Promoting Peace in Troubled Times

August 8, 2017

SIYLI CEO Rich Fernandez hosted an inspiring conversation on August 29 with Roshi Joan Halifax and Rhonda Magee on the topic of how to respond to the violence, hatred and terrorism in the world today. Thank you to everyone who tuned in!

Despite this event coming together very quickly, more than 175 people participated from around the world. One participant wrote: "That webinar…was heartwarming and profound. It enlarged and softened my world view." At SIYLI, we were also deeply moved by the perspectives and questions everyone shared.

If you missed the opportunity to partake in the forum, here's a recording and below is the letter from Rich originally announcing the webinar and why we were moved to offer it:

We also appreciate all of the resources and readings that were recommended during the call. Here are just a few of them:
    •    Gandhi the Man by Eknath Easwaran
    •    The many works of John Paul Lederach on peace building
    •    Youtube collection about civil rights leader James Lawson
    •    The Nature of Prejudice by Gordon Allport

We look forward to continuing conversations about how we put mindfulness and emotional intelligence to work—not only in the office, but in our personal lives and in the greater world.

Thank you for being a part of the SIYLI community.



The eruption of hatred, violence and terror around the world has been deeply disturbing. Charlottesville. Barcelona. North Korea. Syria. Nigeria. Venezuela. Burkina Faso. The refugee and humanitarian crisis across North Africa and the Middle East. In all of these places, and many more that don’t come across our screens daily or manifest right outside our doors, there has been deadly violence rooted in fear and hatred.

Personally, I have been struggling with how to comprehend this hatred and violence. I struggle with what to tell my 11-year-old son Noah about all of it. I struggle to understand how this hatred is the same hatred my Filipino grandfather fought against nearly 80 years ago in World War II—a dehumanizing, othering hatred that almost took his life and left him broken. And I struggle because I was at Ground Zero in New York City on September 11, 2001.That day, I experienced firsthand the violence and terror born of hatred. 

Like me, you may be struggling to understand what’s going on in our world. Like me, you may be wondering how to take action. And like me, you may hold many more questions than answers. All of this is perfectly natural, given the magnitude of suffering we are witnessing.

Hopefully though, like me, you do not feel alone—and that makes all the difference. 

I have found peace and comfort in conversation with those whom I love and hold dear. My family, friends and extended community help me realize that though hatred and violence are manifesting now, these aspects of our human nature do not define us or dictate our futures. We have agency to think and act in ways that create a different reality. We are united in working for and sustaining peace and flourishing. 

Taking refuge in community is a good beginning place for support and healing. There is a risk, however, that we become isolated and insular in doing so, finding comfort but also putting up boundaries that do not permit further engagement. Addressing hatred and violence requires us to understand what motivates it in the first place. This is critical for not engaging in the same othering that we know causes such suffering and feeds the cycle of hatred and violence. 

The root of hatred is ignorance, as well as the illusion that we are separate and unequal—that one group of people is beyond or beneath a common humanity—that they are other and that we are better. Yet we know from science as well as our own experience that we share common dreams, struggles and even a human existence. 

In fact, peaceful co-existence predicated on empathy, understanding and compassion is our only real choice. In the prescient words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., "Through our scientific genius we have made of the world a neighborhood; now through our moral and spiritual development we must make of it a brotherhood. In a real sense, we must all learn to live together as brothers, or we will all perish together as fools." 

If we are to survive as a species, we simply do not have the option to live in a way that's based on the illusion of being separate and disconnected from one another. We cannot other those who other us. We need to find the personal wherewithal to engage and be peacemakers in whatever way we can. 

"There is no way to peace; peace is the way," said the renowned peace activist A.J. Muste over a half-century ago.

The path to peace ultimately begins within ourselves. When we can find ways to settle and calm our troubled minds and hearts to begin the difficult process of engaging broadly with the issues and people on either side of this struggle, peace is possible.   So here are some ways to cultivate the necessary groundwork for peace that I'd like to share:

  • Nurture hope: It is more harmful than helpful to deny or suppress what’s bad, but, there is also likely much good in each of our lives. Magnifying and being grateful for all the good we experience is a first step in cultivating ongoing hope. 
  • Find peace within yourself: Peace begins when we make peace with —our own thoughts, emotions and bodies. And the peace we experience in ourselves is proportional to the peace we are able to offer others and the world. Find ways to access inner peace and quietude—only then can you share it. 
  • Exercise kindness and compassion: Hatred and violence trigger the limbic system of the brain, pushing us into survival mode—a fight or flight reaction. In this state, we see everything around us as a threat and we experience the world with a strong negativity bias. Don’t let your limbic state become a trait. Find ways to exercise empathy, kindness and compassion when you can. "What you practice grows stronger, says psychologist Shauna Shapiro.
  • Cultivate equanimity: Staying mentally and emotionally balanced even in the face of great difficulty is the quality of equanimity. Whether it is through meditation, prayer, connection with community or any other activity that lends valuable perspective, cultivating equanimity will serve you and those around you well in these trying times. 
  • "Each one teach one": This timeless wisdom from the African American tradition reminds us that what we each have the power to transmit peace in what we share with others. All it takes is that we connect with one person, listen deeply and share ideas. 

In the process of cultivating inner peace, we promote peace. 

"Peace in myself, peace in the world," says my teacher and pre-eminent peace advocate Thich Nhat Hanh. We can set our intentions for peace and practice bringing peace to fruition in our lives. 

Sometimes peacemaking by practicing mindfulness and compassion will feel too small—or even self-centered. In those moments, I think of words of my one of my favorite authors of all time, Alice Walker, who says, "Look closely at the present you are constructing: it should look like the future you are dreaming." 

So I tell my son Noah about the future I dream for him. I tell Noah about the deep sadness I feel about current events, but also about the hope I have that in living with mindfulness and compassion we can make a difference. He smiles at me and nods, with love and hope alive in his eyes. 


Rich Fernandez is the CEO of the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute.