Two hundred and thirty remarkable people from North and South gathered in Reykjavik from April 9-12 to share actions for effective change on the issue of "the power of love and compassion in governance."
Why Iceland? Consistently rated the most peaceable of all countries in the world by the Global Peace Index, Iceland has reduced its military expenditure to zero, has no armed forces, and has reduced the inequality gap between rich and poor. That's a good start.
One of the people bringing remarkable experience was Dishani Jayaweera, who travelled from Sri Lanka and experienced her first ever snowstorm. She described the violence and injustice that led her and her partner to set up the Center for Peace-building and Reconciliation in 2003, to work with young people and religious leaders to accept, respect and nourish diversity in Sri Lanka. With the help of Peace Direct they have set up six interfaith dialogue centres reaching out to build bridges between the religious groups in Sri Lanka -- Sinhalese Buddhists, Tamil Hindus, Muslim Islamic, and Tamil and Sinhalese Christians. Those who heard Dishani's personal story were deeply moved and encouraged because of the way that compassion is being recognized as a driving force for a more peaceful world at new levels.
As founder of Peace Direct I was asked how the power of love and compassion can be increased in the world. My experience is that those who are more willing to take a stand and speak up for these values tend to be female. While women work two thirds of the world's working hours, they earn only 10 percent of the world's income. While they are responsible for producing 60 to 80 percent of the world's food, they hold only 10 percent of the world's wealth and own only 1 percent of the world's land. Only 7 percent of negotiators at peace tables are female, meaning that the suffering of the majority of victims of armed violence is not represented. So there is an urgent need for the large numbers of qualified women available to be moved into policy-making positions.
Again, Iceland is an example: Vigdís Finnbogadóttir was the world's first democratically elected female head of state. With a presidency of 16 years, from 1980 to 1996, she said "I'm a woman who never tried to become a man." Now aged 84, she is still a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador.
We learned that police in Stockholm now use dialogue methods to prevent or quell urban violence, instead of heavy-handed anti-terror tactics; that 10% of schools in Iceland and 10% in UK have now adopted values-based education. Three cities in the UK now want to become "values-based cities".
So are values becoming more important to us? I presented the gathering with 10 values or norms that have governed our (Western) actions for centuries, and which have contributed to the state of the planet today, and then proposed what we can replace each one with the kind of values that could enable better decisions -- decisions that could get us out of the mess we're in:
- (old value) "Humans have the right to do as we like with the Earth" -- replace with "humans become responsible stewards of the Earth, in order to preserve its beauty and diversity."
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and the Spirit of Humanity Forum, in conjunction with the conference of the same name that took place in Reykjavik, Iceland, last week. For more information on the Spirit of Humanity Forum, read here.