This article was published in the Qi Global 2011 Conference Magazine.
‘The Peace Chiefs’
– an article by Tim ‘Mac’ Macartney, a key-note speaker at the 2010 Qi Global conference in Singapore
I sit in almost complete darkness. Only the flickering light from a small open fire provides hints as to my location. The room is no more than two metres by two metres, yet there are nine of us in this room. Wood smoke blankets the air above us and my eyes smart as they adjust to the darkness. On the tiny fire a pan of cow’s milk warms – a gift from our hosts to me and my friend Wandia Muinde. The floor is earth, the walls are earth, the roof, a matted collection of sticks, grasses, and other materials gathered to make this small shelter earn the name of ‘home’. The Masai family who live here experience on a daily basis what it means to be poor. Even as I write this article the drought afflicting West Africa tightens its grip, commodity prices continue to rise, and an ancient way of life disappears. Written on the hard-baked earth of this single village, in the eyes of the young mothers holding their babies, and in the glare of a sun that grows ever hotter, is a story calling us to action.
Last March I came to Kenya to join a gathering of senior managers from one of the world’s largest international banks. One hundred and twenty of the bank’s most senior executives gathered to explore, debate, and pledge a new component in their strategy. To set a goal that for many may understandably invite an instant, involuntary, and cynical response. They have pledged, and are now implementing, a global plan to develop financial products inside the bank’s core business that will significantly assist many of the world’s poorest communities to work their way out of extreme poverty. The bank’s CEO outlined his vision for their company to become a ‘force for good in the world’ and spending several days in his company, I understood that he meant it. Operating in the avaricious and intensely competitive world of international banking, he will understand that concern for the world’s poor will not win him a fatter bonus. Whether a banker or an environmental activist, it takes courage to speak opinions at variance with the cultural norms of your own community.
I was one of fifteen facilitators working for a UK based social enterprise that is making real impact at the top of many very large business organisations towards the aim of influencing positive, values-based leadership that will benefit all stakeholders especially the poor and disenfranchised. The bank’s CEO had engaged this organisation to advise and assist them on this journey. Now, some months later, I had returned to Kenya on my own account to advance some trading ideas I’d developed with Wandia that might build greater sustainability into a number of fragile and very poor communities. Crouched in the tiny home of a Masai family in Narok, on the edge of Kenya’s Masai Mara, I witnessed yet again how so many millions of our Earth’s people live …….. and die. I find myself in a place of profound paradox. I love my life. I wake most days vibrantly happy to be alive. I know what I love and I love a lot. My life is filled with meaning, and laughter accompanies me most days. I am not wealthy on any terms understood by our developed world’s standards, and yet I have what so many chase for a lifetime and fail to touch. Love fills my life and my cup is indeed overflowing. Juxtaposed with this, I am viscerally aware of the suffering experienced by countless millions of people, and the violent and mindless destruction we are inflicting on the Earth, every day for countless years past and, if we don’t change soon, countless years forward. Embercombe is very fortunate to have a very positive and mutually rewarding working relationship with WWF International. I assist in the delivery of WWF’s One Planet Leaders Programme in Lausanne and more recently in Singapore. Concerning what is happening in our world environmentally and socially, I am informed. If you don’t know, let me tell you. It gets worse. Positive thinking is fine providing it doesn’t preclude the truth, and the truth is that while there are many thousands of inspiring and extraordinary projects bringing hope to millions, the engines of economic progress are destroying this garden planet at a rate so relentlessly fast that the bio-systems of Earth are now under serious threat. Emerging from this is a question the answer to which still eludes me. What will it take to bring the countless millions of good citizens populating every country around the world to their feet? Taking action, demanding change, insisting that our leaders do what all leaders should do, serve the needs of their people and protect the future of our children. It is not the cruel and self-serving actions of despots that will decide our children’s future. It is the passivity and complacency of those who are comfortable, educated, and diligently pursuing the limited goals of our affluent society. It is easy to blame others but this will not change anything. We are the problem and we are the solution. Real applied wisdom is changing what needs to be changed before we have to.
So, where does this leave us? Angry, numb, disempowered, or determined, inspired, and purposeful? This is a most extraordinary and potentially wondrous moment in history. We are offered a gift of inestimable value – the chance to make choices that will give us everything we have always longed for. The chance to set fear aside, along with the burden of negative disempowering beliefs that whisper their malicious untruths. The chance to turn the TV off, quit the job that has been tearing at our heart, cease chanting the bleak consumer mantra, and go on the journey that will bring us home – to ourselves. Each one of us has gifts to deploy. In almost all cases we underestimate those gifts and by colluding with our fears in this way we massively reduce what we might have achieved. At Embercombe, after a great deal of thinking, doing, making mistakes, and creating successes, we see it a bit like this.
- Search your vision. Never give up. Search your vision and then renew it continually for the rest of your life by never ceasing to ask questions, seek new experience, and step out towards what you most fear and love.
- Know yourself, know your people, know your Earth.
- Develop your potential – joyfully, powerfully, vigorously.
- Heal your wounds. Do not ignore them. They grow more powerful when left to fester in the dark.
- Find work that you love, that fulfils you, and that brings you enough for your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing.
- Keep good company. Find and create friends whose values you respect and who are willing to tell you what they see, even when this is un-welcomed by you.
- Learn about your own culture. Study it. Be brave enough to stand by what is healthy and robust while challenging beliefs, traditions, and assumptions that hurt people or nature.
- Compile your own success criteria. Use any of those generally applied in our society and you’ll very soon be betraying your original intentions.
- Resist becoming too comfortable. It will rob you of your passion.
As some of you will know I often speak about the experiences and insights I gathered when mentored by a group of mixed-blood Native Americans. Recently I’ve found myself speaking more and more about the Peace Chiefs. These chiefs sat in the council circles of the tribes. They were warriors who were trained in the arts of war, had demonstrated their courage in battle, and then taken the radical step of setting their weapons aside and choosing the way of peace. Their discipline and path was not an easy one. They sought to embody their pledge to peace in every aspect of their lives and in every way that they participated and contributed to their people. It does not require much imagination to picture the courage that this pledge must have exacted. At a music festival I was speaking at in southern England earlier this summer I met a Peace Chief. Her name is Jo Berry. Jo’s father was killed by a terrorist’s bomb in 1984 at a political party conference. Unable to comprehend the motivations for such an extreme act of violence, Jo eventually went to Ireland trying to find the IRA activist that had set the bomb – the man who had killed her father. Two and a half years later Jo and Pat Magee began the work that has occupied them ever since. They travel to some of the most violent and dangerous places of our world offering what they have learned in an effort to bring healing. To bring peace.
“Perhaps more than anything I’ve realised that no matter which side of the conflict you’re on, had we all lived each others lives, we could all have done what the other did. In other words, had I come from a Republican background, I could easily have made the same choices Pat made.”
I believe that we are called to do the same thing. We are called to be Peace Chiefs. Thankfully, most of us have not had to endure what Jo Berry has experienced. Yet, we have our own story, and every story has it’s own quota of disappointment and pain. The Masai village that I visited with Wandia calls us to be Peace Chiefs. The courage and commitment of one international bank’s CEO calls us to be Peace Chiefs. The laughter and beauty of our unborn children calls us to be Peace Chiefs. You call me to be a Peace Chief, and I call you.
Mac is the founder of Embercombe – a small valley on the edge of Dartmoor National Park in the UK where a small group of men and women are working to achieve the following mission:
“To touch hearts, stimulate minds, and inspire committed action for a truly sustainable world.”