For over 50 years, Scilla has been investigating and implementing the keys to successfully stopping armed violence for the past
Picture the Cotswolds, England: rolling hills, ancients woods, honey-coloured cottages. Here, in a converted stable in the tiny village of Sherborne, you’ll find Scilla Elworthy — peace-builder, conflict expert, and champion of the “mighty heart”.
Her home, with its lush, cared-for walled garden, lends itself to quiet introspection. And quiet introspection, for Scilla, is key.
Who am I? What are my needs? What matters to me? Only if we seek, and continuously revise, our answers to these fundamental questions, she thinks, are we in a position to exert positive influence on those around us — and be successful in our actions.
Scilla’s own life is filled with a wealth of both positive influence and successful actions. She is three times nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, recipient of the Niwano Peace Prize, the Luxembourg Peace Prize — the list of accolades goes on.
For over 50 years, this investigator, negotiator, activist and author (trademark look: long white hair, smart black blazer — fashion is a sideline) has placed her passion and energy into one question: How do we create lasting peace?
Her calling arrives early on, when, aged 13, she is sitting in front of her parents’ TV (she grows up in a military family in Scotland) and sees Soviet tanks invade Budapest to quell the 1956 Hungarian Revolution.
Scilla rushes upstairs and starts packing her suitcase. When her mother comes up and asks what is going on, she shouts: “I’m going to Budapest!” (She does not even know where Budapest is.)
“Something terrible is happening there, I have to go!”
“Don’t be so silly.”
Scilla starts to cry, and her mother understands. “I’ll help you to get trained, if you just unpack your suitcase.”
Three years later, Scilla is off to work in a holiday home for concentration camp survivors. Degrees in social and political science follow. On term breaks, she helps out at refugee camps in France and Algiers.
In 1982, Scilla makes her name by setting up the Oxford Research Group, and quietly brings together opposing sides of the nuclear weapons debate. It turns out to be milestone work.
She goes on to found Peace Direct, a non-profit supporting grassroots peace-builders in conflict zones, and advises Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu and Peter Gabriel in creating their coalition of former stateswomen and -men, The Elders.
Scilla offers practical, constructive solutions: her Business Plan for Peace consists of 25 viable methods to prevent war worldwide, over 10 years, for less than 2 billion dollars. But if she sees the bigger picture, she never loses sight of the local, the immediate, the personal.
The place her own introspection has led her, most recently, couldn’t be more personal: “The keys to successful prevention of armed violence,” she writes in her latest book, “are respect, speed of reaction and developing the presence of a mighty heart.”
How to train such a heart?
Based on five decades spent working with generals, politicians and CEOs, Scilla is convinced that empathy has to be the first step — with others, but also with yourself. Add the creation of a bridge between the heart and the mind, deep listening, and trust in your intuition and an exercise plan starts to emerge. The Mighty Heart is not an academic tome, but a slim, practical guide: a How-To that speaks to individuals as much as organisations.
It’s difficult to stay optimistic, right now, as a new war wields its brutal reality of death and destruction — and, with it, an overwhelming sense of helplessness and uncertainty — but if there is a place to find renewed hope, where could be more likely than in a million mighty hearts?
Written by Daniel Kramb