October 7, 2023 will always be indelibly etched as one of the darkest moments in my life, when I tried desperately to understand how the deliberate and savage barbarism of Israeli citizens by Hamas could be part of our humanity.
Like so many, my heart is shattered. I remain in utter disbelief that hostages were kidnapped at gunpoint and grandparents, parents, children and babies were slaughtered. Thousands of innocent civilians, both Israeli and Palestinian, have suffered due to Hamas terrorism.
I also carry a profound sense of compassion for the countless innocent people and communities worldwide enduring unimaginable acts of violence and conflict, yet my conviction remains unwavering: violence is not the path to progress. I stand against terrorism and I am dedicated to understanding and learning from others about how we can collectively find a way forward. I believe that there must be an alternative, a more constructive path toward reconciliation and co-existence. Because there has to be another way.
Before launching Well-Being Essentials, I founded Mindfulness Without Borders (formerly known as Between Four Eyes) – a nonprofit organization committed to introducing mindfulness and social-emotional learning into the realms of education and healthcare. During my 15 years there, I had the privilege of witnessing firsthand the incredible power that individuals living in post-conflict communities have in reshaping their future, distinct from their past.
With a small team of facilitators, we developed curricula for high school youth and the adults that support them, equipping them with the essential social-emotional skills for navigating the complexities of daily life. Rather than traditional teaching methods, we chose a facilitative approach, by conducting conversations and drawing inspiration from the Indigenous council tradition rooted in the Ojai heritage, home to the Chumash people. The council format creates intercultural connections in a non-hierarchical setting–fostering deep listening, candid sharing, collective thinking and shared learning experiences. Our commitment to council practices rested in community-building, where every voice was heard, valued and considered an important contribution to the whole.
Regardless of the location of our programs, be it in local communities or in specific post-conflict areas like Kigali, Rwanda; Jos, Nigeria; or a school for former child soldiers in northern Uganda, these circles fostered a profound sense of compassion and nurtured the connections that are innate to our human nature.
Through my lived experiences in the field, I observed when individual citizens care for the well-being of the collective, transcending the boundaries of religion, ethnicity or gender, they listen to one another, speak from the heart and the intellect, while working together as agents for change. In doing so, they not only recognize the common values that bind them together but also embrace and appreciate the diversity and differences that enrich their collective perspective. It is this approach that acts as a catalyst for (re)building vital communities where people can heal, find closure from past wounds, and experience possibility, compassion, and belonging. This is the other way forward.
As I began researching thought leaders in the field of systems transformation, I encountered the significant contributions of Peter Block. He stands as a distinguished strategist and consultant specializing in matters of community belonging and civic engagement. Peter believes that individuals will be accountable and committed to what they have a hand in creating, through the power of conversation. According to Peter’s book, Community: The Structure of Belonging, “The future hinges on the accountability that citizens choose and their willingness to connect with each other around the promises and commitments that they make to each other.” This is the other way forward.
I know people everywhere struggle to understand what’s happening in our divided world and to grasp the relentless cycle of violence. Yet, we know what healthy communities look like because there are many, many examples around the world that demonstrate peaceful, collaborative ways of living. The challenge is: How do we rethink and create an authentic community in the place we inhabit through consent as opposed to mandate and force? Can we guide the future forward by rediscovering our connection to ourselves and our communities by bringing those people at the margins into the center? Is this the other way forward?
I understand that not everyone shares my thinking and sentiments. Nevertheless, my enduring hope is that we can harness the power of dialogue to pave the way forward, one question and one conversation, at a time. Through dialogue, we can bridge divides, reclaim each other's humanity, and establish common ground. I am seeking leadership that can actively contribute to a world where conflicts find their resolution through diplomacy and negotiations, rather than weapons. Because this is the other way possible.
In these fragile times, it is crucial for us to reflect on a world where citizens from all walks of life come together to collaborate within their communities, cultivating an environment where coexistence can truly flourish. This entails taking responsibility for our words, actions and decisions, acknowledging their profound impact on both individuals and society as a whole. It also means standing up against all forms of discrimination, hatred and othering, including racism, anti-Semitism, anti-Israeli, anti-Muslim, anti-Arab, and anti-Palestinian sentiment.
It is my hope that we can reconsider a path toward sustainable peace by building structures of belonging and mutual understanding across difference. I hold an unwavering faith in humanity’s potential — a profound ability for self-transformation and the remarkable power to ignite systemic change.