Changing The Narrative: How changing the story we tell ourselves can contribute to Human Rights, Social Justice, Pluralism, and ultimately ... World Peace
By Reverend Patrick McCollum
We live in both precarious and magical times. While on one hand the Earth and all her inhabitants are in crisis, on the other, our level of comfort, ability to combat disease, and our understanding of the world we live in, has risen exponentially. Technology, though sometimes devastating to our natural resources, also connects people across the globe and creates a means of communication and human interaction never before thought possible. Throughout the process, our world for all intents and purposes has gotten significantly smaller with advanced communications and high speed travel becoming the standard of the day. Yet with all of the progress and advances, old patterns still remain. Patterns that threaten the very existence and survival of the human race and the planet we call home. Patterns based on old stories rooted in primitive survival responses, tribal boundaries, mythos, privilege, and fear.
Such stories have benefited humanity significantly over time, shifting and changing as necessary over the centuries to meet the needs of the time and place. Yet most of those stories are rooted in a specific people, place, or culture, with little or no understanding at the time that there were other people or other stories just over the hill, across the lake, or on a far off foreign soil. As a result, the stories and the values they reflected, were usually localized and centralized, and seldom, if ever, included the other. And I have learned that the stories dividing us are often the very same stories that perpetuate the environmental devastation of our planet.
My mission is to promote a new sacred planetary vision through a new narrative that better fits the truth that we have come to know. We now know that there are others besides ourselves, and that like it or not, we are all now part of the same global community. A vision that respects the religious, cultural, and social diversity that actually exists on our planet instead of the limited views that we held in the past. And so the task at hand is to create a new and far more magnificent narrative, a narrative which gives us greater access to envisioning and creating a critical common goal: a world that works for everyone and recognizes the sacredness of everything.
As an interfaith chaplain, and spiritual counselor to political and spiritual leaders, I have worked for minority faith rights in prisons, hospitals, the military, and government agencies. In Kazakhstan in October 2010 I gave a keynote speech on the topic of creating a new framework for religious, spiritual, and human rights in harmony with the Noo Constitution. More recently, I attended the Maha Kumbh Mela in India, where I gave an opening prayer and had the remarkable opportunity to help spiritual leaders create a shift in consciousness toward world peace for 100 million pilgrims.
I had the honor of helping to raise awareness of the importance of taking care of our environment by helping to initiate a project that cleaned up the holy Sangam, where three of the world’s most sacred rivers, the Ganges, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati meet, launching a worldwide campaign to clean up our planet’s rivers. During this time, we also raised the status of women in India, through a prayer ritual in which a group of “untouchable” girls, ages 8 to 12, were declared to be goddesses by world renowned spiritual leaders. The whole event was transmitted on television and through the press. The young women are now regarded as sacred and their lives have improved.
In each instance, the shift, change or success of our goal, began with the story we told to the people involved. There were neither guns nor troops, nor propaganda campaigns. Just simple stories based on a new narrative that rang true in the hearts of each listener, stories that reflected what they already believed, but re-envisioned to better reflect the universal goals we must now seek.
In considering the stories of all the world’s sacred belief systems and those of the great wisdom, reason, and scientific points of view, I have discovered that all of them have a common meeting point, a touchstone if you will, which seems to be their most common center. They all seem to agree that everything in our Universe came from some initial creative act, central point, response, or reaction. A point I like to call the luminescent light of beginning. If this jointly held belief holds true across the board, then everything including all of humanity is made up of the same original stuff, and everything within creation is whole and complete with nothing outside of it. And that premise, if properly articulated, may very well be the core ideal … the central theme, that we’ve all been looking for, the implications of which are profound and far-reaching. And so I’ve chosen it as the central theme of my new narrative.
Coming to this simple understanding does not require fully comprehending the nature of creation, any particular theology, or any particular discipline. It only requires an understanding that everything is an intimately connected part of the whole, and that every fragment of that initiating moment including us carries within it a piece of that most sacred initiating event. In other words, we all have a common ancestor, creation itself! And beyond that, we can also extrapolate that everything else in creation, the trees, the animals, and the very earth itself, has a common ancestor too. We are all family, and that’s a story worth knowing.
It is important to note that the currently circulating idea that we humans as inhabitants of this planet only need to acknowledge one another as a biological family in order to address the world’s problems is both limited in scope and impact. Instead, with our new narrative, we must take the additional critical step beyond that concept to extend our family circle to a much larger venue … all of creation. Doing so not only addresses our conflicts with one another, but also lays the foundation for resolving our conflicts with the earth itself and all of its inhabitants. It also adds a sacred component to our global relationships which can easily be tied into our already established religious and spiritual practices, giving the new narrative far more influence and authority.
This narrative can be shared with others as a new story that can unite us to work together as one team, for the benefit of all. We can hold on to our uniqueness but realize that each of us is a piece of a larger puzzle and that one without the other will never be whole.
Of course the story itself needs to be shaped and refined and spiced up a bit, but we are a people with millennia of experience in this regard. I for one am dedicating my life to working on it and sharing it everywhere I go, and I would like to invite each and every one of you to join with me in this work. After all, we are all storytellers in our own ways.
I would like to invite you to see yourself as an essential piece of the larger puzzle, with gifts and talents critical to bringing goodness into our world. And I would like you to see the other pieces in the story as a part of your sacred family. You can start today by sharing our story with your children and family and friends. By sharing our stories together and finding common ground, we lay the groundwork for world peace and much more.
Walk boldly in the truth that embraces everyone and everything. If creation is in fact whole and complete as I propose, then our imaginations have to be a part of that wholeness and what we imagine has to be possible. I for one choose to imagine a world where love and acceptance prevail. How about you? Won’t you join me in this new story and all that it implies? Together with the simple power of our words, like all of our ancestors before us, we can take charge of our own destiny, and change the world for the better.
Please see the attached video link for The Patrick McCollum Foundation Mission: click here.
Ven. Rev. McCollum is an internationally recognized spiritual leader whose work toward human rights, social justice, and equality for all religions and spiritual traditions, transcends cultural, religious, and political barriers. He is the 2010 recipient of the Mahatma Gandhi Award for the Advancement of Religious Pluralism. He was also named as a World Inner Peace Ambassador by Thai Buddhists and was given the title Venerable. He also served as an advisor for the United States Commission on Civil rights, and his comments and insights were forwarded in a report to both Congress, and to the President of the United States. He also serves as Development Director for the United Nations NGO, Children of the Earth, and helps oversee youth leadership projects around the world. In addition, he serves as the Minority Faith Issues Chair, for the American Correctional Chaplains Association, and as Founder and Co-Chair of the National Correctional Chaplaincy Directors Association. He is a Board Member for four other non-profits. Patrick founded The Patrick McCollum Foundation, a non-profit organization promoting a sacred planetary vision that respects religious diversity and advances progress toward equality, human rights, equality for women, and world peace. For more information: visit www.patrickmccollum.org.
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This article appears in: 2014 Catalyst, Issue 1: Activating Your Vision for 2014