Peace in Oneself, Peace in the World: Learning from Leymah Gbowee

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Dear Still Water Friends,

While our Still Water group was in Israel we attended a Women Wage Peace rally at the Oasis of Peace (Neve Shalom / Wahat al-Salem). Women Wage Peace is a women-led movement that has as its goal “To prevent the next war and lead to resolution of the conflict that is non-violent, respectable and agreeable to both sides—Israeli and Palestinian—within four years.”

The movement models its strategy on a the women-led nonviolent movement that in 2003 brought an end to the Second Liberian Civil War. The three leaders of the Liberian women’s peace movement received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 for their peace enabling-efforts and also for their subsequent projects to promote women’s involvement in governance and security.

One of the Nobel Laureates, Leymah Gbowee, was in Israel to offer inspiration and guidance to the participants in a Woman Wage Peace march. Her short speech at the rally was electrifying and sobering. She directed her words to the marchers and told them that can achieve their goal, but it will not be easy. There will be costs: “If you’re not serious about peace, stop it. … It will mean being on the bad side with your family, being on the bad side with your political leaders.”

Her second main message was that in a many year-conflict, such as in Israel, stereotypes and prejudices are used by both side against each other. “If you have decided to be the hope for peace in this region, you need to step into spaces with your Palestinian sisters that you never imagined. … You must tear down every invisible wall you have in your mind, in your heart, in your spirit, and see humans when you see your sisters.” 

When I heard Leymah Gbowee in Israel, I was impressed by her clarity and energy. It gave me a glimpse of how a peace movement like Women Wage Peace might actually bring an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Since coming home, as I’ve listened to the post-election conversations in the US media and among friends and mindfulness practitioners, I’ve come to believe that Leymah Gbowee has a lot to teach Americans, too.

This Thursday evening, after our meditation period, we will watch a video of Leymah Gbowee’s twelve-minute Oasis of Peace speech. Our Dharma sharing will focus on how Gbowee’s words might offer us guidance as we formulate what it is we most want to offer as mindful citizens and activists.

We hope you can join us.

The YouTube video of the Oasis of Peace rally is here. Gbowee’s talk starts at 1:25.

My rough transcription of the talk is below, along with a related excerpt from Thich Nhat Hanh.

This week is also the first Thursday of the month, and, as is our tradition, we will offer a brief newcomer’s orientation to mindfulness practice and to the Still Water community. The orientation will begin at 6:30 pm, and participants are encouraged to stay for the evening program. If you would like to attend the orientation, it is helpful if you let us know by emailing us at

Many blessings to all,

Mitchell Ratner

Leymah Gbowee at Women Wage Peace Rally at Neve Shalom – Wahat al-Salem
October 17, 2016

Thank you all so much. This is really refreshing.

Many years ago as a survivor of war, living through war in my country as a young girl, I brought myself to a place where I refused to cry, because I felt like tears were a sign of weakness. Tonight, I shed physical tears. There are a whole lot of emotions that are going through my mind and through my entire body. The warm welcome at the airport. The warm welcome when I walked in the room. The excitement for peace that I see here.

Many years ago when we started our movement in Liberia, we were the symbol of hope. I received an email from someone who was doing an article in the U.S. And he said, “We heard that the war has gotten so bad that people have lost hope. Someone told us that you and a small handful of women have become the symbol of hope for your country.”

I sat down, looked at that email and said to myself, “This is a lot of responsibility. This is a lot of responsibility to be the symbol of hope for people who have gone through pain and turmoil for years. This is a lot of responsibility to be the symbol of hope for mothers who have cried over their children who have gone too soon before achieving their goals in life. This is a lot of responsibility to be responsible for the thousands of malnourished children whose parents cannot find food. This is a lot of responsibility for the five hundred thousand Liberians who have become refugees. One million who have become internally displaced. This is a lot of responsibility! And it also made me to think, if you are not serious for this task, step out.

Tonight, I have prepared different things in my head, because that is how I roll. I write my speech all in my brain, and then I gave the one that suits here. As I sat here and listened to everyone talk, I decided I would have an honest conversation with my sisters of Women Wage Peace.

If you’re not serious about peace, stop it. The reason I say this to you is because … whenever anyone came up here to speak, the core of the conversation was that this initiative is the hope for peace in this region. I say again, if you’re not ready, don’t start. This is not an easy process. It will mean being on the bad side with your family, being on the bad side with your political leaders, because peace as we know it is not discriminatory. Peace as we know it is not one-sided. Peace as we know it has no political faction.

So if the women of this country are ready to go all out, be prepared to lose a lot of friends and a lot of support. That’s the first thing.

The second thing is, if you are prepared to do this work, you must take the open-mind challenge. And you ask me, “Leymah, what is the open-mind challenge.” My sister there talked a bit about it. I will tell you a funny story. We grew up with our grandmother. … My sister and I, 18 months apart, spent a lot of time with her.

One day we went to her to give her community gossip. There was an old lady who lived outside, on the outskirts of the community that we lived in. Her house was surrounded by a kind of forest. No one went in there but my grandmother. So we came to her and said, “Ma, someone told us that old lady across the street is a witch. She eats children. She killed her husband.” She listened to us as we talked. When we got through talking, she turned to us and said. “You are following me to visit her today.” Then we started crying, “Ma, she is going to kill us.” And she said, “If you don’t come with me I will whip your behind so hard.” We crossed that street and we went into that space, and what we saw was completely different from the narrative of the people in the community.

If you have decided to be the hope for peace in this region, you need to step into spaces with your Palestinian sisters that you never imagined.

Let me tell you something. Over the last many years of this conflict, there have been a lot of stereotypes and prejudices that have been sent from one community against the other. Today, my theory about these kinds of conflicts is that every time you act on your stereotype as an Israeli against a Palestinian, you build a thin wall between you and that person. And every time that a Palestinian acts on their stereotype against an Israeli, they build a thin wall. Over time, this wall between you and that person has gotten so thick that when you look at them you don’t see a human any more, you see the object of your stereotype.

My sisters, if you wish to engage every means of hope for peace in this region, you must tear down every invisible wall you have in your mind, in your heart, in your spirit, and see humans when you see your sisters.

Peace can never be achieved if you continue to see the “other”. When we decided to wage peace in Liberia, we had to tear down all of those walls. In our group one day we decided to have a conversation. And this woman said, when I said to her, “Why are you here?” She said, “I’m here because I want peace.” And the other woman said, “I’m here because I lost my child in a very terrible fashion.” I said to her, “How did you lose your son?” She said, “My son was killed by her nephew. And they cut him up into pieces. In order for us to bury him, her nephew made us to buy piece by piece of my son’s body. When I heard you were doing peace, I came, because I didn’t want any other mother to suffer like me.”

And this woman said, “When I heard you were doing peace, I came because just maybe my action for peace will help to ease the pain that my nephew has caused in  community.”

When you decide to wage peace, my sisters, you must go all out. … The question every one of you should ask, as you step out to march and do peace, “I see your humanity. Do you see mine? I’m a sister, do you see me? I’m a mother, do you see me? I’m an activist, do you see my humanity?” Because it is only by seeing the humanity of each and every other person that peace can be obtained in this region.

Good night.

Women Wage Peace Rally in Jerusalem. Photo by Arianne Littman
Women Wage Peace Rally in Jerusalem. Photo by Arianne Littman



There is no path to peace. The path is peace.
By Thich Nhat Hanh, from a Dharma talk on S
eptember 10, 2003          

I believe that in America there are many people who are awakened to the fact that violence cannot remove violence. They realize there is no way to peace: peace itself is the way. Those people must come together and voice their concern strongly and offer their collective wisdom to the nation so the nation can get out of this current situation. Every one of us has the duty to bring together that collective insight. With that insight, compassion will make us strong and courageous enough to bring about a solution for the world.

Every time we breathe in, go home to ourselves, and bring the element of harmony and peace into ourselves, that is an act of peace. Every time we know how to look at another living being and recognize the suffering in him that has made him speak or act like that, we are able to see that he is the victim of his own suffering. When that understanding is in us, we can look at this other person with the eyes of understanding and compassion. When we can look with the eyes of compassion, we don’t suffer and we don’t make the other person suffer. These are the actions of peace that can be shared with other people.

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