GRATITUDE FOR THE STRENGTH WE ALL POSSESS
Today we celebrate a day which, on the United Nation’s official calendar, is the International Day of Peace. With a theme of Building Blocks for Change, it is a day to approach with hope and a genuine belief that we can build a way forward together as a planet on a moral and ethical level, irrespective of where we stand in terms of our religious or political beliefs. That we will be prepared to look to co-operate and conciliate for the greater good.
It is also World Gratitude Day. It’s becoming more and more evident that gratitude should be seen less as a post-dinner party necessity, and more as a science. Tertiary institutions, such as the University of California at Berkeley, funded in part by the John Templeton Foundation, are looking to the effects of gratitude on our emotions and our physical well-being. It’s being proven showing gratitude to others in a public way – whether through words, images, speech, or video – can have a positive effect on the immune system, blood pressure, loneliness and feelings of isolation, and encourages us to generally act with more generosity and compassion.
World Gratitude Day was founded by the United Nations Meditation Group in tribute to Dag Hammarskjöld, the much-loved and admired ex-Secretary-General of the UN, who tragically died in a plane crash in 1961 whilst still in office. Of course, theories abound regarding said crash, as they would with any powerful and outspoken figure, particularly perhaps in the case of Dag due to his thought-provoking stance on tolerance. He set up the Meditation Room, which is now open to the public at the UN, and which is designed as “…a place where the doors may be open to the infinite lands of thought and prayer… a room of quiet where only thoughts should speak.”
He was an extraordinary man and two of his statements resonate very strongly with me.
Firstly, he said this.
Never, for the sake of peace and quiet, deny your own experience or convictions.
Eleven years ago this week, on the nineteenth of September, 2005, I went through what can only be called an experience of profound change. It’s a matter of historical record, but for those who, like me, have a mind full of everything they have to do today and tomorrow, it probably is a case of out of mind, out of sight.
What it meant for me was having to stick to my convictions, despite others encouraging me to ‘keep the peace’. I am profoundly grateful I had the courage to do this, and it leads me on to the second of Dag’s statements, which is something that all of us draw on, whether it’s in a hostage situation in Iraq, or dealing with the pressures of everyday life in a chaotic world.
Life only demands from you the strength you possess.
I needed a great deal of strength that day, eleven years ago. But coming out the other side, and sitting here, today, on a day which celebrates peace, and gratitude, and publicly letting others know how grateful you are to and for them, I know this:
Today, I am grateful for the experience I had, because it makes what I have now so much more extraordinary. I am grateful to be alive, healthy and happy amongst loved ones. I am grateful that I have the strength to allow me to stand up for my convictions, to never deny them, to express my convictions and to hopefully do it with moderation, and a degree of wisdom and respect for others. I am grateful I was brought up in a family, a country, a religion and a culture which gave me the room to develop these convictions.
And I am grateful, above all, to those who give me the strength to do this. My hope on this International Day of Peace is those building blocks spoken to by Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon will eventually lead to our planet being, in Dag’s words, a place where the doors may be open to the infinite lands of thought and prayer.
That will make me grateful beyond worlds.