Scilla Elworthy BW

Scilla Elworthy talk

Scilla Elworthy BWThe lights go up as Scilla wanders on to the stage, hands in pockets. She wants to be able to see us.

Her question – How do I deal with a Bully, without becoming a Thug? – has been with her since she was a child in 1956 watching kids throwing themselves under the tanks rolling into Budapest. So she got training and experience, and started thinking. How do we deal with extreme violence without using force in return? What’s the most effective thing to do?

Bullies use political violence to intimidate, physical violence to terrorise, and mental or emotional violence to undermine… and only very rarely does it work to use violence in return. Nelson Mandela went to prison believing in violence, but came out knowing that it doesn’t work.

What does work? The change has to talk place in our own hearts, where we have control, and in knowing our own weaknesses and strengths. Meditation is one way of gaining inner knowledge and power. Aung Sang Suu Kyi rounded a corner with a group of student protesters into a row of soldiers, who were more scared than the students. She had the students sit down, and defused the situation slowly with clarity and calmness.

My fear grows fat on the energy I feed it. And if it grows really big, what I fear often happens. Where there is injustice, there is usually anger, which can be dangerous, or can be used as a source of energy and inner power. In order to dialogue, say, with nuclear power policy makers, it is OK to be angry about the issue, but not with the people.

Last century was about top-down power. This century it’s shifted to bottom-up or grass-roots power. It’s people joining with others miles away to bring about change. Local people in areas of hot conflict know best what to do, how to for example demobilise militias, resettle refugees, build economies, liberate child soldiers. Building connections between people is the most effective approach. The US military terms civilians getting in the way of killing insurgents as ‘collateral damage’, deeply insulting and counter-productive. But there are some good examples of courage and wisdom in the face of hostile situations.

Why and how have so many dictatorships collapsed over the last 30 years? Gene Sharp wrote a book called “From Dictatorship to Democracy”, with practical methodologies, which have been used by peoples all over the world.

With courage and active non-violence, ordinary people can do what Gandhi, Mandela and Suu Kyi have done. And the open-hearted approach is exactly what Scilla has experienced in this TEDx gathering since she arrived in Exeter yesterday.