“The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word 'crisis.' One brush stroke stands for danger; the other for opportunity. In a crisis, be aware of the danger - but recognize the opportunity.” – John F. Kennedy
While volcanic ash clouds from an eruption in Iceland threatened airplane engines and grounded all flights in northern Europe for a few days this past week, it offered us the unique opportunity to host a Circle of Sharing in London to learn from the personal service journey of a Nobel-prize-winning and just-plain-inspiring person visiting from Washington DC, Jerry White. His life's work—transforming victims into survivors—is fueled by the conviction that, with the right tools, everyone can rise above tragedy and give back to their communities.
As Jerry opened the Circle of Sharing, he told us he’d never sat in silence for an hour with a group of people before and was grateful for this gathering. He then shared the story of what brought him to the
On April 12th, 1984 Jerry had a date with disaster. As he recalls,
“I was twenty years old. I had taken time from my university studies in the
While a life experience like this can lead many into a bottomless pit of addiction to their victim status of feeling self-pity, blaming others and unable to move on from the past, for Jerry, it was the starting point for his personal journey to serve others and support them in making the transition from victimhood, to survivorship to servanthood. Following his accident, Jerry spent 6 months at a hospital in
“Trauma makes you more yourself, not less,” Jerry shared in describing his inspiration for embarking on the service journey which led him and his organisation to receive many accolades and awards, including the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize. This “accident” enabled Jerry to tap into something deep within his own heart and awaken his intention to serve others, to give back. In 1996, while on a trip to Cambodia and walking along the streets of Phnom Pehn, a little girl, also an amputee, hopped up to Jerry, touched his prosthetic leg, and said (in Khmer), “You are one of us.” This one moment, this one connection, helped Jerry to acknowledge his gifts and ignited his passion for sharing these gifts with others in the spirit of supporting their journeys. He began to build a network of survivors to enable peer-to-peer support to help strengthen each other’s journeys to recovery.
Over the last 15 years, Jerry, together with fellow landmine survivor Ken Rutherford, co-founded Survivor Corps (formerly Landmine Survivors Network), the first international organization created by and for survivors to help victims of war rebuild their lives. He also played an integral role in the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, leading 122 governments around the world to sign the Ottawa Treaty in 1997, which formed an international law to “put an end to the suffering and casualties caused by anti-personnel landmines.” To share his message and experiential knowledge, Jerry has written a book, “Getting Up When Life Knocks You Down: Five Steps to Overcoming a Life Crisis”, to offer guidance on what you will need to do to recover and thrive after your date with disaster. Everyone, at some point in their lives, will have a date with disaster, so Jerry has gathered wisdom from survivors from around the world along with history, literature and scriptures, to share these five steps toward fulfillment:
And in his own day-to-day experience, when asked if he ever slips back into victimhood, Jerry said this only happens when he's not giving selflessly.
From the late Diana, Princess of Wales to Her Majesty Queen Noor of
A few years ago, Jerry felt he was tiring out from his cycle of “serial achievement”, of living on a non-stop treadmill to achieving the next thing on his list. A friend and Board Member sensed he was burning out and asked Jerry, “Do you have a spiritual practice?” After avoiding the question, she dug deeper and together they discovered that something was missing. She encouraged him to start with observing his breath for 1 minute each day for the first month, increasing to 2 minutes each day in the second month and so forth. While he confessed he found it hard to get through one minute initially, once he continued the practice it enabled him to let go of his attachment to serial achievement. Jerry realized, “Awards, accolades, etc. None of it is satisfactory unless you’re breathing. And, once you’re aware of this, it doesn’t even matter if you’re achieving or not.”
“You’re more than your body,” Jerry shared in explaining how having a spiritual practice has enabled him to overcome his fears and reclaim his inner joy. Last year, for the first time in his life, Jerry went back to visit the exact place in
We are so grateful to Jerry for sharing his personal journey with us and blessed that the volcano created such a memorable and inspiring opportunity to learn.
Posted by Trishna Shah on Apr 23, 2010
Thanks for the article Trishna! Jerry was truly inspirational. I went away with an immense sense of gratitude for all that I have in life and also with an urge to reach out to others through service. As the saying goes, 'To whom much is given, much is required'...we have all been given the gift of life :)
Thanks for the beautiful write-up, I feel like I was actually there. So many wonderful lessons and what an honor to spend the evening together in this way with Jerry. What an inspiration he is.
Trishna - this is an awesome write up which captures how inspiring that evening was. Thanks so much to you and Deep for hosting it and of course to Jerry for taking the time to share his experiences with us. It was incredibly inspiring and moving to meet somehow who has overcome so much and moved to a space of selfless service.
Trishnaaa! Thank you soo much for sharing this story and inspiring us :) Igreat lessons :)
thanks a ton :)
Thank you Trishna. What an incredible Journey!. Great write-up. Wish Jerry and the lives that are touched a joyful life no matter where they are in the journey of life.
In deep appreciation and connecting at joy-level :-),
Trishna, thank you for helping to spread the gift this man conveys in his life and actions.
(This is a little longer than a 'comment', but Trishna encouraged us to share- so here goes...!)
Thank you Trishna, for creating the opportunity for such an inspiring evening, hosting us with such warmth, and the write up. Meeting Jerry was especially significant, because I felt like it was a missing piece in the wider jigsaw of my experiences since arriving in Ahmedabad last October.
I was volunteering with a project called Nyayagrah, a community based movement for justice in the aftermath of the 2002 riots. My work involved asking about the experiences and personal journeys of ‘justice-workers’ who were running the project at the grassroots, through sharing long conversations with them, over 4 days each! At the same time, I was living and volunteering part time with Manav Sadna (MS). The learnings at MS of spiritual grounding, faith in process over outcome, and an individual’s power to create change through small acts of kindness, were so timely; providing support just as I needed it in Nyayagrah. Applying principles embodied at MS of ‘connecting with people from the heart’ and ‘serving with compassion’ helped me create a deeper rapport with the ‘justice-workers’ which was crucial to the success of my work.
I left India feeling empowered by my new-found conviction in the power to create change at an individual level through compassionate personal interactions. However, coming back to England reminded me of university lectures in development economics, DFID’s office at Whitehall, and I was struggling to reconcile them with my experience in India. Models of development and excel spreadsheets of funding to various NGOs seemed like another world from the organic growth of MS, even its antithesis when comparing the nature of personal interactions in them. Could they really both be parts of the same overall goal of preventing conflict and bettering people’s daily welfare?
Jerry was a living example that one can be a bridge between these worlds, so they aren’t really separate at all. As an individual, he embodies key values I saw being practiced at MS. Our meeting started off with a spiritual practice. He addressed us as a group, and personally, with a genuine warmth and familiarity. A core part of his way of creating change is through peer support, which is essentially transformation at an individual level through compassionate interactions. In addition though, he has been working at the macro scale; dealing with funding agencies, running an international NGO, and spearheading an international treaty. In retrospect, it seems a little obvious that all these different organisations and modes of tackling post conflict reconciliation have the same overall mission but are working at different levels, along a spectrum of the individual to the macro. However, it is rare to meet someone whose life and work as spanned that spectrum while maintaining an ability to sincerely connect with other individuals. Thank you, Jerry for the inspiring in others the possibility of being a connecting link between the levels of this spectrum, and embodying the overlap between the spiritual, individual, and macro.
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On Apr 23, 2010 Nipun wrote:
Trishna, what an incredible story! And great write-up too. I'm still chewing on all the wonderful nuggest that you've packed in this entry ...
Thanks for Friday morning smiles. :)
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