Service of Compassion
Happy Friday everyone!
I have been thinking a great deal about the future. While I don’t intend for this blog to be a place for political debate, the current US election cycle has me wondering where we are going and how and why voices will be heard.
Thankfully, there are voices that are speaking up in ways that are hopeful, informed and solution-oriented. One of my most favorite combinations!
I had the pleasure of meeting Sahana Dharmapuri at an event a few months ago, and she is a powerhouse. She is currently the Senior Advisor for the Our Secure Future, a new initiative of the One Earth Future Foundation, which works to strengthen the Women, Peace and Security movement for a more just, and peaceful future transformed by women’s full participation. As such, she is committed to amplifying women’s voices and creating solution-oriented frameworks. Before her time with Our Secure Future, Sahana was an independent gender advisor providing policy advice and training on gender, peace, and security issues to USAID, NATO, The Swedish Armed Forces, the United States Institute for Peace, International Peace Institute, Chemonics, DevTech, and other international development organizations. She has lectured and led trainings on gender and security issues at a variety of institutions including, The Swedish Armed Forces International Training Center for work in Peace Support Operations in Stockholm, USAID Missions, Harvard University, Tufts University, the United States Institute for Peace, the State Department’s Foreign Service Institute, and at three of the major U.S. combat and command centers.
In 2011, she was appointed a Fellow at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. She conceived of and facilitated the First India-Pakistan Dialogue Conference sponsored by His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s Foundation for Universal Responsibility and the Women in Conflict Management and Peace in New Delhi, India in 2001.
I am filled with gratitude that she decided to sit down and discuss the role of service in her life and work. As I would have expected, the desire to develop compassion for others has played heavily in her decisions and I am hopeful the following will inspire thoughtful action in each of us!
1. What does Service mean to you?
I think everyone is of “service”—Just think about your personal relationships. Children and parents serve each other. Mothers and fathers serve each other and their families. Students and teacher serve each other and their communities. Colleagues at work serve one another. Even strangers can help other strangers in the briefest instance. We all have the potential to serve each other through our compassion, our ability to listen, and in offering our unique talents, skills and loves to the world.
Second, my understanding of service is guided by three principles that my mentor has repeatedly shared with me.
1. Everything is determined by our hearts.
How do we develop our hearts so that we understand ourselves and others better? It’s a paradox in life that suffering brings understanding, and helps us develop compassion. This means that we can take whatever life throws at us and turn it into something positive not only for ourselves, but for others. Compassion for others, respect for human rights, and the dignity of life—this is how we develop our hearts and understand where we can put our energies to best serve others.
2. Never waste an opportunity.
Sometimes obstacles seem like they rise up to stop us from being the people we want to be in the world. But my mentor has shown me that obstacles are actually our opportunities to challenge ourselves. Striving for self-mastery, trying to fulfill our potential as human beings—these are important aspects of service. If we don’t aim to improve ourselves, how can we improve the world around us? Self-reflection, self-improvement—these are doorways into being able to help others to your fullest capacity. So, try and try again. Surprise yourself!
3. Foster capable people—especially young people.
Being of service means you are putting yourself on the frontlines of life. It doesn’t necessarily mean you have to volunteer in a refugee camp, or a humanitarian crisis. Instead, the frontlines of humanity are exactly where you stand. You can serve those in your immediate community by offering the best of yourself on a regular basis. Continually asking how can I contribute, in my own way? What am I interested in? And then taking small steps towards doing those things helps everyone. When you are living in integrity with yourself, with your talents, values, and abilities, you have no choice BUT to serve others. Young people especially need guidance and support to strengthen their character. I firmly believe that we should strive to foster young people to exceed our own abilities. The greatest test of whether or not we have fostered capable young people is when young people surpass us in what they can envision and accomplish to create a better world.
2. How has a desire to be of service led you to where you are and/or influenced your life decisions
I remember when I was 12-years old my father pointed out an article in the New York Times about Mary Robinson at the United Nations. When I read it, I knew working on peace, human rights and women’s equality was what I was going to do. However, when I was growing up there weren’t many established career paths to do this kind of work. So, the idea of “being of service” helped to focus my search for opportunities to work on peace, to learn about human rights and international affairs. Being of service is both a right and responsibility. I felt I needed to learn certain things in order to help others.
3. How the ethic of service has manifested in your work.
I honestly do not think of the word “service” much. Instead, I am compelled by the desire to develop compassion for others, by the desire for self-mastery, and by the absolute conviction that we can, each of us, change the world for the better. I am convinced that everyone on the planet has a tremendous power inside them; the potential to create a more beautiful world that benefits all—men, women, girls and boys. I am constantly inspired by the women who work on Women, Peace and Security around the world. These women live and work in conflict zones around the world. Extremist violence, climate change disasters, and the oppression of women are only a few of the challenges they face on a daily basis. These women, and the men who support them, sacrifice so much of their personal lives and security to improve the lives and security of countless others. These are the real revolutionaries and leaders of our time—and I am so thankful to learn so much from their willingness to serve all of us.
Thank you, Sahana, for sharing your perspective and for your commitment to being your best for the service of others. I am inspired by you, by your work and by your conviction to amplify the voices of those who may not otherwise be heard. I agree wholeheartedly that we each have tremendous potential! Are we each utilizing our skills for the utmost benefit,--the benefit of our families, our neighborhood, and our global community? If you’re like me, hearing from Sahana will catalyze that reflection and encourage considerate action.
Interested in learning more? Connect with me and check out Our Secure Future, a semi-autonomous program of One Earth Future.
Our Secure Future (OSF) is a one of OEF’s semi-autonomous programs, and therefore upholds the OEF vision to achieve peace through governance. Our Secure Future believes that women make the crucial difference to achieving more effective governance and lasting peace.
Three key areas of opportunity to strengthen the global Women, Peace and Security agenda are:
1 Amplifying women’s voices,
2 Strengthening the global network of women peacebuilders,
3 Promoting committed action by multiple stakeholders to turn policy into practice
Some of the partners and organizations that we work with include: Women’s Alliance for Security Leadership, Empower Peace, the US Civil Society Working Group on Women, Peace and Security, Urgent Action Fund, Global Green Grants, and the United Nations Association.