Unsung Heroes of Compassion

Dalai Lama 150x150 Unsung Heroes of CompassionThis inspirational speech was given at an event where His Holiness, the Dalai Lama honored 48 Unsung Heroes of Compassion from around the world. The ceremony was hosted by Dick Grace, of Grace Family Vineyards, and lauded people from around the world for their extraordinary acts of compassion. Kavita N. Ramdas, Global Fund President and CEO, along with actor Peter Coyote, welcomed each of the honorees to the stage to be presented with a kata (a blessed traditional scarf) by His Holiness.

Kavita closed the ceremony by issuing the following call to compassionate action. More than 350 guests attending the ceremony received her words with a standing ovation.

A Call to Action Cast
Your Pebble for Peace & Justice
by Kavita N. Ramdas

Namaste and warm thanks to all of you for being here today. I wish first to extend a heart-felt thank you to His Holiness for honoring us with his presence today. We have enjoyed his humour, his warmth and his wisdom this afternoon. He reminds us that we can live our lives in ways that are connected to one another and filled with compassion and love. The Global Fund for Women extends our deepest respect to this remarkable leader who has been such an unwavering activist — not just for the rights of the Tibetan people, but as an advocate for world peace — peace that is grounded in justice and equality and that embraces all. Namaste.

I thank Dick Grace for doing that most difficult of things: walking your talk by creating this special event that allows others to know what amazing acts of compassion are taking place in every corner of the world. Namaste. And I salute and celebrate our 48 honorees, who remind us how we can all help to contribute towards a world worth living for. Namaste.

Today is both a joyful and a serious event. It is joyful because we find ourselves in the presence of powerful, committed and daring people whose lives are rooted in hope — who believe that right action, no matter how small, can lessen the suffering that exists in the world. Our unsung heroes have demonstrated imagination, patience, persistence, expertise, creativity, empathy and spiritual commitment. They remind us that compassion is made up of a passionate belief in giving of yourself and your abilities.

Yet, the actions of our honorees also remind us that there remains much to be done. There is much room for continued right action so that together we may improve the conditions of our imperfect world. In this nation alone, the wealthiest on earth, more than 12 million children live in poverty. Worldwide, 1.1 billion people are living in absolute poverty. There are 135 million children between 7 and 18 who do not receive any kind of an education.

We must we willing to acknowledge that the root cause of such misery is our inability or unwillingness as a world community to demand that the inherent dignity of all human beings is recognized. Until we do so, we will not have peace. We must take a stand for each person’s right to be treated with respect, to earn a livelihood, and to enjoy a decent standard of living. Until we do so, we will have no freedom, we will have no justice, and we will have no peace.

His Holiness once said, “The most secure foundation for a new world order is not simply broader political and economic alliances, but each individual’s genuine practice of love and compassion.” Each of our honorees today has refused to be daunted by the old world order by holding firm to their own vision of a new world order. They act out of love, not a passive love, but a passionate love that acts on behalf of others.

I have been blessed in my work at the Global Fund for Women to have met many other such unsung heroes. From Cambodia to Guatemala. From Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. It is not easy to be a hero if you are born a woman…for in almost every culture and religion, women must first struggle to be accepted as human beings, much before they can demand justice or equality. And yet, the women heroes supported by the Global Fund for Women are not paralyzed by despair. They are rather transformed by their awareness of how the world must change to celebrate and treasure all humanity.

It seems particularly appropriate to speak of unsung heroes this week. This week, we have been reminded of how widely a small deed can reverberate, how many ripples a small act can set loose. This week, the US has honored an African-American woman, who by remaining seated, took a stand not only for her rights, but for the rights of all people to be treated with dignity and respect. Rosa Parks is the first woman, ever, to be honored in death by being laid in state at the Capitol rotunda. It seems fitting today to honor her legacy. To remember that it is our responsibility to take a stand for our rights, and that we cannot achieve lasting change alone. Rosa Parks said, “I have learned over the years that when one’s mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done does away with fear.”

Today I urge each of one of us to leave inspired by Rosa’s legacy and the courage and compassion of our honorees. We can walk out of here asking ourselves — what step will I take to assist another whose suffering has come to my awareness? What courage can I demonstrate without regard for success or public appreciation? We live in great privilege here in the United States, great privilege, indeed. Yet, we cannot pretend that our lives are not touched by the lives of others — whether they live on our city streets or in villages thousands of miles away. Philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal, once said, “The least movement is of importance to all nature. The entire ocean is affected by a pebble.”

As you leave, I ask that you pick up a pebble and cast it as your stand against what can sometimes feel like a tidal wave of injustice, a current of despair, and a veritable tsunami of violence. For it is only our own right actions that can make this world a better, fairer, kinder place. And only then will we make real the words of another prophet for our times, the Indian novelist Arundhati Roy, who reminds us that, “A new world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day you can hear her breathing.”

Thank you, Namaste.

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