While driving to Maine on a road-trip style vacation this past summer with my husband, I read a news story that captured my imagination and got me thinking deeply about an important question.
Airbnb, the home rental website, launched a contest called “Night at the Great Wall,” in which four people and their guests would get the chance to sleep in a custom-designed “home” set in one of the UNESCO-listed structure’s towers. These photos were included in the press release. Aren’t they amazing?
To be fully transparent, you should know that I am an Airbnb fan, having enjoyed their service both as a traveling guest, and more recently as an Airbnb host. The trip to China sounded amazing and I could visualize myself there. But what really got me was the contest entrance requirements. In 550 characters or less I needed to answer this two-part question:
“Why is it more important now than ever to break down barriers between cultures?
How would you want to build new connections?”
The contest prize aside, this is a question that we should all be thinking deeply about. There are so many current issues and deeply held beliefs that are tearing at the fabric of our communities, nation, and globe. Hate and fear appear to be the emotions of the day. The 24-hour news cycle feeds our anxiety and heightens our distrust of people who are different than we are. It’s just crazy, but it doesn’t have to be this way. How we think, feel, act, and react makes all the difference.
Here’s what I wrote in my essay:
“It’s more important than ever to break down barriers between cultures because a world led by fear is a dangerous one, and a life led by fear is a limited one. I know this to be true because I used to judge women who wore burkas until I had a conversation with one such woman at a conference. I used to fear Iranians until I had dinner with Mohammad and Leila in their home in California. I used to be confused about South America until I hiked the Machu Picchu trail. Fear of others is like a contagious disease. Fortunately we have a natural antidote: human connection. By opening our minds and hearts and creating shared experiences through travel we can generate hope, joy, and sow seeds of peace.”
The Journey Towards Peace and Conflict Resolution
For the past two years, I’ve been on a quest to learn and practice the skills of peace and conflict resolution. And it hasn’t always been a tranquil path. There have been heated arguments with family members that I deeply love, but whose beliefs and views of current events differ from my own. (Note: to the right is a snapshot of a wall mural that I saw in La Jolla, California).
This journey has taken me to interesting places, where I have met new people who approach things differently than I do. As a result I have learned and grown a great deal. And I am reminded daily that I still have more learning and growing to do.
Here are a few cool things I experienced along the way:
I attended a unique experience in civil discourse called My Neighbor’s Voice. A group of 8 people who didn’t know each other attended a dinner party, where a conversation was moderated by a skilled facilitator. It was a very profound experience in listening without interrupting, and in expressing one’s views on sensitive topics in a thoughtful and honest way.
I watched a TED.com video with speakers Joan Blades and John Gable who shared ideas on how to free yourself from your filter bubbles. (click here to watch their TED talk) That lead me to learn more about the Living Room Conversations model of civil discourse. Their slogan Respect. Relate. Connect. is a powerful call to action. If you have the opportunity to participate in one of their events, I highly recommend it. You might also enjoy reading through one of their many compelling discussion guides on challenging topics such as Guns and Responsibility, Status and Privilege, Race and Incarceration, and more.
I reached out and made a connection with Dr. Jessica Shyrack, who is an experienced facilitator of the Living Room Conversation model. I invited her to speak at a Peace and Conflict Resolution Conference presented by my local Rotary Club on May 3, 2019 in Greenville, South Carolina. And yes, I volunteered to be on the committee to help plan, fundraise, and host this amazing one-day conference. We expect over 400 people from all walks of life to attend this conference. Our mission is to inspire people to resolve conflict in a peaceful and productive manner.
Will you make a Pledge for Peace?
If you can’t make the conference, I invite you to make a pledge for peace. Here are five options for you to consider.
- Become a Champion of Peace- donate $99*
- Become a Promoter of Peace – donate $500
- Become an Advocate of Peace – donate $1,000
- Become an Ambassador of Peace – donate $2,500
- Become a Patron of Peace – donate $5,000
*In fact, I am looking for 99 people who are willing to donate $99 to this peaceful cause. Can I count on you?
Your donation will help us deploy critical skills to hundreds of people who will be able to resolve conflict more peacefully. Additionally, net proceeds will go towards funding a Rotary Peace Scholar who will have the opportunity to study at a Rotary Peace Center.
Some of the world’s most dedicated and brightest professionals study at Rotary Peace Centers. Through training, study, and practice, Rotary Peace Fellows become leaders and catalysts for peace and conflict resolution; many go on to careers in national governments, NGOs, the military, law enforcement, and international organizations like the United Nations and World Bank.
In just over a decade, the Rotary Peace Centers have trained more than 1,000 fellows for careers in peace building. Many of them are serving as leaders at international organizations or have started their own foundations.
There are six Rotary Peace Centers located around the world:
- Duke University and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, USA
- International Christian University, Tokyo, Japan
- University of Bradford, Bradford, England
- University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia
- Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden
- Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand
Learn more about these Centers at https://www.rotary.org/en/our-programs/peace-fellowships
Put More Energy and Effort into Peace
It’s easy to get swept away from sensational headlines of violence, war, and strife. It becomes addictive; it poisons our spirit and moves us further away from peace, joy, hope, happiness – you know, all the positive emotions. I’m not asking you to put your head in the sand or to avoid conflict. Conflict is a natural and unavoidable part of life. But I am asking you to be on the look out for peace. Spend more of your time thinking about peace, practicing it, communicating in, and celebrating it. Check out the window sign that I saw on Attorney Jim Cherry‘s office in Sonora, California: as part of his brand and embedded in his professional practice is the idea that we should all “Be Peace. Do Peace.” Thank you Jim for inspiring me and others with your advocacy of peaceful conflict resolution.
Let me leave you with this final question to ponder:
What, when or whom will inspire you in the direction of peace?