have done it elsewhere).
- Openly question the actions of governments in our own countries the same way we sometimes do in others’.
- Invite others to advise and help when we do not know how to keep going (maybe from another continent?)
- Enact, as we preach elsewhere, zero civic tolerance for corruption, egoistic power politics, abuse of the public service system, and extremist policy making.
- The integration of others is not the work of authorities but our own task as well.
- That democracy building is not fully accomplished but a continuous project, in which we must work proactively, same as in developing our civic culture.
- That any spiritual choice should be respected and is a private affair.
- That conflicts can be also an opportunity for growth.
- That although we know forgiveness is one of the hardest but also most honorable things to do, there is a need for space to grief and for respectful distance.
- That we should encourage our leaders to stop balancing national foreign economic interests with foreign policy interventionism.
- That we raise children to become active, critical, open-minded, and non-egoistic or ego-driven individuals.
I pay tribute and homage to all of those who serve the purpose of peace making in this world and encourage citizens and professionals to join together to support the raising of European and global consciousness for dialogue. Dialogue begins with you, with me, here, right now. It is rather simple, but precious.
— Antje Herrberg, CEO, mediatEUr. November 2015