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Network for Peace through Dialogue

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September 17 2014

Peacebuilder Series

Jane Hughes Gignoux

Our guest at this Living Room Dialogue, Jane Hughes Gignoux, is the author Some Folk Say: Stories of Life, Death, and Beyond, a collection of stories, myths and poems from cultures around the world and throughout time, with commentary and original color illustrations. She gives workshops, "Embracing Life, Death and Beyond," and "Visions and Stories for the Afterlife: Remapping the Journey," based on the material in her book for those interested in exploring end-of-life issues. Her latest book, An Insistence on Life: Inspirational Real-Life Stories of How Accepting Death Transforms Life has been released recently.

Although in past Living Room Dialogues in the Peacebuilders series we have asked guests to talk about the influences in their lives that led them to the paths they have chosen, this time we asked Jane to talk about the work she is doing now.

She started her talk by circulating a little card designed for a Universal Peace Day ceremony on August 5, the anniversary of the World War II bombing of Hiroshima. At the exact moment of the bombing, people all over the world rang bells to rededicate a day of horror to one of peace. Jane thought it was important not to forget this day, but she also wondered about what people could be doing on the other 364 days to build a more peaceful world. She asked herself, What does it mean to live in peace?

She reflected that when she gets upset, the problem comes from within herself, not from someone "out there." After consulting with some other people, she developed a short list of "Tools for Peaceful Living" which were printed on the back of the card announcing the Universal Peace Day. Since that occasion, many people have asked her for the card she shared with the dialogue group. These tools are to ask oneself:

  1. 1. Why do I feel threatened – am I really in danger?
  2. 2. Is this about a past wounding?
  3. 3. Acknowledge my fear – breathe deeply.
  4. 4. Suspend judgment – embrace possibilities
  5. 5. How can I help?

In the course of the meeting she shared a personal story of a time she faced deep despair and hopelessness. During that time, she realized that sometimes there is nothing you can do to resolve a painful conflict but send love.

She concluded with an aphorism that resonated with many participants in the dialogue: "I cannot control the wind, but I can adjust my sails."

After Jane gave her talk, participants in the dialogue were given a moment of silence to reflect on what she had offered. They then had the opportunity to share their reflections. Some of these follow, much abbreviated:

  • One time when I felt disrespected and was boiling over about the incident, I decided to speak directly to the other person. This person was surprised because she had meant no disrespect but could see how the comment s/he made might have seemed to me.
  • Boiling over can happen to groups who feel marginalized. That can lead to war.
  • I visited the 9/11 memorial and remembered how many people were helpful at that time. Another example of people turning grief and anger into positive action was when two women whose husbands were killed that day decided to go to Afghanistan and meet with people who had lost loved ones in the U.S. bombing there.
  • During the women's movement, I got in touch with how angry I was, but I also came to understand that I was not alone in my feelings. Meeting with other women who shared their experiences of sexism helped. I didn't have to face my anger alone.
  • Times I am angry: I scream bloody murder at the TV screen at the violent things "we" continue to do. And then today I stopped in a McDonald's in Harlem and sat across from a man with no teeth. I was so embarrassed that I have so much more and thought about how different life is for that man. I felt helpless in the face of that. I am not afraid; I'm angry.
  • I like the quote from Mother Teresa that is on Jane's card ("Peace begins with a smile). If I am really angry or upset and see someone smile, it has an effect on me, it does bring a bit of peace. Today when a friend was telling me about something that was infuriating her, I made her laugh and that seemed to enable her to be more aware of her feelings and get some distance on them.
  • I was anxious coming to this meeting on the subway today for fear of terrorists. What can I do? I find the most effective recourse is prayer. I usually say the rosary every day, but I've started saying it twice with what's in the news recently. I feel comforted and also feel as if I am doing something vital.
  • I was in Zimbabwe at a time when people were desperate because of Mugabe. I had learned some massage techniques and I began working in an AIDS clinic. I could not touch people anywhere without gloves except their feet. The patients were so comforted that someone would touch them without gloves. I also played with children in the AIDS clinic and used an ugly puppet to make them laugh. I agree that it is incredible what a smile can do. I think Africans are terrific; they just love.
  • We are socialized and formed in certain ways, many of which are not healthy. Dialogues and 12-step programs are some ways people can get beyond the contorted ways we behave and openly acknowledge feelings. You can feel you are not acceptable if you do not follow the social rules.
  • Our society is based on consumerism which is making people more and more miserable. The financial system plays a big role in how we get to be the way we are.
  • At a conference on peacebuilding in Switzerland, I made a deep connection with a man from Nigeria quite spontaneously. We always sat together at meetings and often had meals together. When I learned that he had been asked to return to Nigeria to negotiate with the Boko Haram but also that they had issued a fatwa on him, that he should be killed, I was of course upset. When we were last together I told him I was sorry he was going away and he said he would miss me too. For me it's an example of how loving feelings show up unasked.
  • I have seen how easy it is to slip into war. Guns come into a country from somewhere, boys 16-24 are unemployed and have nothing to do with their time and energy. People all over the world feel overlooked and are boiling over. I wish there were venues for dialogue world-wide, centers where people can have discourse. I plan to work on making this happen.

Final comments: Take action. Peace begins with a smile. I can adjust my sails. Love is the ultimate source.


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