Insights from Portugal on the Path to Peace (at a Time of War)

I am reflecting on an inspiring engagement in Portugal and lessons on peacemaking. The Ubuntu Fest gathering that I participated in was a celebration of Ubuntu and the African principles of connection and compassion ( IPAV, which runs the Ubuntu Leadership Academy, works in schools to develop empathy and service ( In the midst of the conference about peace and unity, a horrific new war erupted in Israel/Gaza with the potential to turn the region and the wider world toward greater hurt, hate, and polarization.

In an active conflict, we may talk about securing peace but at best, we may secure a ceasefire. Peace is a state of being that is connected to a sense of security and freedom from fear. It is as much within ourselves as external. It has to be real. It is not achieved overnight. It has to be intentionally cultivated. 

Peace is not really the opposite of war. Peacebuilding is the opposite of war. War destroys peace. Peacebuilding is creating peace. When conflicts emerge, we have failed to do the work of building peace – the work of building relationships and trust across people. Without this, we have separation and distrust. The creation of relationships is a slow process and as much an inner journey that shifts our worldview and feelings of separateness.

The Ubuntu Leadership Academy is planting these seeds of peace in young people in Portugal and across the world. By helping kids generate a sense of wellbeing, appreciate diversity, and enact service and compassion they are shaping the future. The evidence of this approach is also present in Scandinavia which made the journey from being poor and disconnected to prosperous, unified, and thriving through Folk Schools that developed young people to see themselves as part of a greater whole with others.

The war in Israel/Gaza is an example of the reverse – the failure of not just of politics and diplomacy but peacebuilding and relationship development. In the US too we are tumbling down the path of separation and laying the foundation for conflict. As polarization rises, we see social-emotional learning and DEI programs being removed rather than infused in schools. As personal wellbeing drops, people are retreating from community engagement despite the fact that community relationships create wellbeing and mutual commitment. 

So, here we are, once again, at a pivotal time in history. The downhill road to conflict and the uphill path to peace and collective thriving diverge before us. As individuals, we can and must do what we can to nurture our own wellbeing and relationships but we need systemic action – in schools, in communities – to shift our collective states. There is awareness of this in places like Portugal that have embraced the idea of Ubuntu in schools and developing these capabilities in the next generation. Portugal, a small nation, has chosen to be open and welcoming rather than closed and fearful. The impact is evident in the level of kindness we encountered everywhere in interactions with people in the country. It is clear that these attributes are part of the DNA of society. Portugal has emerged as one of the most popular destinations not only for its sunny weather, but its sunny disposition. It reflects in so many ways what many of us are seeking.    

There is an old Sufi story of a man who was traveling in search of a better place to live. Traveling to a new city, he approached an old man in the marketplace and asked – How are people here? The man asked in return – How are the people where you come from? The traveler shook his head and said: They are rude, angry, and hateful. Ah, said the old man, it is the same here. On another day, another traveler, also in search of a new home, approached the old man and asked – How are people here? The man once again asked in return – How are the people where you come from? The traveler said: They are kind, loving, and generous. Ah, said the old man, it is just the same here. 

The story indicates we can’t escape what we carry with us, within us. We have to be the peace we seek. The world is an expression of ourselves. In South Africa, the home of Ubuntu, Mandela said that you can’t change society unless you first change yourself. Mother Teresa said, If we have no peace it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other. 

The conflicts in the world are a reminder that our futures are bound together. And that the path to peace in the external world lies within us all. Love wins or we all lose.

Power: The Love of Power v. Power of Love

Mural from Greensboro, NC

I read a bit of the book The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene. It is a book about what it takes to win… by whatever means necessary. The laws that Greene offers look like this:

  • Never Put Too Much Trust in Friends, Learn How to Use Enemies.
  • Conceal Your Intentions: Friends are more likely to betray you in haste as they are more prone to envy.
  • Court Attention at All Costs: As everything is judged by appearance, you must stand out. 
  • Get Others to Do the Work for You, but Always Take the Credit: Never do for yourself what the efforts of others can do for you.

Greene doesn’t focus on the ethical considerations and the greater consequences of actions. It is all about destroying foes and friends to get ahead. Yet, the “stories of success” are partial vignettes. I imagine the practitioners of these ruthless actions were constantly looking over their shoulders to see who may be coming after them or fretting about being outdone. Needless to say, peace and happiness were not exactly what they were succeeding at. 

Bailey the Bus from GSO Vibes

The question of power, then, is quite incomplete without asking about power for what ends. Jimi Hendrix placed power in contrast with love. He stated, “When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace.” The power of love was the focus of The Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak, which is about the relationship between the poet Rumi and his philosopher friend, Shams. A sampling of these rules indicates that they are far different from the ones in the 48 Laws of Power: 

  • How we see God is a direct reflection of how we see ourselves; we don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are. If God brings to mind mostly fear and blame, it means there is too much fear and blame welled inside us. If we see God as full of love and compassion, so are we.
  • Intellect ties people in knots and risks nothing, but love dissolves all tangles and risks everything.
  • What does patience mean? It means to look at the thorn and see the rose, to look at the night and see the dawn. 

The latter set or rules are about conquering the self rather than others. The Buddhist monk Tich Nhat Hanh explained that this is what real power is. It is not derived from the outside but what we cultivate within ourselves. The things we get from the outside — fame, status, beauty, possessions — come and go regardless of how much we may want them. The things we give ourselves — self-respect, compassion, purpose — are the things we control and can hold on to. 

Street mural in Greensboro

Gandhi, Mandela, and MLK found a way to fuse these notions of internal and external power. They used internal power — intention and compassion — as a force to organize and change the world. Gandhi called this Satyagraha — or truth force. It was generated from within. Nelson Mandela, who was less spiritually oriented than Gandhi, also saw this connection. He explained that you can’t truly change society unless you first change yourself.  

Art by Lyndon Rego

The 48 Laws of Power claims to offer a path to success but ultimately sets us up to fail. For power derived from the outside is tenuous and fleeting. And because the things that matter most and make the most difference are not about finding ways to defeat your enemies but to help everyone win. Martin Luther King stated this eloquently in his Love your Enemies sermon in 1957: Love is creative, understanding goodwill for all men. It is the refusal to defeat any individual.

Energy and Enlightenment — Of Sages and Horses

Calodyne, Mauritius

I was speaking with a new acquaintance ( who has horses and draws on them in her leadership work. Horses, she said, relate to people based on the energy they are putting out. Animals, she explained, that don’t use language are tuned in to read what people are saying that lies beyond words. While humans are less finely tuned this way, research still indicates that more than 70% of human communication lies in non-verbal elements rather than the words that are spoken. This connects with the idea of presence. Presence is a mysterious and mystical space that extends beyond what we fully understand. 

I just finished a book titled Love Everyone about an Indian guru called Maharajji who inspired lots of devotees from the West in the ‘60s and ‘70s, several of whom became remarkable figures who changed the world — people like Daniel Goleman who popularized Emotional Intelligence, Larry Brilliant who helped wipe out smallpox, and Ram Dass who wrote Be Here Now. Maharajji spoke very little English and was a portly, somewhat dishevelled looking sage but he radiated immense loving presence that drew people and filled them with joy. The book also describes what one of the Western travellers, Raghu Markus (who founded Triloka Records), discovered in Auroville in South India where he went to meet a spiritual teacher known as the Mother, who then was close to 95 years old. Expecting to encounter a “decrepit old woman” he says he found only light. 

The connection between energy and light was made by Einstein and is reflected in various scientific works and spiritual traditions. In the book, The Power of Full Engagement (one of the most insightful books I’ve read), the focus is on harnessing energy rather than managing time. Time is fixed but what we are able to accomplish is dependent on the energy we have. When we are energized and in a state of flow, we perform at a completely different level than when we feel drained of energy. 

Calodyne, Mauritius

So, in all of this, a question is how can we generate and manifest energy? The sun, a source of energy that fuels life on earth, generates energy from within. We are recipients of that energy. And while we can absorb energy — from people who radiate light like Maharajji and the Mother — we can also generate it from within ourselves like the sun. And, energy received can also be reflected outward. This is perhaps why many people who encountered Maharajji did so much good — they became vehicles for light. 

Enlightenment expresses the idea of finding a deeper truth. Yet enlightenment manifests as action to radiate light. So, a great and deep source of energy lies waiting in our own transformation to embody and radiate light and love. The Mother said: “In each world, in each being, in each thing, in each atom is the Divine Presence, and it is man’s mission to manifest it.” Maharajji offered: “The best form to worship God is every form.” The title of the book I mentioned on Maharajii reflects his frequent refrain: Love everyone!

This refrain is also embodied in a classic song from England Dan & John Ford Coley (

Light of the world, shine on me

Love is the answer

Shine on us all, set us free

Love is the answer

…And when you feel afraid, love one another

When you’ve lost your way, love one another

When you’re all alone, love one another

When you’re far from home, love one another

When you’re down and out, love one another

All your hope’s run out, love one another

When you need a friend, love one another

When you’re near the end, love

We got to love, we got to love one another

These words reflect deep truth, eternal wisdom, and just plain and simple horse sense.  We need to find our source of light and let it shine. For love attracts. Love lifts. Love energizes. Love lights up the world. Love is the answer. We got to love one another. 

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