A small boat river cruise up the Danube River and through the Balkan countries in Europe was a deeply nourishing and relaxing way to celebrate my 70th birthday and my husband Ren's 75th birthday.
It also put us in the crossroads of multiple cultures and multiple political powers. For eleven days we traveled up the Danube, river of trade and transportation, and of conquest and defense. Our warm and competent crew members were Romanian and Serbian, our food was local and authentic. Outside Vidin, Bulgaria, we visited the excavation of a settlement begun 10,000 years ago. The river was their life-blood and they buried their dead heads down-stream and stretched out parallel to the river quite possibly to honor the river as carrier of souls. Indeed, the steady, smooth movement of the water carried our bodies and souls well, too.
From Romania through Serbia, Croatia, Hungary, Slovakia, and Austria, we stopped in a port city every day and were treated to a tour by a well-informed and engaging local guide. Between times of peace, history records conquest, cruelty, oppression, and exploitation. Painful to hear and remember, these Balkan countries have over and over again been the battle-ground of not just armies, but cultures. The Celts, the Romans, the Ottoman Turks, and the Communists have all left their indelible marks--forts, statues, ruins, bullet holes in walls and a racial mix.
Most of history describes uses of power based in the belief that power is defined by acquisition, wealth, and control and gained and maintained by force and exploitation. (Does this sound globally familiar?)
So, I was deeply moved by several stories of another belief about power--that it could be defined by the happiness and health of all the people and gained and maintained by treating people well. This paradigm of power is a more socially intelligent one and the one that Right Use of Power programs are aiming toward.
In 1740-1780 Austrian Queen Maria Theresa and then her son King Joseph II from 1780-1790 enacted some remarkable humanitarian changes. For the first time the church and nobility were taxed, there was six years of obligatory education for all children, free health-care was provided and a general hospital opened, the serfs were freed, there was enlightened treatment of the mentally ill, reusable coffins were mandated and no more than six candles could be used at funerals, and a royal park was opened to the public. These changes were not popular with the church, nobility, and other royals, but it pre-empted the revolutionary anger that raged elsewhere at that time.
The Ottoman Turks had great influence on the Balkans beginning in the 16th century when they invaded and brought their religion and culture. Although not found on this Danube cruise, these teachings are notable because the author was a Turk and a Muslim. Haci Bektas Veli (commonly Haji Bektashi), a Sufi master, taught his students:
Search and find.
Educate the women.
Even if you are hurt, don't hurt.
First stage of attainment is modesty.a Sufi teacher,
Whatever you look for, search in you.
Don't forget even your enemy is human.
Control your hand, your word, your lust.
Road that doesn't go through science is perilous.
How nice to ones who put light in the darkness of thought.
Don't do anything to anyone if you don't was it to be done to you.
We found these statements written on a wall at Haji Bektash's mosque in Anatolia, Turkey in 2011 while on our honeymoon. They were written in about 1280 and his vision is similar to the 1948 UN Charter on Human Rights, a remarkable and inspiring modern document.
At this Thanksgiving time, I am focusing my thanks toward those who in all times and all places, found the wisdom, compassion, and courage to speak out and take action for the health and empowerment of all. People like the ones quoted here who found ways to link their power with their hearts. Some of the teachers I would like to honor are Elizabeth Cogburn, Ron Kurtz, Jean Haynes, Angeles Arrien, John Hunt, Jean Houston, Barney Aldrich, Robbins and Margaret Barstow. Perhaps you'd like to name some of those who have guided your way.
Bon Jovi was recently presented with the Marian Anderson Award for musical and philanthropic endeavors. Accepting this award, he encouraged the crowd: "Let us draw from those that have come before us to do the work we are called to do."