The change within

These are times that cry out for peace. The Middle East is in its most volatile condition in years. The war in Ukraine is the largest in Europe since World War II, and there are armed conflicts in Sudan and parts of Central Africa. Nearly every continent is experiencing a major armed conflict.

Rotary has a vital role to play in advancing the cause of peace — I often say Rotary needs to work toward peace as aggressively as those who wish to wage war. It’s the spirit found in our vision statement: “Together, we see a world where people unite and take action to create lasting change — across the globe, in our communities, and in ourselves.”

We must never lose track of that last call — that to bring about change in the world, we need to foster change within.

It is up to us to model peacebuilding ­behaviour among each other. We can do better than questioning the motives of one another and jumping to the harshest possible explanation. After hearing words that might strain or offend us, we have an opportunity to ask, with compassion and curiosity, the intent of those offending words. And then we have another opportunity to repair the breach.

If we wish to be a beacon to the world, let us start by being so to one another. Let’s help each other find greater understanding and productive alternatives to words that cause hurt and distrust. And let’s stick to our principles, but never doubt the sincerity of each other to end conflicts, not inflame them.

I’m reminded of a speech that US ­Senator Robert Kennedy made on April 4, 1968, that dreadful day when the Rev Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated. Kennedy was in ­Indianapolis speaking to an audience in a predominantly African American neighbourhood where people had yet to learn that Dr King had been killed.

He shared the terrible news. He honoured Dr King for all he had done for the cause of justice and peace. And then he connected with the fuming, grieving crowd by saying: “For those of you who are Black and are tempted to be filled with hatred and distrust at the injustice of such an act, against all white people, I can only say that I feel in my own heart the same kind of feeling. I had a member of my family killed.” It was the first time he had spoken publicly about ­President John F Kennedy’s assassination. And while many American cities exploded in ­violence that night, Indianapolis did not.

It is in times of crisis and despair that we need empathy most of all. Empathy is the most powerful tool of peace, and it is vital if we are to take the first brave, humble steps to Create Hope in the World.

Gordon McInally
President, Rotary International

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