By Helene Szabados
“There is power in choosing. There is special power in knowing I am the chooser at every moment…”
Last Thursday morning we had a table full of eclectic souls, ready to discuss their similarities and differences while also sharing a warm breakfast. Since we had two guest docents; Ali Barekat, the Executive Director from Sunday Friends and Janardhan Chodagam, Founding Chairman of the Peace in the Park Festival, we posed the following question:
“As influential leaders in your communities, what peaceful practices are at the core of your leadership?”
We began with Ali, who shared that “building a safe and neutral space to create safety and connection throughout a community” is at the core of his leadership. Janardhan added that “Raj yoga meditation..”, a routine he has been dedicated to practicing for 16 years, “..is at the core of my leadership. It starts with cultivating self-compassion and peace within, then you can spread this compassion to others.” Heidi, Program Director at the Peaceful World Foundation, related to Janardhan’s response, “At the core of my work I find it helpful to stop during the day as an opportunity to ground myself, to collect myself, to quiet something inside which then offers stability.”
Nancy, grant writer at Sunday Friends, compared Heidi’s response to moments that she takes to collect herself while driving, saying that when she doesn’t take time for herself stress seems to follow her throughout her day. “Communication”, I said, “is the peaceful practice at the core of my leadership. I work three jobs, and each one requires me to be a leader in different ways. As a babysitter I am a leader of child safety and care; as lead employee in the café, I lead by example; at the Foundation, I lead peace conversations. Without transparent communication I would not be able to maintain these positions.” Victor, a friend of the Foundation, added, “I have learned that listening helps me to communicate shared ideas. Listening is the practice at the core of my leadership.”
Adding a special element to this conversation, we had a range of ages; including a few young adults who work in the nonprofit sector. Natalie, Director of resource development for the Dalai Lama Fellows, began by describing the practice of mindfulness and self-knowledge which lead her to connecting with our common humanity. Naeha, a young woman representing No Bully, added, “When I am overwhelmed and need to release, I find a quiet space and express my emotions through a song. It comes naturally.” Natalie followed with “’When was the last time you sang or danced?’ Is a question indigenous elders use when they sensed that someone was struggling with depression.”
Taylor, from the Pachamama Alliance, described his transition from working at a nonprofit in New York City to a nonprofit in San Francisco. He feels that San Francisco organizations have a more holistic approach to healing the Earth, whereas New York organizations tend to focus more on tech-based solutions. This observation led to the second part of our conversation. Peaceful World asked the two guest docents to host this conversation because both individuals have a background of tech and financial success, which they both chose to leave in order to pursue a life of leading peace.
We asked Ali and Janardhan to share their stories.
Ali: “I was one of the dots in the .com era. How I came to community building was accidental. I witnessed my son’s happiness transform after attending a community program. Seeing this change in my son caused me to reflect on my values and empower myself to empower others.”
Janardhan: “To describe my story”, he said, “I must define the meaning of success, because although working in the tech industry for 12 years gave me both financial and material success, I never felt fulfilled by my accomplishments. What I discovered was that I was doing something meaningless and getting paid so much for it, but then I asked myself ‘What have I done to make this world better?’”
Taylor posed a question to both men; “How do you teach someone to sacrifice financial success in order to gain the richness of peace?” He followed by pointing out that he has noticed a shift in his generation; more and more young adults in his age bracket are interested in changing the world.
On a deeper level, Taylor’s question is an open question one which left our guests pondering and asking more questions. Members of the Peaceful World Foundation were particularly moved as our mission is to continue finding innovative approaches to building peace across all generations.