By going through the steps of the Reconciliation Leadership program, I have learned to listen within for insights and directions and to trust my inner fortitude. That’s a big plus, indeed, with enhanced confidence as part of the inner journey. – Gilles Asselin, Reconciliation Leader and International Consultant, Princeton, New Jersey
I held one of Grace’s hands, Virginia held the other. We headed down the hall to see Virginia to the elevator. She had come to my house to work on this book, and we had spent about an hour talking about it. Once Grace woke from her nap, we played with her for a while before Virginia had to head home.
Grace was only fourteen months old at the time, and walking was new to her. She plodded with energy and determination down the hall, wobbly and wonderful. Virginia was full of joy as she witnessed Grace’s great strides.
“Yes, you’re very important, Grace,” Virginia said as we stepped onto the elevator, “Yes, you matter.”
These words sunk into my ears and straight down to my heart. “You matter,” is not the kind of thing we always say, but what a wonderful message to give a child so young. It should be obvious, of course. Grace matters a great deal to me. It would be safe to say that I could barely live without her. But Virginia meant it in a bigger sense. Grace matters to the whole world. She has gifts to give. She has love to share, along with ideas, talents, knowledge, vulnerabilities. She matters.
And I matter too. This is something I don’t always believe. I sometimes think that what I do does not matter, that my efforts are such small drops in the bucket that they literally do not count. But of course, this is wrong. We all matter. What we say, how we feel, who we smile at, who we help and don’t help—it all matters. What we watch, what we read, what we repeat, what we decide to do with our lives.
Virginia has a talent for seeing what matters. She is able to see that a small softening of a cynic’s heart toward a child, even for just a few minutes, matters. She knows that a Muslim woman’s peaceful response to an angry attack on her faith matters. Even though emotions are elusive, and the results of these singular events may be difficult to measure at first, Virginia’s sensitive spirit detects that subtle shift in the right direction. She knows that these shifts matter. Most people see these changes of the heart as impossible to control, measure, or count on, and certainly too individual to make happen en masse–yet this inner change is what is needed to bring people out of the dark cycle of violent conflict and into the light of reconciliation.
She has spent many years orchestrating experiences that allow these shifts to happen within people and organizations. She has done this because she understands that the coming of global peace begins nowhere else but in the heart of each person. – Brooke Belcher Bishara, Reconciliation Leader, Mountain View, CA
When I first began work with the Reconciliation Leadership Certificate Program through Virginia Swain’s Institute for Global Leadership, I had no idea that my part in global peace would become so personal. My first global peace assignment was ME. I came to the Institute as a die-hard academic filled with intellectual arrogance. After all, I had PhD in International Human Rights Law! But I still did not have inner-peace—the most important foundation to contribute to unity with our global sojourners. As I journeyed with Virginia’s vision, I found inner-peace resided in me. – Carolana Callaway, PhD, Reconciliation Leader, Nashville, Tennessee
Virginia Swain is a mentor and guide who cheers you up to follow your own inner clarion call by becoming fully available with her kind presence, as well as being transparent about the glorious joys and piercing pains in her own personal evolutionary journey. This becomes known by readers of this genuine spiritual memoir and is known already by those who, like myself, have been gifted with the opportunity to learn from her and with her.
When she teaches you she opens the doors to her physical and spiritual homes and resources with warmth and generosity – so you know you are safe to be you as you know yourself to be until then — and want to dive deeper into receiving more of who you are. The sacred container she provides is the doorway to that sacred work. And she models graciously the pathway of the Reconciliation Leader. I’ve learned under her wing by submitting to the principle of not pushing your personal agenda onto another human being. So when you are not ready to stretch that much yet, she respectfully honors the pace of your unfolding as given by your inner mandate and your inner sense of timing.
If we think of the complex socio-economic and political situations going on in the world from the local, to the national, regional, and global scales, this trust in what unfolds and how it unfolds is a condition for keeping things in perspective in the midst of uncertainty –being able to make decisions in a discerning and balanced manner for the greater good.
When working together, she has the perceptive sensitivity and empathic connection to stop any outer piece of leadership training taking place and redirect attention to tend, befriend, and transform any shadow material that may come to light through impromptu life events or interactions with others.
Self-expression through art and imagination is an important piece of integrating inner parts of the psyche that need loving attention and care, so that when we are called to engage with disenfranchised or self-entitled sectors of society we may act from true understanding and compassion.
This presence of mind and faithful discipleship to the true work required from those walking the path of service to a cause larger than themselves are qualities of being acutely needed in today’s world, where finding true north is not just a question that the current and upcoming generations will have to ask themselves about how to live in harmony globally but about how to extend that ideal into the expansion of humanity as inter-planetary species for the space era already upon us. Reflecting on the end-chapter questions Virginia provides in the book is a good place to start. – Rosario Galvan, Reconciliation Leader, Badajoz Spain
Reconciliation Leadership? What will that mean in my life when I can say “I’m certified in Reconciliation Leadership?” I had a vague idea of what Reconciliation meant, but it didn’t reach out much beyond trying to reconcile what others had pretty much given up as “irreconcilable differences.” And through the UN, reconciliation seemed to be in the context of warring factors like Bosnia or the Philippines. But no concept of “reconciliation” seem to come out as far as my life went.
I was working for a major firm in computers and finance. And I wasn’t looking for a career change. I didn’t see how reconciliation could possibly affect my life. But I still signed up for the program because I was hungry for anything to do with the United Nations. I had recently gone through a period of self-reflection and decided that I no longer want to be considered an American or a member of any tribe or nation. So I started calling myself a Global Citizen instead. And then I go to studying what it meant to be a Global Citizen and realize that the good that was happening throughout the world was really happening through the more than 25,000 Non Government Organizations (NGOs). But all these NGOs were working in collaboration with the UN Agencies in the civil sector.
After discovering that the UN Agencies, UNESCO, UNICEF, WHO, etc. were working and trying to lead these 25,000 NGOs in making progress on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), I realized that this was where one could put the walk with the talk about being a Global Citizen. But how would one get involved with this work? The best way, for me, was to take a crash course in the workings of the United Nations. And one of the ways of taking a crash course on the United Nations was to enroll in this program for Reconciliation Leadership which would include a great deal of information about the UN and would include some workshops being held there, and also an opportunity to meet some movers and shakers such as Ambassador Chowdhury who was one of the chief sponsors of the certification program. So I signed up even though I had no idea what Reconciliation Leadership would entail.
One of the first things I appreciated about this RL program was its focus on reflection rather than reaction. Our society generally promotes quick reaction without reflection. But these workshops emphasized reflection. We engaged in workshops that promoted envisioning the future and then describing these visions to others. We learned to reflect on the importance on space for where we lived and worked.
And as we learned many of the principles for Reconciliation, principles even for armed conflict, it occurred to me that this was applicable for any Joe who happened to live in Any City, USA. Reconciliation was really a part of Conflict Management. And although we could define conflict in terms of international conflict, or even intranational conflict, the same principles could be applicable for interpersonal conflict. And we all are surrounded by interpersonal conflict wherever we live. And then I realized that these principles for conflict would not only be applicable for international conflict and also interpersonal conflicts, but also internal conflicts. And we all experience internal conflicts within ourselves.
And so these principles started to take on a much more personal meaning. Reconciliation, or conflict management, starts in with listening to all sides in a nonjudgmental way. Even internal conflict needs to have the different “warring” sides listened to. Personally, if I have an internal conflict of prejudice, I should not just pick the good side and discount the bad side of the conflict. I need to listen to the bad side and address what it is trying to tell me. Only by recognizing the various sides, can I manage the conflict.
This listening, on whatever level, needs to include nonjudgmental listening – or Active Listening. And it needs to include Empathy. Empathy is really understanding what and why a person thinks and feels the way(s) that they do. Without empathy, we are only imposing our own values and judgments onto someone. And self-empathy is also very important as is evidenced by anyone who has taken the Nonviolent Communications workshop.
Reflection, listening nonjudgmentally, talking, considering options, understanding. These were all principles of Reconciliation which are also principles of Conflict Management and are principles which are important for whatever level of conflict we are dealing with – international, interpersonal, or internal. And so this program of multiple workshops on Reconciliation Leadership took on a relevance that I wasn’t prepared for when I began.
As for the Leadership part of the program, through a series of self-examinations such as the Myers-Briggs and the Enneagram tests we were able to complete an inventory of our strengths and our weaknesses. Because a Leader must be self-aware and know his or her strengths and weaknesses. This included a great deal of development of the Interpersonal Intelligence as well as the Intrapersonal Intelligence – the two Intelligences which make up the Emotional Intelligence.
Because the workshops were small in size, they allowed a great amount of interaction between us as students and our leaders, and also among other students. And this allowed us to reflect and then describe our own thoughts and feelings in ways that most of us have never had the opportunity to do before. And with the emphasis on reflection, we were reflecting on what was being said, and also reflection on what and how we were going to express our thoughts and feelings. And reflection is one of the great marks of a leader. And so our communications skills were honed along with our empathic skills.
And so I came away from these workshops with a great appreciation for the skills needed for reconciliation, conflict management, communications, empathy and reflection. And all of these skills are just as important and just as pertinent for someone doing reconciliation work in Bosnia as for someone working a regular job in any town, USA. – David Kimball, Reconciliation Leader, Florida
I am one of those people who do not believe in coincidences in life. I was engaged in peacebuilding work, especially in the area of reconciliation, which I consider as being my vocation despite my background in finance and accounting. I therefore needed credentials and skills to be able to function in the peacebuilding arena at a professional level. My first point of reference was the Internet. I came across a number of institutions, but I was particularly drawn to the Institute for Global Leadership because of its unique approach to reconciliation that resonated with my heart. That led to my introduction to Virginia in May 2010.
I sent an inquiry to Virginia and she quickly arranged for a virtual meeting on Skype. Indeed, I met an amiable lady whose calmness I perceived as having a spiritual dimension to it. From that moment, I did not look back, but embarked on a journey with her, as my coach and mentor in Reconciliation Leadership, focusing on issues of trauma as a result of violent conflicts. The timing of the course was perfect. Six months later, in November 2010, I was working with Virginia online on a practical application of the components of the Reconciliation Leadership program on a very sensitive conflict in the Abyei region of Sudan. Indeed, one of my most valuable lessons with her was the “Sacred Container,” a unique concept where you gain the trust of victims of violence and their perpetrators, and create an enabling environment for them to freely express their grievances and empathy.
Virginia is a spiritually sensitive lady, an attribute I consider as being extremely vital in dealing with people affected by violent conflicts, especially where matters of trauma are concerned. This spirituality was evident during the training sessions where we opened and closed every session in prayer to the almighty God. The training actually exceeded the objective as she extended her love to my family, which I most sincerely appreciate.
I was looking for an approach to reconciliation that is guided by spiritual sensitivity, and I found it in Virginia. That is why my meeting with her was not just a coincidence. I therefore have no doubt in my mind that Virginia’s work of reconciliation will be heralded, one day, as a vital tool in addressing and transforming violent conflicts.
God bless you, Virginia, my family and I love and appreciate you dearly. – Sam Onapa, Reconciliation Leader, African Union, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
I first met Virginia as a participant in her course taught at the United Nations entitled, Designing and Implementing Interventions for Community and Institutions in Resistant Systems.
I was initially drawn to this course by its practicality as it applied my personal call to work in resistant systems. I had just finished a two-week intensive course on United Nations Peacekeeping from Entrance to Exit Strategies at the Pearson Peacekeeping Center of Canada. I was looking for a way to integrate the knowledge I had learned with my spiritual life as a Friend (Quaker). How could I manifest the testimonies in my life as an active peace builder, based on what I had learned?
In our first session, Virginia asked us to develop a “Sacred Container,” calling upon us to create a working environment that was safe for exploration and growth. As a core component of the workshop, Virginia led participants through Elise Boulding’s visioning exercise. It was a profoundly spiritual experience for me and helped me integrate what I was learning into my spiritual life. Since then I have had the immense pleasure of attending additional workshops by Virginia, completing the Reconciliation Leadership program. And I have assisted and accompanied her on other workshops she has conducted at the UN. I have great respect for Virginia’s ability to be an instrument for Spirit.
Virginia is able to work with a vast range of participants from young students to seasoned diplomats and professionals, engaging them in a process that opens their hearts and minds to new ways of engaging and co-creating the peace process. I observed participants who were challenged by concepts and exercises that were introduced in her courses. These “difficult” participants were met with respect and space that allowed the entire group to truly practice reconciliation leadership.
Virginia is a leader and innovator in bringing diverse groups together to seek peace and reconciliation. I have often called upon the skills and ideas I learned in her courses both professionally and in clerking various Friends Meetings and Quaker Conferences.
Virginia and I have become dear friends since that first meeting. In my time with Virginia, I have seen her enter deep discernment about leadings and her ability to follow through with them. She is very aware of her abilities and needs and when called to act or serve, she takes care of herself so that she is able to meet that call. I have come to treasure her professional work and spiritual support. – Anna Sandidge, Reconciliation Leader, Springfield, Missouri
I met Virginia soon after 9/11 as I was looking for help to articulate and live out my heart’s calling. As an American Muslim woman, I experienced myself as a container of the conflict in the world around me. America and Islam were being defined as being at odds, and yet, both make me who I am. I knew that I needed to bring these dimensions of me into harmony, and that I wanted to be a peace-builder. I began one-on-one coaching with Virginia, and then entered her certificate program in Reconciliation Leadership. Since then, Virginia has been a lifeline, an important mentor and guide. Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, and to me, among her most beautiful qualities is her dedication to prayer. This commitment to her own spirituality and connection to God is captured in this book, in which she lives from the inside out, spirit brought into practice in the world, and inspires me to do the same. Reconciliation Leadership has reaffirmed for me the importance of being an integrated human being and the strength and necessity of this integration for the practice of leadership. –Dr. Sarah Sayeed, Reconciliation Leader and Public Servant, New York, New York
Afterword: Last Word
Virginia Swain is my wife, my companion, and my friend. We met twenty-three years ago, long after failed marriages (twenty years for me, fifteen for her). But we chose to try to love again on a more mature basis of friendship. While we were courting, in order to explain to our friends what was happening, I refused to say we were having a “relationship”– that vague and evasive modern expression usually used as a mask for a sexual affair. Marriage was very soon in prospect, so I said we were “beloved of one another.” She instantly took up that word. When we did marry soon after, belovedness was the theme of the preacher’s homily.
This book is about Virginia’s passage to maturity, spiritual wholeness, a quest to live from her inner Voice and a calling to redefine leadership. It is about an American woman who grew up rather comfortably in Connecticut in the 1950s and then passed through many of the passages of the generation that are now in retirement. She tells her story of marriage, divorce, loss of her brother in an auto accident, disorientation at his death and that of her father, a mistaken second marriage, abandonment of corporate employment, and a search for a meaningful religion. Virginia speaks frequently of the Holy Spirit.
When her son went to live with his father for his high school education, she had a vision of Christ giving her a mantle of roses, quit her job, went to California for spiritual enlightenment, and spent a year and a half on a mountain. These experiences challenged her to re-think how she sees and acts in the world.
“A Soul’s Journey to Redefine Leadership: A New Phoenix Rises from the Ashes of 9/11/01” is designed to convey, in a personal and emotional way, the principles that have brought direction, wholeness and a new vocational direction to her life. She believes they will help others like her.
Drawing on work experience on five continents, Virginia designed and implemented new leadership and development models for sustainable development in the United Nations community.
Based on her commitment to religious tolerance, interfaith gatherings, community building, conflict resolution, reconciliation and world peace, she completed a self-designed program to build global community and interdependence at the United Nations, Celebration of the Children of the World: A Model for Building Global Community, and received a Master’s degree from Lesley University. She began her work with the United Nations by attending the Rio de Janeiro, Brazil United Nations Conference on the Environment and Development in 1992, and, like many people (including me) who have attended United Nations conferences on fundamental problems facing humanity, Virginia was inspired and became committed to global affairs.
Virginia is committed to global governance, the process by which the world is evolving to political union—complementary to my interest in global government, the structure through which political union will be achieved. She followed up by attending the United Nations Conference on Social and Economic Development in Copenhagen, Denmark, the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago, the Beijing Women’s Conference preparation in New York, and was on the USA team for the planning of the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We wrote papers together from our different perspectives and co-founded the Coalition for a Strong United Nations with others while we lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts. We learned about global issues while giving conferences to build a US constituency for the UN in partnership with the Kennedy Library.
Since 1992, Virginia has introduced vocational leadership and innovative leadership and development processes in the United Nations community in New York. Her Reconciliation Leadership Certificate Program and The Global Mediation and Reconciliation Service support the United Nations Charter, Chapter 6, which addresses the peaceful means for the resolution of disputes.
Closer to home, Virginia spent five years teaching and mentoring emerging leaders as a peer mediation coordinator within a high school in Worcester, Massachusetts. Mediation is one of the peaceful means for the resolution of disputes listed in the United Nations Charter.
After her experience in New York on 9/11, Virginia is now committed to offering leadership to restore faith in America. She coaches emerging and seasoned leaders in all her programs. Virginia believes children of all ages are needed to implement her vision of new leadership for the United States that she was given by the Holy Spirit in 1986 on Mt. Tamalpais outside San Francisco.
We are not perfectly matched. I am a plodding scholar and college professor. We both are world citizens. But, as Edward Steichen wrote in The Family of Man, “we two form a multitude.” We are wizened by experience and are making a good marriage. I love her. -Dr. Joseph Preston Baratta, Worcester, Massachusetts