Born on the northeast coast of England, of Viking and Welsh ancestry, I grew up as a granddaughter of the Empire and daughter of the Commonwealth. As a young girl in the years following the First World War, I puzzled and then grieved that the men came back so hurt—legs lost, difficulty breathing––and so many dead. How could we have done this? I wondered. Why couldn’t we have talked it through? This was a question that really mattered to me.
Later, studying the armistice conditions ending the war, it became very clear that the lack of ongoing and authentic dialogue among nations created conditions for future conflict. I determined that, when I grew up, I would study ways in which these mistakes would not be repeated.
But then, instead of peace, World War II came, and I spent almost five years in the Royal Air Force. The overarching mission was simple: survive, defeat Nazism, end holocausts, and make the world safe for democracy. In the course of wartime, I lost friends, comrades, and home. One searing experience in Europe, in which I encountered ambulatory Jews being brought out of the camps, caused me to ask my commanding officer: Sir, how could we have done this? He snapped that of course, we had not done this, they had. Yet I knew that, somehow, our human community as a whole had failed in the face of these atrocities.
In my contemplation and study of these questions, it became clear to me that every societal change process I knew of started with an informal conversation in which men and women—young or old—were witnessed and “heard into speech,” sharing their dreams and hopes for making a difference around something they cared about. In being truly seen and heard, people discovered their mutual commitment to act and were transformed.