Updated: Oct 30, 2019
I’m here to talk to you about the essential role each of us can play in achieving world peace.
Hello. My name is Anna. I take photographs of civil disobedience. This has lead me to cultivate a brilliant ability to be in the wrong place at the right time.
I’d like to propose the big idea that peace is a possibility, rather than something we should write on T-shirts and forget about or just an excuse for war, but a real tangible option.
We are 100% responsible for our reactions to every interaction. With this we write our own script.
Here is a bit of my own.
Like many teenagers, I had a noisy sense of what justice was. I believed everyone should have equal rights and that differences should be celebrated. I thought everyone deserved respect, apart from those who disagreed with me.
I went on marches to demand these things, I waved placards, signed petitions, started arguments… I shouted my views until I began to lose my voice.
But I started to notice on many protests that the anger at injustice infected the crowd. I couldn’t help but notice people walking by, who may not have a clue what the protest was about. They only saw the rage. It doesn’t matter how just the cause, if you are frightening people, they are not listening.
After more than a million people marched against Tony Blair’s desire to bomb Iraq, many people who had voiced a political view became disheartened. Almost overnight, thousands of people came to the toxic conclusion that if you are not being listened to, you may as well not try.
Over the next 10 years movements blossomed but to me it felt like momentum for change had faded into a quest for money.
During this time my mum became ill. At the same time as leukaemia started to attack her, an uprising of malcontent began to sweep the globe.
News stories were fed into my phone by a new website called Twitter and scenes from the Arab Spring and Europe’s fight against austerity became real time and unfiltered. I remember sitting in hospital with my mum and reading reports from front lines. I would relay actions taking place across the UK, to try to save the NHS, which was trying desperately to save her.
I created an account called @HeardinLondon and started to document social unrest. Through Twitter I was drawn towards the campaign against tuition fees and witnessed people being shown that peaceful protest may not be an option if the media only paid them attention if they smashed windows. I saw a generation lose their faith in politics before they were old enough to vote.
As my mum started to die, tweets from Egypt were a reminder the world was bigger than what I was struggling through. When Mubarak made his speech to step down, my mum asked for her oxygen tank to be moved in front of the TV. When she cried and said she was so grateful she had lived long enough to see the revolution succeed, it was the longest sentence she had managed for weeks. I posted this on Twitter and within minutes received a reply from someone in Tahrir Square, to say a group of people had just held hands and said a prayer for my mum. They wished us peace.
Twitter is a constant reminder that it’s a very small world. And we are all battling for the same basic things: the freedom and peace to allow us to live our lives according to our own beliefs.
When someone posted a blurry picture of a police car on fire on Twitter, I cycled there to get a photo and found myself in the middle of the riots.
My naivety propelled me to start asking people why they were so angry. I told people I needed to understand. I talked to people setting fire to things and questioned people with bricks in their hands. Nearly every single response I received could be boiled down to one thing: a lack of hope.
No one smashes up their local shop or sets fire to a car on their own estate if they have a sense of safety and well being.
At one point I got shoved against a wall by a group of men intent on robbing me. I implored them to tell me what they had to say. I really wanted hear the heart of people who were so hurt they were willing to tear the soul out of their own streets.
Those men didn’t just let me leave with my camera, they left me with the lesson of how to listen, without working out what I wanted to say.
The riots shocked me, it wasn’t just what I’d seen, it was the underlying sense that so many people I had spoken with, seemed to have been asked their opinion so rarely, they’d never had a chance to phrase one.
Then Twitter brought along Occupy. A rag-tag bunch of people with some camping equipment and revolution in mind.
The camp outside St Paul’s became one the largest displays of civil disobedience in our recent history.
Despite the media’s portrayal, It was a hub of education. From environmental energy classes to economics lectures , there was a free university, a newspaper, a library, the kitchen was feeding hundreds every night and intense political discourse every day.
Occupy was a group of people saying we might not know what the answer is, but let’s face in the direction of a world where people are cherished and respected, and see what is possible.
Occupy created dialogues on the front pages of newspapers and discussions on street corners the world over, about a system which makes the richest richer at the expense of a caring society.
And it is this idea of dialogue in which we can find hope. As soon as you engage in dialogue you are saying to that person, I see you, I feel you, I know you have something to teach me.
Dialogue is not trying to persuade people your view is correct, it is a journey of mutual education, to strip away the peripherals until you find a point of shared humanity.
Ultimately it is demonstrating respect for another person’s life.
Time and time again I hear people say they think world peace is impossible. Do you remember what the Mad Hatter said to Alice when she told him something was impossible? He replied “Only if you believe it is”. If you want to believe peace is not a possibility, I promise you’ll prove yourself right.
But if you’d like to join me in my outrageous optimism, my hope in a dream that we can live in a world which is more kind, more loving, where people are fed and have a roof over their head, I ask you to make the courageous decision to make your reactions start from a place of compassion.
Take a moment to pause and inhale when someone challenges you. If someone throws anger at you, summon within you the ability to not meet them with anger. At least give it a go. If someone throws disappointment at you, perhaps there is no need to meet them with the same emotion, in themself or yourself. My central theme is this: If we only reflect what we receive we perpetuate the problem of disunity.
You can make a conscious choice to revere the life of every human being, even if they’re not showing you they deserve respect, in fact especially if they’re not showing you they deserve respect – you show it to them anyway. And in doing so we realise that we are all connected.
We have thousands of years of history which proves throwing things at each other, words, sticks or bombs does not work. For over two thousand years we’ve been fighting each other and no one has won. I suggest we try a different approach.
The idea of the slow revolution involves one to one contact, believing in the potential of every single person, including yourself.
As long as our focus does not extend beyond our skin, our ideology, our income or our borders, we will continue in conflict. If we maintain the world is simply a battle between them and us, we are reinforcing barriers.
Do you remember the theory that if a butterfly flaps it’s wings in Japan it could cause an tsunami in America? Imagine applying that to those hateful things you say about that person at work, or that member of your family who makes you want to slam doors. Can you imagine if you reacted with more compassion? Imagine the wave of peace your reaction could cause.
Now try applying it to that person you are thinking about, who is the example that proves me wrong.
Because if those people are not in your vision of what peace means, those bigger world issues that make it into the headlines, can never be resolved.
Wars begin because one person did not forgive someone for something and refused to engage in dialogue.
Those men who went to attack me in the riots? They chose to the opportunity to be heard over the financial gain of robbing me. It was not some miracle fluke. I showed them enough respect to ask their opinion.
The whole world is never going to agree. But we have a lot to teach each other. The fact that people think and value very different things is what makes the world such a beautiful place, not in spite of it.
I am not denying there are horrendous things humans can do to each other, but there is not an act in history I can think of, where horror has been committed upon another, where it cannot be traced back to a place of fear.
Daisaku Ikeda said the type of world peace we should be striving for is a time when any woman, anywhere in the world, day or night, can walk home alone and feel safe.
This is the vision of peace I am willing to dedicate my life towards. I plant this seed with you now and it is yours to garden as you choose.
One of my favourite quotes is “People who say the smallest, things cannot make a difference, have obviously never spent the night, in a room, with mosquito.”
Sometimes we can use the bigger picture to distract us from taking responsibility for our own behaviour.
You get to decide your impact upon the world. Value yourself enough to know that your reactions make the world of difference.
Peace is a possibility. Together, let’s make it a reality.