Former United Nations Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld changed the definition of peace and global security from outside ourselves to within each of us. It is the first step of United Nations reform and a reminder of Hammarskjöld’s legacy from 1953 until his death while on official UN business in Africa in September 1961. We further developed and implemented his approach over 30 years at the United Nations, now focusing on revitalizing leadership and developing American Reconciliation Leaders.

We are grateful for the global peace and security starting within as further developed by Reconciliation Leader Dr. Sarah Sayeed, who was honored and spoke at our October 21, 2021 event, Building Trusting Community Relationships. Sarah was honored with the Institute for Global Leadership’s 20th Anniversary Life Leadership Service Award and refers to Reconciliation Leadership as “leadership from the inside out.” For more about the honor.

The Dag Hammarskjöld Meditation Room

The Dag Hammarskjöld Meditation Room is in the Visitor’s Entrance Lobby of the United Nations (pictured left).

Listen to the words of Hammarskjöld, written outside the meditation room he installed in the UN Visitor’s Lobby, and sung as a plainsong chant by Quaker Paulette Meier (chant below quote)

We all have within us a center of stillness surrounded by silence. This house, dedicated to work and debate in the service of peace, should have one room dedicated to silence in the outward sense and stillness in the inner sense. It has been the aim to create in this small room a place where the doors may be open to the infinite lands of thought and prayer.

It was hoped that the common global threat would be addressed by the United Nations Secretary-General’s COVID-19 Ceasefire, but there is no political will and trust for such action and cooperation among states. We continue to support such a ceasefire as described in our presentation to the Academic Council of the United Nations in 2020.

Leadership from the inside out begins in every person’s heart, their own Room of Silence. By inviting everyone on this planet to find their center of stillness surrounded by silence, we look to Hammarskjöld‘s prayer substituting our own word for our Creator.

“Not I, but God in me.” 

From this place within each of us known by many names, we invite you to consider:

  • Is my center of stillness an alien thing or oddly familiar, though perhaps untried?
  • Is this approach possible for me?
  • Does it imply a personal discipline of mind and heart that I already practice, or that I could practice if I could learn it?
  • What is my center of stillness and how can I access and live from it like Hammarskjöld did?
  • Are you feeling inner nudges and promptings but are not sure you can trust them and know what to do with your life?

Hammarskjöld wrote the following during his mission to the Middle East–-the occasion for the first exercise of shuttle diplomacy–to reduce or eliminate border conflicts:

“Understand—through the stillness. Act—out of the stillness. Prevail—in the stillness” (Markings, 1955, p. 127).

Michael E. Collins and Barbara Wheeler, co-authors of Divine Encouragement: Living with the Presence of Hope (Xlibris 2003), supports leadership that comes from opening our innermost sacred door:

There is a quiet place within every human soul, a quiet place which beckons me–come, listen, discover and learn. I find this place by opening my innermost sacred door. No key is needed; I only heed the desire to be in the presence of and connected with the divinity of my own humanness.

Nelson Mandela of South Africa showed the world how to make a creative act to save his country from the decay of apartheid when he addressed the 1995 Copenhagen United Nations Economic and Social Summit where Virginia Swain was a civil society delegate: 

“How does humanity cooperate to build a better life for all? There is a need to pursue the good of all because it has been subsumed under the narrow interest of the self or the corporate unit. The endless cycle becomes better circumstances for a few, precarious ones for many, and indeed, worse for the majority. Conditions require an abiding consensus. Our common habitat is in danger.

We either rise together as humanity, or fall together. To be born in the South, to be born a woman, disabled or amongst the poor reflect the untenable division of power and wealth, within and among nations. International solidarity is required, but also national responsibility. Current international practices and history is the cause of our woes.

If South Africa’s recent successes in building an inclusive democracy and kitting together a deeply divided nation is broadly appreciated, this is because we did what humanity taught us to do. But from the exalted heights of that success, we now enjoy a better view of the mess we have inherited. The irony of democratic South Africa’s late entry into international affairs is that we can reap the fruits of a world redefining itself.

And in our naivete, we are perhaps better placed and even duty bound to ask: How do we emerge from here inspired not merely to attend future summits, but under the aegis of the United Nations, to implement programs that the world and its inhabitants demand and deserve? Ours is a challenge issuing from the voices of the peoples, who are uniting across artificial boundaries for real and lasting security.”

The Sovereignty Revolution gives examples of the great need for the end of state sovereignty. Our concerns for the current model of leadership at the United Nations include the features of elitism that do not tap the resources needed to resolve the complex issues of the human condition. For example, exclusionary political words like “high level” and “eminent persons,” which are part of the organizational discourse, reflect a tendency to disempower those lacking in power and status, rather than evoke the cooperative. In addition, current peacebuilding interventions are based on helping victims and capturing perpetrators, rather than providing a process to reconcile them to one another. 

There is a need to enlarge the framework to heal the cycle of violence, and to address the tacit norms that would help change behaviors from humiliation to respect. New methods of reconciliation training followed up by mentoring can develop new competencies applicable to personal, interpersonal, systemic, and global competencies.