Peace One Heart at a Time

This piece was originally published in the Philippine Star on 14 January 2015 with the following photo caption: Brigadier-General Carlos P. Romulo, Philippine delegate to the US House of Representatives (Resident Commissioner), returns the flag to its peacetime position at the Philippine Commonwealth building in Washington, DC, Aug. 17, 1945. The banner had been flying inverted, with the red stripe up, since the declaration of war with Japan three and a half years before.  

After seventeen years of combing through Lolo’s letters and speeches, I think I finally understand what he meant when he said, “Peace is not built with words. Peace must be written in the human heart.” I believe he meant that the way to global peace is one person at a time, one heart at a time. Governments sign peace treaties all the time, but always it’s a temporary solution. The surest (and only) way to peace is to come together with a real willingness—a wanting—to stop fighting, stealing, hating; and a genuine desire to help others.

Today, January 14, 2015, would have been his 117th birthday. To honor him we recently opened the Romulo Peace Center, a place that endeavors to bring out the potential good in people through contemplative practices like meditation and yoga. A generous donation from San Miguel Corporation made it possible to create the Center, and all proceeds generated by it in its first year will go to the Carlos P. Romulo Foundation for Peace and Development, earmarked for a project to build a more climate-resilient Philippines.

Lolo was once featured in Ripley’s Believe It or Not! as the most awarded human being on the planet. His multifaceted career as a teacher, soldier, diplomat, and writer spanned more than seven decades, but what made him extraordinary was that he distinguished himself in every one of these roles.

By the time he died in 1985 he was a Philippine National Artist for Literature, and he’d collected 140 international awards and citations. The Pulitzer Prize in journalism, the US Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the United Nations Peace Prize were a few of his crowning achievements.

Remembered most as a world statesman who advocated for human rights and decolonization, Lolo received—in addition to the 140 awards—seventy honorary degrees for his contributions to international cooperation and world peace. Yesterday my family was delighted to learn that the US–Philippines Society, at the suggestion of Ambassador Jose L. Cuisia, Jr., established the Carlos P. Romulo Award to recognize significant contributions to the Society and for efforts strengthening US–Philippine ties.

“Men pray for peace,” he said, upon receiving an honorary doctorate from Georgetown University, “but they refuse to do those things that make peace possible. We profess but do not perform. We wish but do not will.”

The year was 1960. Just one year before, the Second Indochina War had erupted, and the brutal Chinese occupation of Tibet, since 1949, had forced the 14th Dalai Lama into exile. The world was in turmoil, and had been Lolo’s whole life. He was born in 1898, just as the revolution against Spain was ending. Then came the struggle against the United States, our new colonial boss, followed by World War Two and the Japanese Occupation. After that, amid the emerging Cold War, the Americans launched (from Philippine soil) air and sea actions against North Korea. Soon other nations, including the Philippines, joined the war.

Peace today, more than half a century later, seems not only possible but necessary if we are to survive as a species. We have to do “those things that make peace possible.” With weapons of mass destruction, war is a winner-less proposition. With global warming, Nature is kicking our butts. Meanwhile, genocide, rape, and torture still exist in many places, while an ever exploding population demands more resources than our planet can give. More oil, more water, more food. We’re simply out of time.

Fortunately, there is a distinct shift all over the world toward consciousness and away from greed. If Lolo were alive today, he might have been hopeful. In 1960 we were “too weak to resist the fierce compulsion of forces and events,” but today, in numbers growing exponentially every day, people are waking up and getting stronger in their resolve. The recent Paris trauma notwithstanding, there were four million souls marching in solidarity.

“There are hideous incidents and beings that are human cancers,” Lolo said in 1949, as president of the UN General Assembly. “But in the main our world is made up of people of potential good, willing, if the path before them is outlined, to become sharers of the light.”

We are changing as individuals within our hearts and minds, which makes change on a global level an unprecedented possibility. People are keenly aware that the world is shifting in big ways, and they want to be part of the transformation.

The Peace Center hopes to galvanize individuals to act for the greater good.

We not only reflect the current global movement toward consciousness but seek to help it gain momentum. As a gathering place for positive change, we wish to share the light with many others.

“Sometimes,” said Lolo, “a glimmer of understanding can show the way.”

Liana RomuloEvents