This article first appeared in our COP27 special issue of My Green Pod Magazine, published on 11 November 2022. Click here to subscribe to our digital edition and get each issue delivered straight to your inbox
Picture this: it’s 1988 – the height of the Cold War and a massive build-up of Soviet and US nuclear weapons. However, in an ancient manor house outside Oxford, top policymakers from the five nuclear weapons powers are actually meeting each other – not exactly in secret, but certainly off the record.
No press, no communiques, just 12 men – at first rather uncomfortably – sitting in a circle. No desks, no speeches, no discussion papers – just a woman with white hair requesting that they listen carefully to what each is trying to say; not just to the words, but for a flicker of intention, of invitation, of possibility behind what is being said.
On the second morning, a distinguished diplomat from the US State Department took me aside in the beamed meeting hall on the first floor: ‘Scilla, this is a very special room.’
‘Yes’, indeed, it was built in the 13th century.’
‘No, it’s very special.’
‘Well yes indeed, Quakers have been meeting here since the 17th century.’
‘No, no…Something else… Something seems to be coming through the floorboards…’
‘Ah yes’, I said, ‘you’re right. Under this hall there’s a small library, and five people are meditating there while we hold our discussions.’
He seemed shocked. ‘Really? What for?’
‘Because their quiet support helps us listen to each other more attentively.’
He looked at me as if I was deranged. ‘If you find that hard to believe, ask them. They’re the elderly people who are about to serve you your lunch.’ He went downstairs shaking his head. After lunch he caught my eye with a nod, a slight salute – and the flicker of a smile.
Building peace through trust
What this perceptive man detected was working. The understanding of effective communication developed during these meetings, held over 15 years in London, Beijing, Geneva and Moscow, laid the basis for eventual international nuclear agreements, and three nominations of the Oxford Research Group for the Nobel Peace Prize.
And now? This is just one example of a phenomenon developing steadily across the planet: millions of individuals and thousands of organisations who are using state-of-the-art systems to build understanding and trust to prevent violence.
For example, Peace Direct was set up 20 years ago to identify accountable, effective peace-building initiatives across the world; through them you can now access 2,000 organisations in 44 regions of conflict around the world, all of which are stopping armed violence and killing.
The power of the heart
With my colleagues at the Business Plan for Peace we realised that humanity is now facing more and more crises that require us to utilise every possible capacity of ourselves – the ability to collaborate, to communicate, to face fear with courage – that this will particularly require the power of the heart.
Before the pandemic struck, I had a premonition that some huge challenge was coming that would require humanity to deal with loss, grief and hugely increased stress. So I sat down and wrote what became a short booklet entitled The Mighty Heart, which quickly produced an online course with 10 modules.