By Christophe Horváth, Primeast Southern Africa, 1 June 2014
As long as we criticize, fight and resist “the bad”, believing that we are “the good”, we really operate from the very same level of ego-consciousness, and can never achieve true Peace. True transformation can only come from soul consciousness that realizes that there is no “us” and “them”, and that the problem is not with “them”, but with our collective ignorance, lack of love and compassion for one another, and our failure to take responsibility to act accordingly.
On a fateful day in late July 1997, after we had twice walked like a line of ducks behind a mine detector, beeping all too often for my poor nerves, through two different minefields on our search mission earlier that morning, I found myself standing in a clearing in a jungle forest, in a valley some thirty meters down from the road over the Pich Nil Pass, which runs through the Kirirom Mountains, halfway on the road from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville, in Southern Cambodia. Suddenly, I heard an alarmed shout from up high above us. I knew then that we had been seen. A pregnant moment of silence …, and then a violent burst of bullets from a mounted machine gun, seemingly going on forever, from right over our heads, spraying its murderous load right down at us.
The five of us were an ad hoc team working with the UN Centre for Human Rights in Cambodia, investigating the extra-judicial killings that had taken place during and immediately after the July 1997 coup d’état. I was the one who, together with my Cambodian translator, had been the first to have found the remains of several burnt and buried bodies in the same area over the previous days. The day before our chief investigator had suggested that we’d return with a larger team, as there might be much more evidence to find in the same area, which was under military control. The night before we went back, I had had a nightmare with this single continuous image which filled me with a paralysing dread – the barrel of a machine gun sticking through a bush, pointed straight at me…
Because of the importance of the mission, I went along, notwithstanding my darkest fears. And here I stood then in that godforsaken patch of forest. My colleagues had somehow managed to throw themselves down and find shelter, but I was just standing there in the clearing, like a crystal vase, waiting to be hit, and shattered into a million pieces. The tree next to me was perforated, like a cardboard box, just above my head, and branches and leafs fell all over me – my world falling apart in slow motion around me. I have never tasted such an ugly, metallic taste of angst in my mouth, and knew for certain I was about to die.
As by miracle, I wasn’t hit, and neither were any of my colleagues. It turned out later that, unbeknownst to us, we were in a natural basin in the terrain protecting us, and we simply could not have been hit. But what became equally clear later was that the soldiers had indeed fired with the intention to kill us all. We were later arrested by a patrol of heavily armed adolescent soldiers, and, although seriously threatened, later reluctantly released, grace to our UN status and credentials. But we very nearly laid down our lives there, on the battlefield for human rights.
I am sharing this personal story, not to highlight the violent murder and abuse often inflicted by regimes based on ego, power hunger and greed, as we are all aware, but also to show that often our well-meant – sometimes cavalier - attempts to expose dictators, and fight their foot soldiers and their injustices, are actually locked in the same level of thinking, and therefore doomed to fail.
I learned this the hard way, both in my human rights work and environmental advocacy work – in Cambodia, Burma and elsewhere. When our mission is all about exposing the “bad guys”, we can easily fall in the trap of starting to operate from the same low vibrancy level as the very ones we are accusing – i.e. from a place of anger, hatred and fear. As long as there is us and them, and us being right and them being wrong, and us blaming and pointing fingers, we are all operating from the same ego consciousness level – whether as perpetrator, victim, or vindicator - and there will never be true peace.
“Good” and “Bad” will be forever in a struggle for the upper hand. We will forever be stuck in this war between “good” and “evil”, unless we find a better way. It is only “Greatness” in our being, leadership and actions of service that can overcome and transform this.
The first step in transforming the wrongs of the world, has to therefore start with ourselves. I have come to see that our outer world is a - delayed – reflection of our inner world. Transformation therefore has to start with our own awareness and consciousness, our own presence and authenticity, and our own love and compassion. With seeing our oneness, interconnectedness, and interdependence as humankind. With truly “getting” that there is no “them”; there is only “us”.
One deep insight I got from the Spirit of Humanity Forum 2014 is this sense of higher synthesis. Where we all know about the destructive systems, practices and behaviours that threaten people and life on our Planet (the “bad”), and the democracy, human rights, development, humanitarian and sustainability movements and organisations (the “Good”), the new insight that emerged was the one of the Flourishing (the “Great”) of humankind in healthy, dynamic and enduring harmony with Nature and Planet Earth, and the new, higher level of collective human consciousness that is required to bring it about. In my view, the Flourishing can never be achieved by fighting and exposing the bad, but it can only be attained by transforming the mind-sets, heart-sets and behaviours of ourselves and all of humankind. What this requires is no war or revolution, but nothing less than the widespread evolution of human consciousness.
And this all begins with our own self-acceptance, for we cannot truly care for others, and see them for who they truly are, if we have not first learnt to love ourselves, all of us, our strengths and weaknesses, our shine and our scars. And this means self-forgiveness, and full open-eyed engagement with all of our guilt and shame. It requires us to learn to become fully naked, authentic and vulnerable. Only then can we truly engage with others, from the deepest heart and soul level.
Inquiries for self-reflection:
· What can you do to be more present, to be more aware, to be more in the here and now?
· What attachments and addictions can you let go of that drain you from your energy to be present and available in the here and now?
· What can you stop craving and chasing, so you can enjoy a life of more simplicity and enoughness, and presence to, and acceptance of, what is (rather than what we believe should be)
· What shortcomings and wrongdoings, guilt and shame, can you forgive yourself for, or ask forgiveness for, so that you can let them go once and for all?
· What other incompletions are occupying your mind, that you either need to deal with or let go of?
Once we are starting to fully accept ourselves, we can become fully present for and truly empathize with others, recognizing our own humanity in all their trials and tribulations. To experience true empathy, we need to feel other beings’ pain and suffering, as well as their pleasure and joy, acutely within ourselves, as if it were our own.
Inquiries for self-reflection:
· How can you make it a practice to really truly listen to another, without being in the course of formulating your own righteous answer in your mind – just being fully open and welcoming to the message of the other, without any judgment, bias or distraction?
· Can you listen to the listening of the other, behind their story – and see that it may come from the same ‘thrown-ness’ or victimhood that you may have experienced, now or in the past?
· Can you see yourself in the other, and see that, fundamentally, you share the same humanity, the same needs, and, ultimately, the same aspirations?
What marks the greatest leaders of our time, such as Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Ghandi and Mother Theresa, is precisely their ability to empathize with those who struggle, engage those who thrive to the cause, see a greater future, and facilitate its co-creation with all involved. A great leader is committed to the success of the whole group, rather than just that of himself, or of some smaller interest groups. Only a leader who empathizes with all can be truly of service.
Ubuntu is the essentially African understanding that I am who I am because of who you are. “Umuntu Ngumuntu Ngabantu” in Zulu language means that a person only becomes a full person through other persons. This signifies that for us to be fully human we need a profound sense of empathy with others. This empathy, in turn, requires us to truly love and accept ourselves, as, if we do not have love and compassion for ourselves, then how can we truly feel love and compassion for anybody else? It also requires us to have the courage to be vulnerable, as, when we can love and accept ourselves, and be authentic about both our strengths and weaknesses, then we can also accept the light and shadow in others, and love them anyway for who they are.
When there is lack of responsibility, ownership, vision and integrity in a country, and when abuse, complacency and indifference are the norm, I suggest that this is a consequence of both a prevailing lack of empathy, as well as of lack of self-love, self-esteem, self-worth and sense of fundamental human dignity in society. If this is so, then the fundamental inquiry is really the following:
Inquiries for self-reflection:
· How can we inspire, heal, liberate and empower others to accept and love themselves more, so that empathy for self and others can become the primary lens through which we all look at each other?
· How can we start with ourselves, accepting and loving ourselves fully, so we can be the transformation that we want to see in the world?
When we operate from Soul – beyond ego – we can connect with other Souls, and experience their pain and suffering, as well as their joy and elation, as our own. This is a manifestation of our Oneness. Empathy then, is our ability and practice of stepping into the shoes of another, and bringing the best of who we are to their support, knowing that this, ultimately, is only in our own enlightened Self-interest.
At the 2014 Spirit of Humanity Forum, Christophe Horváth co-facilitated Session V “Stories of Nations” on the value of empathy, and provided musical inspiration together with his colleague, Masankho Banda. Since 2008, Christophe has been a consultant, facilitator, trainer and coach with Primeast, working as its Head serving the Change Agents and Social Entrepreneurs Sector. His current work is all about inspiring, liberating and empowering leaders and teams of purposeful organisations in the non-profit sector to be the best they can be and to contribute to the Flourishing. Christophe is also an inspirational singer, writer and public speaker. Married with three children, he operates from his base in Lilongwe, Malawi. Prior to his current position, Christophe worked for 15 years in refugee protection, human rights, environmental advocacy and development cooperation, in Belgium, Turkey, Cambodia, Burma, Indonesia, East Timor and Malawi.
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