‘We are being called to expand our circle of care and inclusion, leaving out none and embracing all’

March 30th, 2020   |   Conflict transformation, CONTACT, Peacebuilding, SIT Graduate Institute

A letter to the worldwide CONTACT community from founder Dr. Paula Green

A woman speaks to a group of students
Dr. Paula Green during the 2010 CONTACT program at SIT

Following is a letter from Dr. Paula Green, founder of SIT's Conflict Transformation Across Cultures (CONTACT) program, to CONTACT participants around the world. Several have translated it to share in their home countries. It is published here with Dr. Green's permission.

Dear CONTACT Family,

It has been a long time since we have had any full CONTACT Program connection. This moment in global history, where together we face a pandemic impacting all of us, feels like the time for reconnection, renewal, and deep reflection.

Every year we gathered a global group who became sisters and brothers in love and support to each other. We learned that we are many in our wildly wonderful diversities and that we are one in our care and connections. We discovered that we are completely interdependent and that our safety and wellbeing is tied up together, which we experience now in ways that have never been so clear.

Currently, the whole world is learning what we discovered in our weeks together in CONTACT. Borders and boundaries do not protect us. Position and privilege may not keep us from harm. No country or village is too far away. In the eyes of this virus, we are all vulnerable. As leaders in our communities, as people of peace and justice, as conscious global citizens, what is being asked of us? How does each of us turn this pandemic into an opportunity for empathy, kindness, economic and political justice, and social healing?

Four people sit in a circle on the floor with a world map in the background
CONTACT 2018 participants

How does each of us turn this pandemic into an opportunity for empathy, kindness, economic and political justice, and social healing?

I think we are called together to proclaim aloud our interdependence, to give up on the illusion that we are separate. This is the time to care for one another, to remember that compassion strengthens the immune system, that our human needs are universal, and that our generosity is a gift that ripples out and returns to the giver.

In CONTACT, we stayed present for each other and by being present experienced our common humanity and social solidarity. That’s what we have to give to the world, a world perhaps ready to hear because the virus needs no passport and can invade everywhere. We are being called to expand our circle of care and inclusion, leaving out none and embracing all. We are especially being asked to serve those millions of us who are vulnerable, perhaps experiencing increased economic hardship, political repression, or health difficulties.

This is a time for the earth to allow and to assist the earth, scarred with pollution and toxins, to heal itself. Perhaps we humans, in this time of slowing down, will begin to recover, just as the soil, water, and air around us recovers from some of its poisons. This could be the opportunity to rethink our values and behaviors, to recreate societies that reflect altruism and peace. Many are now discovering how to live with a lot less, and as we reduce our greed, we reduce one of the major causes of armed conflict. We can be inspired by the Secretary General of the United Nations, who called on the countries of the world to declare an immediate ceasefire. “The fury of the virus illustrates the folly of war,” he said. Let us dedicate ourselves to the real fight, which is not with each other, but is to protect our health and the health of our planet.

Three people face the camera wearing tunics and indigenous clothing
CONTACT Summer 2013 participants

Many are now discovering how to live with a lot less, and as we reduce our greed, we reduce one of the major causes of armed conflict.

We know social change is extremely slow and resistant, yet we are aware that the new is always fermenting itself under the old, until finally the old ways crack and new realities emerge. Our shared global experience is producing those cracks. What happens next can be glorious or terrifying. Yes, our minds can take us to negative images of increased authoritarianism, militarism, and injustice. But we do not serve ourselves by focusing on our fears. Focus instead on what your awakened and aware self can see and do. This planet-wide virus, tragic as it is, has the potential to wake up multitudes, just as CONTACT woke each one of us up. Once awake, there is no returning to delusions like walls, borders, hatreds, or an us-them mentality. Once awake, we are all “us.”

You, the CONTACT family, created realities of belonging together. In this troubled time, convey that experience of unity, interconnection, and belonging into our world. Remember what transformed you, and use it in the service of our common survival. Take care of yourselves and your families so you can be here as part of the great transition that we so deeply yearn for and is within our reach if we all choose to act. Because we are linked in the web of life, every small act of social responsibility and kindness heals others, inspires many, advances hope, and sets in motion a great chain of courage and resolve.

Four men face the camera, prayer flags hand overhead
Participants of the CONTACT Southeast Asia program in 2013

Whichever continent you are on, wherever your country, know that you are part of something much larger than yourself, and that everything you do matters in the universe.

Whichever continent you are on, wherever your country, know that you are part of something much larger than yourself, and that everything you do matters in the universe. Respond to this letter and to all of us if you wish, so that we can further support one another and take inspiration and strength from each member of this global community.

With love and concern all around,

Dr. Paula Green
Founder, The CONTACT Programs: Conflict Transformation Across Cultures

Dr. Green joined the faculty of SIT's Peacebuilding and Conflict Transformation program, now called Peace and Justice Leadership, in 1995 and founded CONTACT in 1997. Working internationally in zones of conflict, she observed the need for those experiencing war and its aftermath to speak directly to each other, sharing strategies for rebuilding their shattered societies. During the fear year of CONTACT there were 10 participants; by the third year there were 60 to 70 participants each June on the SIT campus ranging in age from 20s to 70s. The program expanded to five African countries encompassing most regions, and to Nepal, especially for South Asians. Dr. Green retired as Professor Emerita from SIT after the 2015 CONTACT program, which lives on under the directorship of Dr. Bruce Dayton. CONTACT graduates are now leaders in their own countries, working for peace and justice while healing the wounds of war. Click here to learn more about the program.