Hero from Hotel Rwanda spoke at BYU: “Don’t stand by, stand up, and do what you can”

Paul Rusesabagina spoke on Tuesday at BYU. I liked how he titled his presentation: “Hotel Rwanda: A story yet to be told” – because the story is not over yet, and each of us can be a small part of making it a better story than it otherwise would be.

In both Rwanda and Burundi there was a genocide of nearly a million people in the last two decades (15% of the population). Paul Rusesabagina stands in stark contrast to the ethnic violence as an example of someone willing to risk his own life to stand against the prejudice and senseless violence that erupted there.

He argued that the majority of the ordinary people do not hate each other so much, but that very poor leadership will take advantage of differences in order to divide and conquer.

He shared some powerful and sobering stories of the past and current situation.

For example, imagine trying to rescue dozens of people from an ethnic group (different from you) who are being called “cockroaches” and exterminated – police stop your car, they call you a traitor, and demand you to take their gun and shoot everyone in your car or else they will shoot you. You know they are serious because you see dead bodies scattered around you. What would you do?

Paul Rusesabagina faced this exact situation, he did not back down, did not give in, and through quick thinking was able to tell the guards that he understood they were tired and frustrated, but that there was an alternative situation, another option to solve the problems they face. He said he learned through this experience that as long as you can get people to speak with you, then you can always negotiate an alternative course of action. He was able to save the lives of not only these people, but over a thousand others who took refuge in the hotel that he managed.

Towards the end of his speech he encouraged all of us there: “Don’t stand by. Stand up, and do what you can, do what you can to help Africa. You can do something.” He said that if you don’t stand up for what is good, then the world will fail, but that we are the hope of the world if we do stand up. He said that if you want the world to get better, you can make it better. If you want it to stay the way it is, it will stay.

The question I ask myself is:

How can I stand up? What best could I do that would actually make a difference?

Listening to him made me think about the conference I am helping organize in Africa (Uganda) this summer – Technology for Innovation and Education in Developing Countries (TEDC 2008). It seems like a small drop in the ocean of what could be done to assist those in disadvantaged situations, but at least it is something.

I am always keeping my eyes and mind open for other meaningful things that I could be involved in, or even just be aware of and support in some way – so if you can think of anything, then let me know. I feel like getting involved in things that help are usually reciprocal and end up benefiting all involved.

A great man and a personal hero, President Gordon B Hinckley, died today at age 97

A great man and a personal hero, President Gordon B Hinckley, died today at age 97

It is strange to have never met a person, and to still feel so close to him/her, like that person has made such a difference in your life, and even as if they are one of your most trusted friends. Gordon Bitner Hinckley was one of those people for me. His words have entertained and inspired me for most of my life, and without a doubt my life is better because of him. He will be missed.

Some clips from the press release of his passing:

“President Gordon B. Hinckley, who led The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints through twelve years of globalPicture of President Hinckley expansion, has died at the age of 97…

President Hinckley was known, even at the age of 97, as a tireless leader who always put in a full day at the office and traveled extensively around the world to mix with Church members, now numbering 13 million in 171 nations.

His quick wit and humor, combined with an eloquent style at the pulpit, made him one of the most loved of modern Church leaders

He was a popular interview subject with journalists, appearing on 60 Minutes with Mike Wallace and on CNN’s Larry King Live, as well as being quoted and featured in hundreds of newspapers and magazines over the years. During the Salt Lake Olympics of 2002, his request that the Church refrain from proselytizing visitors was credited by media with generating much of the goodwill that flowed to the Church from the international event…

President Hinckley received a number of educational honors…

President Hinckley was awarded the Silver Buffalo Award by the Boy Scouts of America;

was honored by the National Conference for Community and Justice (formerly the National Conference of Christians and Jews) for his contributions to tolerance and understanding in the world;

and received the Distinguished Service Award from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

In 2004, President Hinckley was also awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush in the White House…

President Hinckley wrote and edited several books and numerous manuals, pamphlets and scripts, including a best-selling book, Standing for Something, aimed at a general audience. In it he championed the virtues of love, honesty, morality, civility, learning, forgiveness, mercy, thrift and industry, gratitude, optimism and faith.”

I liked this tribute, from a well-known CNN broadcaster:

A visit from the UN ambassador to the US: Differences between Europe and the US


The ambassador to the United States for the European Union (“His Excellency” John Bruton, former prime minister of Ireland), gave a Kennedy Center lecture at BYU yesterday.

He shared a lot of interesting information about the EU, how it functions, and why it is important to the US (e.g. over 70% of foreign investment in the US is from Europe). Two things stuck out in my mind from his speech. One is the imbalance of wealth in the US and EU compared to the rest of the world (Europe has 30% of world’s wealth with 7% of the world’s population; the US has 28% of world’s wealth wit 5% of the world’s population) – and ideally as a result the stewardship we should feel to make the world a better place (I know that is optimistic of me, but at least I can hope).

The second thing that stuck out to me, although I wish he would have gone into more detail, was when he mentioned the differences between Europe and the US.

In response to a question about public opinion in Europe toward the US, he said he would not talk to a US audience about it, but then he told us what he would say to a European audience. My paraphrase of the speech he would give to Europeans:

“Even if the president of the US changes, or even the party in power charge changes, don’t expect too much change from America. It always has had its:

  • Own special interests that it tends to cater for
  • Own sense of history, what works and what doesn’t work
  • Own political system with certain reflexes built in

We are different. It is OK that we are different. Just recognize the difference, try to understand those differences and respect them. Just like American’s should understand that Europe is different, and we have different expectations, reactions, etc.”

So the most obvious question is whether you agree that it is OK that there are differences between the US and Europe? I imagine that some differences obviously cause more concern than others (e.g. policy towards war vs. favorite foods).

But that is not where I want to start. I prefer to explore and try to understand what more of the differences are first before judging some of the most obvious and controversial ones. So I want to start by asking:

What do you think are some of the differences between Europe and the US? (your personal perception)

He didn’t go into that much from his perspective, but I wish he would have. Then I’d like to ask:

Of those differences, are they “OK” and should we just “understand” and “respect” them? Why or why not?

Gandhi, Hindu philosophy, and the connectedness and unity of every one with all living things

Happy 2008! I have always admired Mohandas K. Gandhi, but that admiration and respect has been deepening as I decided to start this year by reading a book called “Words of Gandhi”.

Just one of many quotes I have already enjoyed (that capture simple, yet profound thoughts) is this:

“I do not believe…that an individual may gain…while those around him suffer. I believe in advaita*, I believe in the essential unity of man and for that matter, of all that lives. Therefore, I believe if one man gains spirituality, the whole world gains with him and if one man falls then the whole world falls with him to that extent.”

*(advaita…is one of the two branches of Vedanta…holds that Brahman, the Self, is ultimate reality, and that the world has come into being from Brahman and is wholly dependent on it)

When I asked my Hindu friend last night what she thought about this quote and more about what it might mean, she told me that she wasn’t so sure about Hindu philosophy, but that she strongly agreed with the idea that we are all connected, that – because we are all connected – when one succeeds we all succeed, and that when one fails we all fail to that same extent.

I’ve thought about that a lot over the last few years – and about what is it that makes some people jealous of another’s success, feeling like it is somehow their own failure?

This is just my idea, but perhaps because we focus way too much on what we are getting (and what we have) than who we are becoming (and what we give), and in that way are deceived in our understanding what true success is?

I like the concept that we are all connected – and that when one succeeds, all humanity succeeds to that same extent. But what does it mean to really “succeed”? Any ideas?

Perhaps that is material for a blog entry on a different day…