Yesterday was unusual; I was up and on the road before 6 am. That is unheard of! But for good reason, I needed to be on campus early in order to attend the Common Ground for Peace Conference’s morning panel discussion entitled “The Rise of Democracy in the Middle East.” The panel had as its central speaker His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama. For me this conference was a joy to attend and an amazing opportunity to learn from some of the greatest minds available.

The discussion was profound, the messages deep and I learned. I learned that the former head of the CIA, James Woolsey, is adamant that as a world we need to eliminate our need for oil. Not just foreign oil by the USA; but our dependence on ALL oil as a world. We must stop using it altogether. It was also enlightening to know that he reads bumper stickers – especially ones that state “if you want peace fight for justice.” I have a new-found respect for Mr. Woolsey; he truly is an advocate for peace and the human race as a whole. Then there was Shirin Ebadi, an Iranian lawyer and human rights activist. Democracy and social justice were the battle cries that she carried quietly with her. She was correct when she stated that the true measure of democracy and social justice with in a society can be seen in how it treats its women. In my opinion we are failing in this respect, some countries and states worse than others but on a whole we are failing. I took pause when Irshad Manji spoke of everyone’s basic right to question the world around them. I had always considered free thought a right, but for some reason today it became highlighted even more. Not only should we be able to think freely but also question freely without fear of condemnation or imprisonment. All of the speakers were amazing, but it truly was his Holiness that I came to see.

He was the last one to be introduced and as the Dali Lama entered the room I could feel a wave of energy spread throughout the crowd. What he brought with him was the feeling of peace; the feeling of pure spirituality. When he spoke his meaning was clear: children have figured it out; they find the common amongst each other. They find what is common and good and that is what they hold on to when they play. Children get along because it is the right and fun thing to do; they find the oneness of humanity that as adults we so often lose. As he continued to speak it was the lesson of inner peace despite what else is happening. To create peace in this world we need to find it within ourselves first. He talked directly to the students in the audience because they are the next generation, the generation of this century as he put it. They are the ones to create peace in this century. Do I believe they will? I think they can if they remember to do so. As he stated to us all, it starts first with the individual finding peace within themselves and then carrying that peace to those around them. As a reminder he reiterated peace is not the absence of violence but something else, an acceptance of peace within and then finding that peace in others. In that way we can place value on the individual, more emphasis as a society on peace than on war, and more value on each other as humans rather than on possessions or monetary gain.

In the end his message was simple: find the oneness of humanity, find the peace within.

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