Reflections: Nobel Laureates in Dialogue

This is the second part of a four-part series with the Dalai Lama Center's founding director Victor Chan. He looks back at the 2009 Vancouver Peace Summit, a global event that brought five Nobel Laureates and many more world-renowned thinkers and leaders in social transformation to Vancouver to talk about creating a more compassionate, peaceful world.

On one stage, the Vancouver Peace Summit featured four Nobel Peace Laureates, a gathering never before seen in Canada. Peace Laureates Mairead Maguire, Betty WIlliams, Jody Williams and His Holiness the Dalai Lama joined moderator Mary Robinson and Rev Mpho Tutu to discuss their experiences of connecting for change and their perspectives on our human responsibilities.

The dialogue began with Karen Armstrong's presentation of her Charter for Compassion, which called for a return to the golden rule.

Victor Chan, founding director of the Dalai Lama Center, had a special backstage view of the session. Here, he shares some of his reflections from the dialogue.

Karen Armstrong presents her Charter for Compassion, which calls for a return to the Golden Rule. (photo by Sarah Murray 2009)

On Karen Armstrong’s Charter for Compassion:
"The crux of the whole thing is really the golden rule, do unto others as you would have them to do to you. So there’s very much a sense of going away from a self-absorption towards the notion of the other and of course this is very much, as far as the Dalai Lama’s concerned, a very central part of his belief. We need to be much less self-centred and we need to be more of the welfare of the others."

Moderator Mary Robinson referred to His Holiness as a "feminist", a title he embraces. (photo by Sarah Murray 2009)

On Mary Robinson referring to His Holiness as a “feminist”:
"I think that it was quite interesting when Mary Robinson referred to the Dalai Lama’s proclamation that he was a feminist. That was quite a significant statement. It’s interesting because so many of these very eminent speakers in the Summit were people like Fazle Abed who in the past years have given over $6 billion in micro-loans. The vast majority of this money goes to girls and women to empower them to give them education, healthcare, to allow them to start a small enterprise. Studies after studies have shown that when girls are empowered they’re much more likely to pile back any profits they have into the community, which in turn empowers the village and the country."

Former Irish President Mary Robinson and Nobel Peace Laureates Mairead Maguire and Betty Williams provided a strong Irish representation at the Summit (photos by Sarah Murray 2009)

On Mairead Maguire, Betty Williams and Mary Robinson:
"When Mary Robinson introduced the panel, one point she made was that the excitement for her, as someone from Ireland, was to be there when Maguire and Betty Williams received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1976. And on one stage we have these three Irish women. That’s another thing quite unprecedented, to have three accomplished Irish women who have lived through such an important point in world history on one stage."

Jody Williams offered an energized call to action. As she says: "Compassion is Action". (photo by Sarah Murray 2009)

On the two very different approaches to peace from Jody Williams and His Holiness:
"The Dalai Lama has a very quiet but steel-like conviction of the benefits of being compassionate that when you care about the welfare of the other person, you yourself are the first to receive the benefit of happiness, when you’re able to care for the welfare of others. This is totally engrained in his DNA from his training. You contrast that with Jody Williams who got the Nobel Peace Prize because of her forcefulness. She was grabbing at one thing, which is to understand the destructiveness of landmines, and she put all of her energy towards that. This is very much compassion in action. She understands the destructiveness of these weapons so she put her whole life, heart and soul into this and is totally oriented to action.

The Dalai Lama is the first person to say that he can talk about compassion that he has a fundamental understanding of compassion, but when he comes to implementing it, he doesn’t have the expertise, the experience, the know-how or the infrastructure to carry it out. So I think that when you have two different approaches like this on one stage it’s very complementary."

His Holiness listens to Karen Armstrong's Charter for Compassion. (photo by Carey Linde 2009)

On the importance of empathy:
"With empathy, as the Dalai Lama said in the session, you are wisest from first having a feeling that allows you to be very close to the emotion or the experience of the other. One of the ways to engender this is to listen with attention. If we are really focused with someone and listening to their words, we are in a way living their emotions and feelings and this helps give rise to empathy. With empathy, this is the reason why people like Peter Buffett or Pierre Omidyar were in a position to do a lot of listening to other people’s stories and they become empathetic to the plight of those who are living at the bottom of the pyramid. And this is what drove them to haelp other people. First there was a sense of empathy by listening to these stories and understanding the feeling of the other, they were compelled to do something about it.

As the Dalai Lama says, when you come across someone in distress, it’s our natural instinct to be empathetic but then it’s also our instinct to do something about it to help the other."

Among the world-reknowned speakers to take the stage were four Nobel Laureates, the first such gathering in Canada. (photo by Sonam Zoksang 2009)

On having four Nobel Laureates on one stage:
"It’s a very historical occasion to have the four Nobel Laureates on stage. It’s a pity that the fifth, which was supposed to be Desmond Tutu, could not make it. But still, I do not know of another instance where you have so many Nobel Peace Laureates together on one stage in Canada.

I think to have all of these very compelling people here together, I think it’s something where people sit up and take notice. Even though none of the four made any earth shattering insights, you can say that having them remind us of the importance of service, compassion and empathy, this repetition of something all of us know is a very valuable thing. And when it comes from these Nobel Laureates, it carries a little extra ‘oomph’."

For a sneak peek of the Nobel Laureates in Dialogue session, check out the video below.

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Stay tuned for the next installment: Educating the Heart

And if you missed it, the last installment was World Peace through Personal Peace.

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