By Rebecca Miller

In June of this year (2009) I was fortunate enough to attend the second Rotary World Peace Symposium in Birmingham, England. I had just finished a two-year Masters in International Relations as a Rotary World Peace Fellow (2007-2009, hosted by the Rotary Peace Centre at the International Christian University, Tokyo) and the symposium was a wonderful opportunity to meet other Fellows from around the world and to learn from distinguished, international practitioners of development, peace-building and conflict resolution. The keynote speaker for the symposium was Archbishop Desmond Tutu and all of the delegates, including myself, were excited to have an opportunity to hear this Nobel Laureate speak.

Tutu spoke after lunch on the second day of the symposium and as his speech progressed I was surprised to find myself experiencing feelings of disappointment. Throughout the preceding day and a half we had been exposed to numerous subtle and sophisticated analyses of the causes and consequences of political violence and conflict from an array of experts, all of which contrasted starkly with Tutu’s simple message of faith in the essential goodness of humanity and the power of love. As his speech progressed I heard myself thinking, “yes but where are the solutions Desmond?!!”

It was at this point that Tutu told a story of unconditional love more powerful and shocking than any other I have heard to this day. The context was not provided but the story concerned a woman who was being raped by a stranger. In response to this brutal act, this beautiful woman pulled her assailant gently into her with her legs and arms and spoke the words “I love you” into his ear. She continued to hold him in the same fashion as a caring mother. The attack stopped and the attacker collapsed, weeping, on top of her. The strength that this woman possessed, and her courage to respond to the attacker as a human being rather than beast, had transformed the situation entirely.

The risk that this response entailed is clearly visible. Perhaps the woman could have used her physical strength, which often far exceeds normal limits in extreme situations, to overpower her attacker or at least to escape. Perhaps a response such as hers would have prejudiced any subsequent attempt by the woman to seek justice through legal proceedings. But what happens to these questions of ‘winning’ and ‘justice’ when we witness the outcome of her unconditional love? These questions cease to exist, because the reality that ensues is of a different order entirely.

From this I realised that unconditional love is not a ‘solution’ to conflict in the sense that the word is normally employed. It does not solve so much as it ‘dissolves’ and thus transforms. If we were all to embody unconditional love then most of the experts that had preceded Tutu would simply be out of a job. They could turn their great minds to exploring the vast regions of human potential rather than devising techniques to mitigate the worst effects of our destructiveness. Given the outstanding and unique nature of this woman’s example (I wish I could give her a name, but at the same time think her anonymity is symbolic of the fact that she could be any one of us), a state of affairs in which unconditional love is the status quo may seem incredibly unrealistic. Yet, it is far more realistic than imagining global peace will be the product of our (albeit increasingly sophisticated) efforts at fighting the fires that are ignited as we continue to act from limited conceptions of ourselves as separate to all others. Despite this truth, Desmond Tutu’s speech was the only occasion throughout the entire event in which a speaker uttered the word ‘love’.

Therefore, I offer this piece of writing as inspiration, encouragement and applause to all who seek to transform our world through raising the consciousness and embodiment of unconditional love, to the often unsung heroes amongst us who work in this way to promote peace, cooperation and harmony on our planet.