Activism, Changeology, Equality, Freedom, Human dignity, Justice, Leadership, Motivation, Personal meaning, Stories from life, The world around us

Being remembered brings Hope!

Sorry for the delay in getting this post out. As those of you who have been following me know I am in the country of Timor Lest now and the internet here is a bit dodgy :-).


Today I met a superstar. He drove into the parking lot in his blue mini Moke (like a dune buggy). It had shiny chrome role bars that matched the color of his greying hair. His handshake was firm and his smile winning as he, in a warm baritone voice greeted me with a friendly, “Bom Dia”. And while he seemed like an ordinary citizen, short of stature and slight of build, José Ramos-Horta was something considerably more.

Timor Leste had been a Portuguese colony for more than 400 years. When it received its independence in 1975 young José had played an important role in the independence movement. One might have expected then that, when after a few months Indonesia invaded and annexed Timor Leste, young Ramos-Horta would be called to also play a role in the in the new independence movement. Instead he was sent away by the country’s leaders, called upon to serve as Ambassador for the Timorese to the world. It was a difficult time for the young man. His task was a lonely and seemingly hopeless one.

Only after nearly twenty-five years of exile he was able to return home to a free country. On his return he was amazed at all the people who recognized him and wanted to shake his hand as a hero. Believing that it should be the ones who had stayed behind and fought battles on the homeland who should be welcomed in such a way, now middle aged José asked why he had been greeted so. The answer came, “Because you gave us Hope! When we thought the world had forgotten us we would hear your voice on the radio pleading our cause and we knew that we could hold out a little bit longer. Thank you!”

For his efforts in the peace process that ended the war with Indonesia and gained Timor Leste its independence, José Ramos-Horta was awarded, together with the Catholic Bishop of Timor Leste, the Nobel Peace prize. He went on to serve his country as Prime Minister and President. And since his ”retirement” from public service in his homeland he has served as a UN Special Representative to Guinea Bissau and more recently on a committee to evaluate the UN Peacekeeping force.

From the parking lot I led him to the hall where he would be speaking. I don’t remember all that he said, but his main message was – When everything seems impossible. When you feel as though your courage and strength will fail. Remember, there is still is Hope. Never give up Hope!”


Activism, Changeology, Cultural diversity, Equality, Freedom, Freedom of Religion or Belief, Human dignity, Human Rights, Justice, Leadership, Minority Rights, Personal meaning, Stories from life

A tribute to India’s greatest leader

He came from humble means, but went on to become a giant of a man, inspiring millions, especially those at the bottom of the social and economic ladder. He studied abroad earning several advanced degrees. He was a lawyer and the main author of the Indian constitution. Think you know who he is?

His name, Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar. While Mohandas Gandhi (a contemporary of Ambedkar)is the Indian most non-Indians admire, it is Ambedkar the 100+ millions of Dalits, or untouchables, of India recognize as India’s greatest hero, towering far above Gandhi.

In recognition of his greatness I’d like to share with you some of Ambedkar’s quotes.

  • Unlike a drop of water which loses its identity when it joins the ocean, man does not lose his being in the society in which he lives. Man’s life is independent. He is born not for the development of the society alone, but for the development of his self.
  • I like the religion that teaches liberty, equality and fraternity.
  • I measure the progress of a community by the degree of progress which women have achieved.
  • Equality may be a fiction but nonetheless one must accept it as a governing principle.
  • In India, ‘Bhakti’ or what may be called the path of devotion or hero-worship plays a part in politics unequalled in magnitude by the part it plays in the politics of any other of the world. ‘Bhakti’ in religion may be a road to salvation of the soul. But in politics, ‘Bhakti’ or hero-worship is a sure road to degradation and to eventual dictatorship.
  • Cultivation of mind should be the ultimate aim of human existence.
  • Religion must mainly be a matter of principles only. It cannot be a matter of rules. The moment it degenerates into rules, it ceases to be a religion, as it kills responsibility which is an essence of the true religious act.
  • A great man is different from an eminent one in that he is ready to be the servant of the society.
  • Life should be great rather than long.
  • Political tyranny is nothing compared to the social tyranny and a reformer who defies society is a more courageous man than a politician who defies Government.
  • For a successful revolution it is not enough that there is discontent. What is required is a profound and thorough conviction of the justice, necessity and importance of political and social rights.
  • The relationship between husband and wife should be one of closest friends.

Quotes found at – and

Activism, Equality, Freedom, Human dignity, Justice, Minority Rights, Stories from life, Uncategorized

Beware of GoNGOs!

Today I attended two workshops. The workshops were for NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations working in the ASEAN region to promote Human Rights and good governance.

Unfortunately, along with the NGOs, there were GoNGOs also attending the workshops. A GoNGO is a Government Organized, Non-Governmental Organization. Sounds like a paradox doesn’t it? But they do exist! A government that has a poor record in the area of Human Rights sometimes creates an NGO, or infiltrates, an existing one in order to gain access to information about real them and their activities. They look like NGOs and, to some extent, talk like NGOs, but inside they are deceivers intent on harming those working for good. For example, the GoNGOs I met today took close up pictures and videos of participants from the countries where the NGOs work and operate. One even went so far as to take a picture of the registration from with names and email addresses of the participants.

This information will then be passed on to government officials back in the home country so that they can monitor the activities of the NGOs. In a number of cases individuals from NGOs have returned home to waiting security police for interrogation and sometimes imprisonment and torture. In the last few days I’ve met people several people who have suffered this fate.

Looks are certainly deceiving. So I say, “Beware of GoNGOs!

Equality, Freedom, Freedom of Religion or Belief, Grief and loss, Human dignity, Human Rights, Justice, Minority Rights, The world around us

A jet-lagged post

I arrived in Dili this afternoon after more than 24 hours travelling. I wrote yesterday’s in the airport in Singapore (no I didn’t mean Dehli, if you don’t know where it is, look it up :-)). Right now I am very tired and frankly not sure J can write anything very intelligent, Therefore, I’m going to take a short-cut.

To give you something to ponder on today I’ll refer you to my friend, Aykan Erdemir’s recent article on how the recent coup attempt on Erdogan may strengthen Erdogan.

Check it out here:

Let me know what you think :-).

Freedom, Human dignity, Human nature, Justice, Perspective


We’ve had visitors the last few days, a college friend and her son. She is now a college professor herself, an expert on Charles Dickens. So it was natural that some of our conversations touched on this great British author. We discussed the importance of Dickens in British literature. We discussed a few of his works. We discussed his great engagement and activism for children’s rights, for education and the abolition of slavery. Dickens was a great man! “But”, our professor friend said, “Dickens had a dark side as well. He treated his wife poorly, publicly humiliating her and most likely engaging in an extramarital affair with a much younger woman.”

This prompted me to think about many other “saintly” characters in history that also had serious character flaws. And that carried me to the song, Burden of the Angel/Beast, by one of my favorite artists, Bruce Cockburn. Looking at this theme of the dichotomous nature of human beings; the sinner/saint or angel/beast drove me to search the net for quotes about this phenomenon.

Here are few:

Robert Louis Stevenson –

  • I knew myself, at the first breath of this new life, to be more wicked, tenfold more wicked, sold a slave to my original evil; and the thought, in that moment, braced and delighted me like wine. I stretched out my hands, exulting in the freshness of these sensations; and in the act, I was suddenly aware that I had lost in stature.
  • …all human beings, as we meet them, are commingled out of good and evil…


Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn –

  • Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. And even in the best of all hearts, there remains … an unuprooted small corner of evil.
  • Since then I have come to understand the truth of all the religions of the world: They struggle with the evil inside a human being (inside every human being). It is impossible to expel evil from the world in its entirety, but it is possible to constrict it within each person.


William Golding –

  • Maybe, Maybe there is a beast…. Maybe it is only us.


Philip Zimbardo –

  • The line between good and evil is permeable and almost anyone can be induced to cross it when pressured by situational forces.
  • I have been primarily interested in how and why ordinary people do unusual things, things that seem alien to their natures. Why do good people sometimes act evil? Why do smart people sometimes do dumb or irrational things?
  • There are times when external circumstances can overwhelm us, and we do things we never thought. If you’re not aware that this can happen, you can be seduced by evil. We need inoculations against our own potential for evil. We have to acknowledge it. Then we can change it.
  • Bullies may be the perpetrators of evil, but it is the evil of passivity of all those who know what is happening and never intervene that perpetuates such abuse.

Garrison Keillor –

  • Evil lurks in the heart of man, and anonymity tends to bring it out. Internet flamers would never say the jagged things they do if they had to sign their names.


So are humans basically good or basically evil or a bit of both or neither? Let me know what you think J.


Cultural diversity, Freedom, Freedom of Religion or Belief, Human dignity, Minority Rights, Personal meaning, Perspective, The world around us

The Dignity of Difference

One thing I’ve learned from my many years of travelling is that while all humans undoubtedly are very similar in many ways, they are all also very different. Too often in Human rights work and Peace work I’ve noticed a tendency to over-emphasize the similarities and downplay the differences. It is as if by acknowledging the differences we would in some way automatically add fuel to the fire of conflicts based on differences. But, what if we were to change our perspective and look at difference, not as a threat, but as a possible resource: a resource for new and creative ways of addressing common challenges.

Taking up just this challenge, Jonathan Sacks, former Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth from 1991 to 2013, has written an inspiring book entitled, The Dignity of Difference:How to Avoid the Clash of Civilizations. Today I’d like to share some of the thoughts and questions I picked up from this book as well as some thought-provoking quotes.



“Too often in today’s world, groups speak to themselves, not to one another: Jews to Jews, Christians to fellow Christians, Muslims to Muslims, business leaders, economists and global protesters to their respective constituencies. The proliferation of channels of communication – email, chat-groups, the Internet, online journals, and the thousands of cable and satellite television channels – mean that we no longer broadcast. We narrowcast. Gone are the days where people of different views were forced to share an arena and thus meet and reason with their opponents. Today, we can target those who agree with us and screen out the voices of dissent.”

How can we create unity without conformity?

Can difference (diversity) be a source of value?

The twentieth century in many ways was dominated by the politics of ideology. The first part of the twenty-first century in many ways is dominated by the politics of identity.

A shared experience and challenge for much of humankind is how to maintain identity as a minority

When religion is invoked as a justification for conflict, religious voices must be raised in protest.

“War speaks to our most fundamental identity: there is an ‘us’ and ‘them’ and no possibility of confusing them.”

“War appears to be as old as mankind, but peace is a modern invention.”

“… we need to search – each faith in its own way – for a way of living with, and acknowledging the integrity of, those who are not of our faith. Can we make space for difference?”

“Difference does not diminish; it enlarges the sphere of human possibilities.”

Only when we realize the danger of wishing that everyone should be the same – the same faith on the one hand, the same McWorld on the other – will we prevent the clash of civilizations, born of the sense of threat and fear. We will learn to live with diversity once we understand the God-given, world-enhancing dignity of difference.”


Words of wisdom to ponder and meditate on :-).

Cultural diversity, Equality, Freedom, Minority Rights, Personal Development, The world around us

Ramblings about Identity

Today’s blog post is a bit incoherent. Really it is simply a bunch of disjointed ideas I have floating around my head. Nevertheless, I hope some of my thoughts resonate with you :-).


Who am I? Who are you?

Identity is created by contact. It is not a fixed quantity. Context determines which group identity I will choose as most prominent at any given time. Group identity can foster an “us” and “them” mentality.

Nationality – A question I’ve been asked on numerous occasions is, am I more this or that; more Norwegian or more American? Does the question refer to my ultimate allegiance or is it asking about my way of thinking or cultural identification? Am I one or the other? Or perhaps a hybrid; both and at the same time, neither nor?

When my oldest daughter was a child she was once told that by having an American father and a Norwegian mother she was half American and half Norwegian. I still remember the indignant look on her face as she answered that she was neither half this nor half that. Rather she was one hundred percent American and one hundred percent Norwegian.

Religion – An expression I have heard a lot in Norway and the US in recent years is, “Muslims are …..” Fill in the blank. If the speaker is critical to Islam, or to foreigners from “Muslim” countries he/she may then go on to describe any number of negative stereotypes. In a similar vein, if the speaker is positively predisposed to Islam or Muslims, he/she may describe a number of positive stereotypes. Is one more correct than the other? If I were, in the phrase above, to replace the word Muslim, with the word Christian, Jew, Atheist or any other religion or worldview, I’m guessing that many would react by saying that it is impossible to make a blanket statement about nature or character of any individual based solely on his/her religion or worldview.

Conflict – Is religion the deepest identity we have, trumping all others? I’m reminded of the war of partition (1947) between what would become India and Pakistan (East and West). It appeared as though religion was the primary identity marker; Hindu vs Muslim. Yet, just over two decades later (1971) East and West Pakistan entered into a civil war. Both sides were Muslim, but now the key identity marker was culture and language.

In conflict between one group and another, it seems that we have a propensity to judge “the other” based on their most despicable members, their most offensive actions and their worst character flaws, yet when we judge our own group we look at our most noble members, our most gallant actions and our best character attributes. Hmmm. Perhaps I need re-evaluate how I view “the other” as well as how I view my “own”?

What unifies us? “Hatred is the most accessible and comprehensive of all the unifying agents. Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a god, but never without a belief in a devil.” Erik Hoffer – The True Believer, 1952

Question/challenge to self – In a world filled with variety, how can I cultivate a habit that looks for positive attributes in all people in order to be more inclusive in my self-defined group identification? And in this way perhaps contribute to nurturing a culture of respect for and acceptance of diversity, including “the other”, in order to lay a foundation for peaceful co-existence.