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The mighty heart in action

Dr Scilla Elworthy explains how we can transform the current crises using the power of the heart
Scilla Elworthy

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.

Cover, Dr Scilla Elworthy's Mighty Heart

‘Although attempting to bring about world peace through the internal transformation of individuals is difficult, it is the only way.’

H.H. DALAI LAMA

So far, this course has enabled the world’s second-largest retail company to enable people in its teams to use unexpected responses to daily challenges.

For example, when driven mad by a family member, instead of blurting out a stream of accumulated fury, they manage to listen deeply and respond empathically.

When confronted by a crisis at work, when a director is not understanding a junior member of staff, they are able to stay cool and enable communication to happen.

When their hearts broke over families torn apart in the chaos of Afghanistan, they planned together for actions they could take; they then knew what to do, and did it. 

When a colleague wanted to stand up for something she passionately believed in, but the ground just gave way beneath her feet leaving her red-faced and lost for words, she was supported to ground herself and speak calmly, with authority.

We look forward to working with you, whether in your company or on one of our courses, where you will be helping develop the kind of future there could be.

Click here to discover how to grow the power of your heart and turn fear and anger into compassionate action.

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