Once again I was able to attend Forum 2000. This year’s guests were overwhelming – while I had anticipated an appearance by the Dalai Lama I was completely taken aback by the grace and peace that radiated from Aung San Suu Kyi – you may remember her as the Nobel Peace Prize winning Burmese dissident who was under an illegal house-arrest some years back on an island when an American swam across, uninvited, to see her, stayed to recover his strength and then swam back – his intrusion earned her an additional sentence of 3 years of hard labor which was commuted to another 18 months of house arrest.
People talk about Audrey Hepburn as an iconic image, this slight wisp of a woman who carried an air of grace, elegance and benevolence. Suu Kyi is the personification of the ideology. As she settled in to her chair the dying applause was replaced with an almost palpable sense of ease and calmness. I had not read much about her prior to this event, familiar with her on only a surface level, and was completed unprepared for the experience her presence brought about. She is viewed as the modern day Gandhi for her non-violent activities devoted to ensuring appropriate care and representation for her people. The label assigned to her by Indians gives me a greater insight in to the force of Gandhi’s character.
Her warmth, kindness, care and compassion were neatly complimented by F.W. de Klerk, another Nobel Peace Prize winner, former President of South Africa and the man who freed Nelson Mandela and brought an end to apartheid. Again, a man of compassion, integrity and wisdom whose presence was an entirely different force – not an oppositional one, but one that carried his kindness and gave a glimpse of a highly effective man.
Today’s closing ceremony was again inspirational – chaired by Gareth Evans, F.W. de Klerk was joined on stage by the former Czech Foreign Minister and the man who should be President, Karel Schwarzenberg, by the Cuban activist Yoani Sanchez, previously identified by Time Magazine, and others of that ilk as one of the world’s most influential people, one of the 10 most influential Latin American Intellectuals and one of the World’s Top Dissidents, and the Dalai Lama. Suu Kyi was seated in the front row and wrangled in to the discussion as well.
Let me say that I am grateful to the media today. Not that this event will receive the attention it warrants but because in the midst of the conversation taking place I was listening without reflecting; hearing in the moment and not fully processing, and the value of the words shared, while immediately apparent on one level, were not fully realized until I had some time to read them and sit with them and give some attention to the individual statements, both in context and as independent truths.
The love and compassion for people; the statement by the Dalai Lama that prayer and meditation were very nice but there is a stronger need for action; the evaluation of motivation; the need for selfless governance; the willingness to risk harm in order to ensure equality for others… there was so much more said, but not said in theory or remote observation but said by those who had lived it, who continue to live it, and who are focused on spreading it.
I was in the eighth row. This is a free event. I cannot encourage you enough, wherever you are, to make a point to attend it next year and to support it however you can now. Don’t think about what is wrong in the world and ponder what can be done to fix it, come and listen, learn, meet people who are focused on implementing positive change and live it.
|Zofin Palace - primary space of the Forum 2000 - image from Forum 2000 website|