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!

Creativity, Cultural diversity, Motivation, Perspective, Stories from life

Well enough

A common stereotype that Norwegians have about Americans is that they are superficial. Norwegians think that Americans express feelings they don’t really feel and regularly ask personal questions without really desiring to know the answer.

Expressing feelings they don’t feel

I met an American guy at an airport a few years ago. Let’s call him Kevin. We started up a conversation and since we sat across from one another on the plane continued to talk together. After no more than half an hour one of Kevin’s travel mates walked past us. Kevin stopped him and said, “Hey Bill, I’d like you to meet my friend here, uuuh…..” And turning to me asked, “What’s your name again?” Norwegians laugh profusely at this situation as it would never occur to them to call someone they just met a friend, let alone someone they didn’t know the name of.

Personal questions without waiting for an answer

Growing up in the States I grew accustomed to being greeted by friends, acquaintances and strangers with, “How are you?” or the less formal, “How you doing?” or even less formal, “How goes it?” Often the question would be asked as we passed each other with no opportunity to answer. Or if there were an opportunity to answer the expected response is, “Fine.” or “Good.” Or “All right.” To which the original questioner would say something like, “That’s nice.” without any thought to what was said. This is something Norwegians find amusing, at best and insulting at worst.

Now, the reason I’m sharing this is not to expound about cultural differences between Norwegians and Americans, but rather to suggest an alternative to the standard, “Fine,” as a response to the question, “How are you?” Instead, how about answering, with a big smile, “Well enough!” It’s just different enough that many people will stop and ask you what you said or comment on what you mean by that statement. I’ve found this to be a nice ice breaker. You can then go on to say that “Well enough, “means that life could be better, it could be worse, but I am content with the way things are.”

Try it sometime and see what happens :-).

Perspective, Stories from life, The world around us


In 1987 I traveled with my soccer team from the USA to Europe to play a number of friendly matches against teams in Austria, Germany and Czechoslovakia. Most of our meals were in restaurants. From the states we were used to being served cold tap water with all of our meals. In Europe we never experienced this.

Then, when we had given up hope, after a hard morning training session, we went into the hotel restaurant for breakfast and there on the table were small glasses of water in front of each plate. Finally, someone who understood the needs of hot, sweaty soccer players. Several of us sat down, reached for our glasses and tipped the contents down our throats…… It was vodka!!!!!

Always smell your water before you drink it. Looks can be deceiving J

Creativity, Human dignity, Leadership, Stories from life, Strategic planning

Weapons in the war on terror – Soap and water

Another example of creative solutions in the battle for human dignity.


“They are coming with a large mob to attack all the Christians here and destroy the church!” the leaders of the local mosques informed Bishop Thomas. In the aftermath of the Arab Spring, lawlessness was a common feature in Egypt. A group of violent Islamists were planning on attacking after Friday prayers and the local mosque leaders had gotten wind of it. These leaders wanted to warn their Christian neighbors and help them if they could.

Bishop Thomas called a meeting of with Christians and Muslims alike attending. He described the situation as he understood it from his Muslim friends and they together looked for a solution. The Christians were naturally afraid. They had all experienced such violence before, but this appeared to be of a much larger scale. They knew that in the climate of fear that now gripped Egypt, notifying the police ahead of time would do little to stop the coming mob. Arming themselves and fighting fire with fire was also discounted as it did not fit the Bishop’s philosophy of not meeting hate with hate, but rather with love. This did not prevent, however, mean that the Christians simply would have to meekly stand by while they were beaten, murdered and their church was demolished. But, what could they possibly hope to do against the soon approaching horde?

Bishop Thomas pondered all of this and then requested that they do the following. Go to your homes and gather all of your soap; dishwashing detergent, hand soap, shampoo, etc. Everyone should then pour it into the street leading from the edge of the village to the church. Then he instructed everyone to pour water onto the road and then come and wait in the church to pray.

So, Christian and Muslims neighbors quickly went home and began doing as the Bishop had requested. When all was finished and everyone was safely in the church they waited for the attack. But it never came. The violent Islamists, gathered outside the gates to the village, agitating themselves into a frenzy. Then they began marching down the road leading to the church. Much to their surprise they began slipping, sliding and falling on the road. They could make little headway. After some time struggling to stay on their feet the anger and violent passion of the jihadists washed away and they left the village.

There are many weapons that have been used in the war on terror. Many of them entail weapons that maim and kill the jihadists giving rise to new jihadists who must avenge the deaths of their martyred brothers and sisters. I doubt seriously, though, that anyone will feel the need to avenge someone who has suffered a sprained ankle or scraped knee because of falling on a road covered in soap and water :-)!


Creativity, Human dignity, Human Rights, Leadership, Stories from life, Women's rights

A handful of old women and Human Rights

My friend, Bishop Thomas of the Coptic Church told me this story about a huge problem he encountered after he was named Bishop or Saydna.

The problem the Saydna had to deal with was what is known as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) or Female Circumcision. Many people think this is only an issue in Islamic contexts, but the fact of the matter is that this horrendous practice exists outside of both Christianity and Islam. Those who practice it will often refer to it being a part of their religious tradition, but most mainstream adherents to these religions would vehemently disagree.

Anyway, this tradition was being practiced in the diocese where Bishop Thomas was now installed. He immediately began telling his priests to talk to their parishioners making it clear that this was morally wrong and was not part of the Christian tradition. Alas, to no avail. He instructed his priests to preach against this act of evil. Nothing changed. He began visiting churches and preaching himself against it. Still nothing happened. Finally he began to investigate who it was who was doing this to the young girls in his diocese. He found out that it was a handful of elderly women who were performing the FMG. He went to them with the idea of demanding that they cease doing this wicked practice. But, instead of telling them what to do he decided to listen first to why they did this. “This is our livelihood. Without this job how would we be able to live?” they asked him. Without this job we would be out on the street!”

Bishop Thomas decided that an ethical appeal or reprimand, however strong it might be, would not work. Instead he went out on a limb and suggested a more practical approach. “If I agree to pay you, for the rest of your lives, what you earn each month from performing FMG, will you stop?” “Of course,” they answered. Without having the money in hand, the Saydna promised these women that he would personally make sure that they were paid a salary equivalent to what they were presently earning for the rest of their lives. Thanks to help from generous donors he has kept that promise!

Overnight Bishop Thomas had been able to accomplish what national laws, international norms and endless sermons could not; FMG ceased in his diocese.

When dealing with challenging issues, I wonder at times if perhaps our problem is not about having enough rules, laws or injunctions or about implementing these, but rather about listening enough to what the issues behind the issues are and being willing look for and implement creative solutions.

And being willing to take on the cost of such solutions, even when it costs a lot!