Trump and the Paris Pact: A Laughable Decision

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In explaining his decision to abandon the Paris accord on climate change, President Trump said  ‘we don’t want other countries and other leaders laughing at us anymore.’  Well, President Trump, I’m afraid the prognosis isn’t good because your decision is laughable and like many people, I am deeply horrified by it.

I am not simply horrified because it was a bad decision, but more because this was a completely unnecessary and largely theatrical move on the President’s part. To characterise the Paris agreement as some unfairly negotiated treaty that favours other countries at the expense of the American economy is a complete and utter misrepresentation of reality. In other words, ‘fake news’ at its best.

I’m sure, or at least I hope, the President knows that the Paris accord is a voluntary agreement, allowing each country to determine its own national targets in an effort to minimize the effects of climate change. Consequently, there was nothing inherently constraining about the accord. However far removed his representation of the accord is from reality, painting it as an imposition on America helps Trump pander to his supporters and divert attention away from the trouble he is facing at home.

In any case, let’s suppose for a moment that the Paris agreement would somehow cause undue harm to the American economy. The argument that one country should be privileged at the expense of the entire planet is ridiculous. French President Emmanuel Macron said it well when he stated ‘there is no plan B because there is no planet B.’

If we consider the Paris agreement more closely, it’s true that it was an important milestone for the international community. At the same time, the targets that were agreed to were still modest in the sense that what was agreed would still not be enough to fully reverse the impact of climate change. So yes, it was a critical step in the right direction, but much more needs to be done.

If America had stood by its commitments to the pact, the world would have undoubtedly breathed a huge sigh of relief, and also potentially settled into complacency. But suddenly now that the Paris accord is under threat, it has shaken people out of the prospect of that complacency. Witness the incredible outpouring of anger and concern across the world and also within America. Several world leaders have spoken out and a group of 68 US Mayors have signed an open letter expressing both their defiance and their commitment to abide by Paris. Overnight a campaign which is being referred to as ‘Live by Paris’ has been born.

So rather oddly, I believe President Trump has catalysed the international community in a very profound way. People are angry and when people are angry they step up. And more and more people will, I believe, step up to fill the void of what John Kerry has rightfully called ‘a grotesque abdication of leadership.’

With this in mind, I do have to say –  thank you President Trump for ensuring that we don’t slip into complacency. I do hope you’ll forgive my laughter, but I just can’t help but chuckle at the irony here. Your incredible short-sightedness may actually be what saves this planet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Westminster Attack: One Month On

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Today marks the one month anniversary of the Westminster Bridge attack, which left five dead and several others injured.

It seems like every time we switch on the news these days there is another terrorist incident to report on. Just two weeks after the Westminster attack, a similar incident took place in Stockholm and before that were the attacks in Berlin and in Nice.

Hearing about these incidences so frequently tends to give an impression of our world as a deeply troubled place. Understandably, it fills us with fear and anxiety as we go about our daily lives because we don’t know when the next attack will take place.

Living in a heightened state of anxiety is one way we can go about our lives in the aftermath of these attacks. Another way –  and one that I would suggest trying – is to look for the light in all of these incidences. That may sounds odd… how could we possibly find anything but darkness in these attacks?

Let’s take the Westminster attack as an example. If we would be willing to acknowledge it, there were plenty of examples of light amid the darkness.

Take for instance, Melissa Cochran, the widow of American tourist Kurt Cochran saying she feels ‘no ill will’ towards Khalil Masood, the man responsible for killing her husband.

The efforts of MP Tobias Ellwood, who many referred to as a hero for his efforts to save PC Keith Palmer.

The interfaith ‘Service of Hope’ at Westminster Abbey, which defied the narrative of fear and hate by bringing all communities together.

The uplifting messages written across various London underground stations the day after the attack (as seen in the photo above).

And of course, the beautiful flowers and heartfelt messages that were placed in Parliament Square by people who had never met the victims.

This list could go on. The point I’m trying to make is that if we look for darkness in this world, we will surely find it. This is what the mainstream media typically chooses to focuses on.

If, on the other hand, we allowed ourselves to see things differently, we would find light even the worst situations. We just need to be willing to look for it.

 

Let’s End the Cycle of Blame in Syria

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This week a draft resolution was brought before the United Nations Security Council, condemning a recent chemical weapons attack in Syria that claimed the lives of more than 80 civilians, many of them children. The draft resolution was vetoed by Russia – the chief ally of the Syrian regime. Following the defeated resolution, there was a war of words exchanged between Council members and particularly harsh words directed towards the Russian Federation.

Against the backdrop of the past week, I’ve been wondering whether there might be another way to view recent events. What if the current crisis in Syria were actually an opportunity to shift the situation? A way to move beyond the deadlock that has persisted for six years…

Well, if this were an opportunity to move forward, I would argue that international leaders need to stop blaming each other. This is not to say that I don’t understand or appreciate the level of anger and frustration expressed by member states during the UN Security Council session. I also find it difficult to comprehend how Russia can continue its support for the Syrian regime.

At the same time, finger pointing and blaming will only isolate Russia further. Whether we like it or not, it’s difficult to think of a solution to this crisis without having Russia on board. When the Syrian regime used chemical weapons in the town of Ghouta in August 2013, Russia became part of the solution when it proposed to assist in the dismantling and verification of Syria’s chemical weapons.

When we get wrapped up in anger and blame about a certain country’s position or policy, we overlook an important fact. Each country that has a stake in this conflict is led by a person, a fellow human being. Individuals can shift their positions – witness China’s decision to abstain on this week’s UN Resolution rather than veto it. It is, however, unlikely that a person will be open to shifting or reconsidering their position if they feel undermined before a conversation even begins.

We can loath what is going on in Syria, but playing the blame game will only serve to perpetuate the cycle of violence and prolong international inaction. If our leaders were being truly honest they would acknowledge that we all bear a degree of responsibility for what has happened in Syria – and for what continues to happen each day. Why doesn’t six years of suffering at the hands of conventional weapons constitute a ‘red line’ for anyone? The fact is that it should.

So I would urge leaders to shift away from the language of blame because it serves no purpose in resolving this conflict. Instead of blaming each other, they should focus more on the people of Syria. I’m sure Syrians don’t give a damn whose fault this war is – they just want it to stop.

In Search of a Silver Lining…

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When I first started the Inspired Observer blog, my intention was to find the light even amid the darkest moments. Needless to say, after the US election on 8 November, things have felt particularly dark.

For many, the election of Donald Trump seemed as dreadful as it was unlikely, but as was the case with Brexit, those who weren’t in favour of this decision have to find a way to move forward.

It was with this in mind that I set out in search of a silver lining.

The interesting thing about searching for a silver lining is that it can begin with something very small. The first thing that came to mind in my search was a deep sense of relief that this election, irrespective of the outcome, was finally over. As I mentioned in my previous post, ‘Attempting to Shift the Tone of the US Presidential Election,’ I found aspects of this election particularly hard to stomach.

Beyond that, I am grateful for the fact that the result has been respected. Although it was not the outcome that I and many others had hoped for, it would have been far worse if either of the candidates decided to contest it. Even as people went to the polls, it was not entirely clear whether one of the candidates would concede in the event of a defeat. This led to genuine concerns that there may be violent protests following the election, so there are certainly reasons to be grateful that the democratic process has been respected.

But the ultimate silver lining here is the wider impact this election will have. The result did not merely disappoint people across America and the world, it brought many to tears, and the reason it did so is because it went against what a large part of humanity holds dear – things like racial and religious tolerance, international institutions and agreements, free trade and open borders, acceptance of migrants, gender equality and women’s rights, LGBT rights, same-sex marriage, pro-choice legislation, gun control, and measures to control climate change, to name a few.

If Secretary Clinton had won this election, people who support these causes would undoubtedly have remained committed to them, but now that these values are in jeopardy, the underlying commitment to them has been transformed in the most fundamental way. In the past few days I’ve seen how this election has invigorated people and provided them with an even stronger sense of purpose, as well as an urgency – to promote and protect these values in a way that was perhaps not as essential as it was 10 days ago. If this isn’t a silver lining, I don’t know what is.

Searching for a silver lining is not that hard to do. It begins with a conscious choice to shift our attitudes and make space for a different perspective.

While it is natural and understandable to feel disappointment, anger, powerlessness and frustration with the result of this election, dwelling in these feelings for too long is ultimately not going to help move us forward.

If we can begin to acknowledge the silver lining, this election could actually be the thing that propels humanity forward.

Attempting to Shift the Tone of the US Presidential Election

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Although I’m not an American and will not be voting on November 8th, the outcome of the upcoming election is very important to me. That being said, I have not been able to bring myself to follow this election very closely.

While it’s not uncommon for presidential candidates to disagree, the level of mud-slinging between this year’s candidates is simply unprecedented. Never in my lifetime have I observed a presidential election with such hateful overtones. After my initial attempt to follow the campaign, I began to feel as though I was observing a trashy reality-TV show in the midst of an attempted ratings boost. This is no presidential campaign; this is a circus – and so it’s a conscious decision on my part to minimise my exposure to it.

The three presidential debates have largely followed suit with the general tone of the campaign. The name-calling reached its peak, personal accusations were thrown around and on a number of occasions the candidates even refused to shake hands. In the midst of this spectacle, there was little substantive debate or meaningful dialogue. The debates were nothing short of uninspiring.

There was, however, one moment that did stand out to me during the second debate. It was the question posed to the candidates by one voter, Karl Becker. Following what had been a particularly nasty exchange, Mr Becker asked the candidates the following question: My question to both of you is, regardless of the current rhetoric, would either of you name one positive thing that you respect in one another?”

For the first time since this electoral race began, I felt a heaviness lift off of me. In that very brief moment, Mr Becker was not only attempting to shift the tone of the debate, he was also conveying a sentiment that many observers of this election have been feeling. The level of hate between the candidates and the general tone of this election have gone beyond what is acceptable – people are sick and tired of it. One could sense the frustration in Mr Becker’s voice as he asked the question. And yes, it’s the same question one might pose to two children fighting in a school playground because what we are witnessing is no different.

While it’s unlikely that the candidates and their PR teams will reflect upon or take away anything meaningful from this question, I’m still grateful to Mr Becker for asking it. It so poignantly captures the frustration that so many observers of this election continue to feel.

Why Aren’t We Investing in Peace?

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On this day, one of the great activists of non-violence, Mohandas K. Gandhi was born. In honour of his memory and contribution towards global peace, today has been designated as the International Day of Non-Violence.

Unfortunately, many equate the term non-violence with passivity, or even weakness, but this represents a fundamental misperception of what non-violence entails. It also overlooks the promise and possibility of non-violent solutions to conflict.

So much of the misunderstanding surrounding the concept of non-violence stems from our general acceptance of war. The fact is that on a societal level, we invest quite heavily in the provision of defence. We recruit and sustain militaries, procure defensive weaponry and make contingency plans in the event of conflict. This reveals the extent to which we are comfortable with investing in war.

But why aren’t we investing in and building any of the necessary infrastructure for peace? We are perfectly content to watch as our taxes go towards preparing for war, but we don’t bother demanding an equal investment in the provision of peace. Perhaps this is because the prospect of peace seems too unrealistic to entertain, and so our political leaders continue to pay lip service to the ideals of peace while they simultaneously prepare for war, as the old Latin adage says si vi pacem, para bellum, which translates to ‘if you want peace, prepare for war.’

The truth is that if we continue to prepare for and invest in war to the exclusion of peace, that is precisely what we will get. So it’s time that we replace our outdated adage with another – si vi pacem, para pacem – ‘If you want peace, prepare for peace.’

I believe if we did start to invest in the provision of peace, it would enable a different and much richer approach towards non-violence. Perhaps this could then set the stage for a broader panoply of non-violent tools and approaches and therein demonstrate, for once and for all, the futility of equating non-violence with passivity.

So on this day of non-violence, let’s imagine what it might look like to develop the infrastructure for peace, and to begin to invest in instruments of non-violence in an equal – if not greater – measure than our prevailing investment in war.

Cultivating Moments of Peace in the Midst of War

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September 21st is International Peace Day, a day dedicated to ‘strengthening the ideals of peace within and among all nations and peoples.’ International Peace Day was initiated in the early 1980s by the UN General Assembly, the largest deliberative body of the United Nations.

As we mark International Peace Day this year, I appreciate there may be some reluctance to celebrate the occasion. Instead of strengthening the ideal of peace, the day may appear a grim reminder of how elusive the goal of global peace is. Every day we bear witness to increasing levels of barbarity and violence around the globe. So I can certainly sympathise with those who feel that global peace may be too grandiose to even talk about.

But rather than abandoning the ideals of this day altogether, perhaps we can reframe our perceptions of the path to peace. By this, I mean instead of aiming for world peace, maybe we should start smaller and take more manageable steps towards peace. We can, for instance, focus on cultivating moments of peace. The concept of a moment of peace feels a lot easier to grasp, especially when we consider how plentiful these moments have been throughout history.

Even in the midst of war, it is possible to identify moments of peace. They have come to be known as ‘ceasefires’ – a term which literally means to hold fire. Whenever ceasefires are put in place, warring parties agree to temporarily stop or suspend active hostilities. The concept of a ceasefire seems to be as old as the history of warfare itself and we continue to see evidence of it being practiced today, including the most recent ceasefire in Syria.

There are a number of reasons why the practice of observing ceasefires developed. In some instances, ceasefires were put in place to allow for fighting to pause on days of religious or spiritual significance. Humanitarianism has also been another important rationale behind the emergence of ceasefires, as the cessation of fighting provides an opportunity to assist the wounded in war and offer relief to civilians. In other situations, ceasefires have been used as a critical step in building longer-term peace – for instance, as the first stage in a negotiated settlement or peace process.

The most well-known example of a ceasefire took place in the trenches of the First World War in 1914. The Christmas Truce, as it has come to be known, involved soldiers laying down their arms and crossing enemy lines on Christmas Day to play football, sing hymns, share food and exchange stories with their alleged enemies. It was a brief moment of comradery and connection in the midst of one of the deadliest wars in human history. The war poet Curtis Bennett captures this moment in a section of his well-known poem, ‘The Christmas Truce’:

On Christmas Eve through frozen sky,
Across the void where dead men lie,
Men’s voices sang the holy hymn,
Of peace on earth, good will to men.
And Christmas magic filled the night

And in that fading, winter light,
Men lay down arms and stopped the fight.
They rose from trenches deep in mud
And walked the fields of dead and blood,
To greet the other, man to man.

 As men, not soldiers, offered hands
To others born in foreign lands,
Where for the first time they could see,
The young men called the enemy…

How can we explain this temporary reprieve from fighting during such a brutal war – a war which witnessed the atrocious use of chemical weapons, destroyed an entire generation and led to the demise of empires? We now know from historical records that it was a completely unplanned moment of peace. It was not directed by army commanders or policy makers. It was not part of a grand plan to boost morale or a window for humanitarian assistance. Nor was it intended as a step towards ending the war, as the fighting raged on for several more years after this event. Instead, it was a spontaneous coming together of individual soldiers, a moment of humanity amidst inhumanity. But how can this impulse among soldiers coming together be explained?

The reason why these soldiers were able to lay down their arms and commune with their sworn enemies is because, in that moment, they realized a fundamental truth – they were not actually enemies. The things they had in common were greater than the things that divided them, and as Bennett’s poem suggests, they were able to recognise themselves in one another.

While this event is often treated as a historical anomaly, what it did was demonstrate the absurdity of the four years of warfare that engulfed the planet between 1914 and 1918. The fighting was the real anomaly; the moment of peace that emerged that evening was a genuine reflection of the human spirit.

The world may have changed a lot since the First World War, but the fundamental truth that was uncovered in the trenches on that evening remains just as true today. We are all deeply connected and have much more in common than we tend to acknowledge. And while we may disagree, fight and even kill each other, our common humanity binds us – even to those we choose to call our enemies.

So if world peace feels too grand an idea to discuss on International Peace Day, particularly given the prevalence of conflict around the world, let’s draw on and be inspired by the concept of a moment of peace. If it was possible in the trenches of one of the most bitter and devastating conflicts the world has ever seen, it is certainly still possible today.

Responding Versus Reacting

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Within the realm of interpersonal communication and psychology an important distinction is often made between reacting and responding. Being in reaction allows only the most primitive part of our brains to be activated and therefore when we react, we are driven purely by emotion. It is predominately a defensive and instinctual approach where we mirror the behaviours we perceive to be directed at us. If someone raises their voice at us, we raise ours back; if we feel insulted or threatened, we insult or threaten in return.

By contrast, responding is a conscious act. It involves a higher level of cognitive reasoning, and as a result there is a slower and more deliberate quality to our words and actions. Whereas reacting is immediate (and very often done in the ‘heat of the moment’), when we respond we tend to suspend judgment and prior assumptions in order to better understand a situation, and to consider a wide-range of potential solutions before taking action. As such, responding enables us to act from a place of integrity, and to honour our core values as we seek to resolve conflicts constructively.

Although it would be ideal if we were able to respond more often than we react, it is the latter that appears to come most naturally to the majority of people, particularly in situations where we perceive ourselves to be under attack. However, whenever we do react, rarely does it serve us. Instead, it facilitates another round of fractured communication, deepens resentment and intensifies conflicts. While this is certainly true when it comes to our interpersonal relationships, I wonder whether it also applies on a larger scale – in situations where societies or nations feel under attack?

In recent years I’ve observed how often political leaders assume a reactive posture whenever their countries experience a terrorist attack. In the aftermath of recent terror attacks in France, for instance, President Hollande stated his intention to seek revenge. Subsequent to his remarks, the President authorised military action, which he promised to be ‘merciless’. His actions were immediate, defensive, singularly focused on retaliation, and thereby, very much in the spirit of reacting.

President Hollande is by no means alone in his approach; a reactive posture has been adopted by the majority of states involved in counter-terrorist operations. In accordance with this approach, the conditions under which military force may be deployed have been significantly reinterpreted. Instead of being a last resort, military measures have been utilised both as a first resort, but also pre-emptively (that is before an attack has actually occurred).

Just as this reactive posture does not serve us on an individual level, taking a reactive approach to countering terrorism has not diminished its occurrence whatsoever. To the contrary, many would argue that it has intensified the problem. Instead of dissuading and deterring, this retaliatory language has actually emboldened and empowered terrorists. The more we seek revenge, the more we incentivise opponents who also claim to act in the name of revenge. What we end up doing is perpetuating a never ending cycle of violence. Moreover, the rush to act – a key characteristic of reacting –  has led Western countries to abandon and violate their own core values in the name of defeating terrorism.

So what if we were to stop reacting to terrorism and to start responding instead? What might this look like? The first, and perhaps most crucial shift we’d observe is the absence of an immediate, knee-jerk action. By choosing to respond, we would abandon the need to act with urgency, which is often how ill-advised policies and plans take shape. In the space that we create, we would invite more innovative solutions to emerge – ones that may not only be more effective in countering terrorism, while aligned with our core values, but also ones driven with the intention to restore harmony in the aftermath of an attack, instead of seeking revenge. What a welcome change this would be.

Observing the News

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In my last post, ‘How to Create the Opposite of Terror’ I discussed the feelings of powerlessness that arise whenever we hear the news of another terrorist attack in some part of the world. Although such feelings are perfectly natural, by dwelling in powerlessness and despair we overlook our capacity as individuals to create the opposite of terror in the world. So how can we begin to do this? How can we step into our power to create more unity, love and compassion on the planet? I would suggest that the first thing we can do is to develop a different approach to the news.

These days we have become so reliant on round-the-clock doses of news, whether it’s listening to hourly updates on the radio, watching live news broadcasts on television or the internet, reading newspapers online, or subscribing to news feeds on our smart phones. For most of us, however, this constant consumption of the news tends to be a rather mechanical process. We don’t usually challenge the content that is presented to us or give too much thought to how it is delivered. When we receive the news, we often do so as unconscious recipients.

But have you ever noticed that any time a terrorist attack occurs the media reports on the incident as though it is the only thing happening in the world? News of the attack is conveyed in the most dramatic manner, through eye-catching headlines, alarmist language and a sense of utmost urgency. The same images flash across our television and computer screens repeatedly and for that moment in time, all unrelated news stories seem to fall by the wayside. Such dramatized reporting helps justify the singular emphasis on an event or attack to the exclusion of any other news. Not only does this style of reporting put us into fear mode, it facilitates misperceptions of our world and grossly exaggerates the threat of terrorism.

Yet, we continue to rely on the news as an independent and impartial source of information, but how reliable is it? Far from reporting the truth, some of the reports we’ve seen in regards to the phenomena of terrorism have been inconsistent, sloppy and downright irresponsible – inconsistent in emphasising attacks in Western countries with less air time devoted to other parts of the world; sloppy in terms of grouping multiple attacks together under a single banner, despite how disparate and unconnected they might by (as seen with the series of recent attacks in Germany); irresponsible in the language that is used to describe such attacks (when will the media learn that the term’ Islamic terrorism’ is as meaningless as it is offensive? Such language only serves to create further divisions). In all these ways, it is clear that the media has become part of the problem.

In terms of the incidents themselves, there is no denying that they are troubling, but by continuing to rehearse the horror and details of each attack, we deliberately overlook other aspects that are of equal, if not greater importance. For example, there is one factor that all terrorist attacks have in common, and that is the overwhelming outpouring of love and empathy that arises in their immediate aftermath. Across each and every situation, we have witnessed a coming together of people and expressions of compassion among complete strangers, irrespective of race, religion and distance. These attacks may be fuelled by ignorance and hate, but they also generate love and bring people together. This was evident in the hundreds of Muslims who attended Catholic Mass in Rouen, and other parts of France, in a show of solidarity following the murder of Father Jacques Hamel. This story did not receive as much attention in the media as the initial attack. But why should we treat this show of solidarity as little more than a post-script, when it shows a much more authentic reflection of the human spirit than the attack itself?

If we want to create the opposite of terror in the world, we need to shift from being passive recipients of the news to conscious observers. This will require us to approach the news with a greater degree of discernment, to limit our exposure to alarmist reporting, and to seek a more authentic account of the world. On this latter point, it is worth highlighting that in addition to all of the attacks we’ve recently heard about, there have been many positive and uplifting developments that have transpired over the past month. Those who are interested in learning more about this are invited to explore the Inspired News Network (INN).

If we are able to become conscious observers of the news, we can begin to create some much-needed distance between ourselves and the events that occur in our world. From that space, we are better placed to respond (rather than react) to incidents of terrorism. I will pick up on the theme of responding versus reacting to terrorism in my next post, so please stay tuned.

How to Create the Opposite of Terror

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It seems as though every week that goes by brings news of another attack against innocent lives in some part of the world. Over the past few weeks alone, there have been attacks in Orlando, Istanbul, Dhaka, Baghdad and Nice. In each situation, we hear the same kinds of questions being asked: Why did this happen? What can be done to stop this? Where and when will the next attack take place? Each incident has also brought up a similar range of painful emotions, from rage and sorrow to confusion and fear. Beneath all of this is an underlying sense of powerlessness.

Of all these emotions, powerlessness is perhaps the most harmful to us. Not only is it the feeling that such random attacks are designed to provoke, feeling powerless also severely distorts our perspective of the world and leads us to respond in ways that actually serve to fuel and perpetuate acts of terror in the long run.

When we look back at all of the attacks that have taken place in recent weeks, what we see in each situation are the actions of specific individuals leading to a tragic loss of innocent life. It is frightening to think that a few individuals can cause so much harm and pain. But why is it that we can acknowledge and even accept the power of one individual to harm, maim and create terror in the world, yet we struggle to acknowledge the flip side of this: our own power as individuals to create the opposite of terror in the world – unity, compassion and healing? We all have that power.

Many of us, however, do not seize upon our power to create a more loving and peaceful planet because we don’t perceive ourselves as powerful. Instead we feel small and insignificant in the world, and with each attack that occurs, we continue to feel smaller and more powerless.

When it comes to responding to an attack – on both an individual and a societal level – a response based on feelings of powerlessness will severely limit and constrain our choices. For it is when we feel most powerless that we respond with anger, fear and hatred, which is ironically an exact match to that which motivates terrorism itself. The outcome is that it generates more of the same, and so the cycle of violence continues.

What would it look like to respond to terrorism from an alternative vantage point – one that was consciously directed towards generating more peace and harmony on the planet? In my next few posts I will explore how we can begin to step into our power to create the opposite of terror in the world.