Thursday, October 23, 2014

Preventing trauma: the choice of a generation

Dear friends and colleagues gathered in the name of peace, I greet you at a distance from San Jose, capital city of Costa Rica. I am honored to be speaking to you today and very impressed about the technological tools that allow us to have this conversation from thousands of kilometers away. If we have been able to bridge time and distance so dramatically in the course of a generation, it only makes me wonder what other bridges our generation could build.

In a time when the global human society has become ever more integrated, complex and sophisticated, opportunities, wealth and comfort have not become a standard around the world. What is worse, the standard of opportunity, wealth and comfort has triggered an absurd rate of consumption that is exhausting natural resources worldwide, not only for the human civilization, but also for thousands of other species who have collapsed faster than we were even able to notice.

I do not intend to make this a presentation about climate change, which some people still choose not to believe as a reality, one that is perhaps the most severe conflict that life on Earth has faced in the last four million years. I do feel a responsibility to bring the topic to this conference because, as we discuss trauma, it is highly important that we understand that there is much to do to avoid future trauma for hundreds of millions of people around the world who will face life-threatening conditions arising from human-made alterations of the global climate system.

In an attempt to make a brief diagnosis of the conflict as I perceive it, we are facing increasingly long and wide episodes of human suffering that are leaving a deep trace of trauma behind it. Most of this suffering is, paradoxically, induced by humans onto humans. I call it a paradox because humans are the most intelligent species on Earth, and by intelligent I mean self-conscious of the fact that we are able to love and able to choose to love. And still many humans choose violence instead. Violence, in my opinion, is the absence of love, or, in the worlds of His Holiness, The Dalai Lama, the absence of lovingkindness.

There is, unfortunately, no guarantee that this scar of human trauma that is being left behind is going to reduce in number of episodes or intensity in the coming years. What is worse, there is a strange feeling in the air that things might continue aggravating. So, our gathering in Istambul during the coming days will be searching both for answers to treat existing trauma as well as identifying and creating together alternatives to prevent future trauma in the years to come. In conflict transformation, there is a method that is seldom applied to real-life conflicts which is to enlarge the pie. If you imagine that a present-day situation could become larger in the future, then we would understand at least two things: first, that the present situation, as bad as it looks, is not as bad as it could be in the future if we fail to act effectively to prevent it from happening; and second, that there is a need for conflict transformation into the future given the prognosis of what happens if things continue evolving the way they have evolved until now.

So, our call for action is to act with our hearts in the present, and keeping our minds focused on the future, searching permanently for a more prosperous scenario for those who suffer. Only in recent times, this was the role of governments. A handful of nations managed to reach high levels of human development and economic wealth that allowed them to live a long episode of widespread comfort. The reality for the rest of the world has been less prosperous, and, in many ways, there are hotspots of violence around the planet that deteriorate the living conditions for all humans alike. Whether it is a massive exodus of entire populations that flee starvation, disease or armed conflict, or large communities that are severely affected by natural disasters foreseen and unforeseen, in today’s interconnected world everyone is impacted in one way or another.

Today, many governments have failed to adapt to modern circumstances and to the complex social sophistication we live in. Agriculture, education, healthcare, and technology have evolved tremendously during the last 100 years, and still states and governments look in many ways the same as they looked 100 years ago, with similar methods, policies and institutions to solve problems that do not exist anymore; that is, in democratic states. In other non-democratic states, government looks like it did several hundred years ago or more. The failure of governance is yet another example of the Tragedy of the Commons: because governments do not belong to anyone, there was no one concerned with its flaws and inability to adapt effectively to human evolution. Governments failed us. Ironically, history has proven that a bad government is many times better than no government at all.

Politics, or the persuasion of masses through ideas, has become, in many places around the world, a vehicle for violence. Every state that sponsors the manufacturing, trade and use of military armament on civilian populations is using politics to spread violence. There is no justification around that fact. And while climate change adaptation requires, worldwide, some 100 billion US dollars per year, worldwide military expenditure reaches 1.4 trillion US dollars per year. To put it in simple terms, if the military economy spent 7% less per year, climate change adaptation could be financed completely for all communities worldwide, especially the ones most at risk.

As governments and states weaken, the rule of law also weakens or becomes inexistent. This brings a dangerous lack of order, a violent lack of justice, a severe lack of basic infrastructure, a general lack of prosperity. This, in time, only worsens when environmental constraints affect living conditions and force people to turn to their governments for answers, solutions, hope, perhaps a little bit of lovingkindness.

As I mentioned earlier, if left unattended, the conflict situations we are witnessing today will only tend to aggravate. As Albert Einstein reminds us, “we will never be able to overcome a problem if we continue thinking like we did when we fell into it.” I interpret his wisdom as a reminder that this generation, all of us in good health and willingness to contribute, has a unique opportunity to shift things over.

More importantly, it is never too much to remind ourselves that violence breeds violence, and the more we try to repress violent conflict through violent means, the more we will perpetuate the very conflict we are attempting to suppress. On that same token, peace breeds peace. Lovingkindness breeds lovingkindness.  

I strongly believe that humanity must bypass some institutions, power structures, beliefs that we have created throughout history in order to regenerate livelihoods, to restore ecosystems, to bring life and peace back to Earth. I mean to develop grassroots support systems like the ones humans created when we settled down as hunter-gatherers and became farmers by domesticating food. That was the way humanity started, and even though it was not a world free of conflict, there was as much concern for one’s own life as for that of our neighbors. We were each other’s keeper indeed. Our livelihoods depended on three elemental things: access to drinking water, access to arable land and housing solutions. The rest was hard work, fast learning and a predominant lovingkindness that made civilization prosper.

I also strongly believe in modern support systems that cross political borders. Much healing and assistance and development and prosperity has been created by solidary initiatives of humans helping humans.

To conclude, our emotional efforts should stay focused on our present conflicts and all the suffering they are provoking. Our intellectual efforts, instead, should be strongly harnessed into future scenarios of prosperity from which we can derive a much-needed sense of optimism as well as the mental energy to creatively co-create together those scenarios that humanity deserves.

In the process, and exercising the method of enlarging the pie, let us accommodate in our vision of a better world all other life forms. Only then will we be truly able to transform trauma into healing, conflict into harmony, and violence into lovingkindness.

Thank you.