A letter to Président Hollande

15 November, 2015 Leave a comment

Dear Monsieur Le Président,

I listened to you speakingPeace for Paris to your nation following the events in Paris yesterday. I thought your words were steeped in the old story – a story that keeps the world in its stuck state. I felt it was an opportunity missed.

I would like to share with you what I would have wished to have heard you say:

“The killing of so many people last night is hard to grasp. It triggers a mix of feelings including dismay, pain and fear. It is a tragedy for those who died, those who are injured and those who are relatives and friend of the dead and injured. It is deeply disturbing for me and for so many people around the world to read and hear about these events.

It is a generally held belief of mine that values can only be virtuous. Such values include kindness and compassion. Yet as humans there are times in our lives when our behaviors deviate from our virtuous values. When this happens we have an internal conflict. And I know of two options to overcome this internal conflict: either we bring our behaviors back in line with our values or we tell ourselves a story.

I want to speak to those who have carried out or supported the actions of last night. Over the past weeks and months you have been telling yourselves one of these stories. Your stories needed to be big enough to justify the killing of people. They needed to be big enough to be able to dissociate yourselves with the suffering you were about to cause. If you had managed to disconnect yourselves from your story for a moment – just a brief moment – you could have placed yourselves in the shoes of those directly impacted by your actions and those being confronted with the most heart wrenching of realisations that their loved ones are gone and will not be coming back.

To those of you who supported the preparation of these events, I urge you to pause for a moment, connect to the suffering you have contributed to, disrupt your story and reconnect to your values.

How should France react to these events? I would like our reactions to strive to achieve a number of outcomes. I would like them to be supportive of a deep healing of all those impacted. I would like our reactions to reduce the chances that such events occur again. And I would like our reactions to drive a deescalation rather than an escalation of violence.

I know that our security forces are doing there best to prevent further events. We need to be aware that there actions can reduce threats but they have not and will never be able to completely prevent them. And some of their actions come at a cost. When their actions result in death they spread more suffering and fuel more hatred. When they increase the invasiveness of our intelligence services they comes at a cost of civil liberties. And financially they consume public funds that could be used to facilitate healing and well-being. And while we may take some additional measures to reduce the short-term threat, these measures need to be made with a protective rather than punitive mindset.

Beyond protecting ourselves from the immediate dangers we need to focus our energy into being the change that we want to see in the world. Only by looking after all beings can we look after the people of France. We often don’t realize how much our lives are interconnected. We share more than we realize. But events like last night’s can give us an insight into how the state of the world impacts the state of France. How France decides to respond will have impact on the state of the world. If we always do what we have always done, we will always get what we always got. Let today be a turning point for all of us.

France will observe three days of mourning to give us time to absorb and reflect on what has happened. After these three days we will start a dialogue on how best to shape the future that looks after the well-being of all.”

Yours sincerely,

Tony O’Grady

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There is a time to admire the grace and persuasive power of an influential idea, and there is a time to fear its hold over us. The time to worry is when the idea is so widely shared that we no longer even notice it, when it is deeply rooted that it feels to us like plain common sense. At the point when objections are not answered anymore because they are no longer even raised, we are not in control: we do not have the idea; it has us.

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These were the opening words from Alfie Kohn’s book ‘Punished by Rewards – The trouble with gold stars, incentive plans, A’s praise, and other bribes’. These words rang a bell with something I had been questioning for some time. My studying of, and work with, Marshall Rosenberg’s concept of Non-Violent Communication had lead me to question the use of superficial praise such as ‘thanks for the great presentation’ or ‘that’s an excellent report’.

When I discuss the shortcomings of such communication with people in my close environment, they can relate to what I say, but nonetheless appear content, or even get a short-lived kick, out of such superficial praise. I can’t help but think that we are missing out on so many opportunities to have more meaningful and life-enriching communication.

So it was with much interest that I picked up Alfie Kohn’s book, in my search of a better understanding of the impact of rewards and praise in our society and in particular in our workplaces. In a book packed with notes and references to articles and field studies I found what I was looking for. Read more…

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By the beginning of 2007 I held the belief that the environmental situation was getting steadily worse and that if we didn’t start to address some of the issues in a more concerted manner our lives were going to get uncomfortable, retirement in 30 years time would not be pleasant and our children would be asking us why we didn’t act sooner.

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This new realisation encouraged me to redouble my own efforts to reduce my ecological footprint. I sold my car, reduced my flights and switched to green electricity. In 2006 I produced 12 tonnes of CO2. Two years later I had reduced that figure to 7 tonnes. I had increased my percentage of organic purchases and I had encouraged a number of initiatives at my workplace which were starting to take effect.

But I could also see that these efforts were not enough for several reasons:

  • As a inhabitant of a developed country my 7 tonnes of CO2 was below average but disastrously high compared to the world average;
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  • I still wasn’t including the toxicity generated through my consumption nor it’s social impact.

In addition when I looked around at my family, friends, colleagues, neighbours and the world at large I still felt very much part of a minority community who was seriously concerned with ecology. I figured that this minority was not enough to have the impact that I believed we needed. Read more…