Throughout the holiday season, many of us are looking for hope – particularly amidst all of the conflict, unrest, and chaos in the world. From stories about the backlash against Syrian refugees and the threat of ISIS to racial injustice, attacks on civilians, and animal cruelty, we are inundated by a cycle of bad news.
As a physician and human and animal rights advocate, I understand. More of us are looking for inspiration than ever before, and people are hungry for holistic, lasting solutions.
Over time, I’ve found inspiration in some of the most unlikely places. Through the years of caring for survivors of torture and other forms of trauma, I’ve gathered surprising, enlightening glimpses of optimism, strength, and resilience from people and animals who have risen from the ashes after the worst abuses. And their stories have led me to extraordinary places – literal and figurative places I call “Phoenix Zones” – where the injured heal and mend and where profound strength can emerge from our deepest vulnerabilities.
With time, I’ve started to appreciate how these Phoenix Zones could provide important lessons for those of us interested in cultivating a kinder world. I’ve sought to understand what we could learn from those who triumph in a chaotic world, and how Phoenix Zones transform despair into hope. And, most importantly, I’ve been interested in capturing the central principles these Phoenix Zones are built upon.
Here’s what I’ve learned so far. Phoenix Zones are built on acts of courage and a commitment to six key principles:
Sovereignty – All of us seek to be free from being controlled or harmed by others. And, with time, I’ve realized how important this issue is to animals, too. Like us, they do not want to be subjected to unwanted trespasses over their bodies.
Love and Tolerance – Some of the most important contributors to resilience include the healing power of within and cross-species bonds, friendship, and connection. And practices of extreme love – in the form of altruism and forgiveness – can help people and animals heal even after the most severe abuses and atrocities. I’ve been encouraged to learn how empathic, altruistic, and forgiving behaviors are biologically contagious – and how they can protect against conflict in society.
Liberty – Phoenix Zones go far beyond meeting basic needs – and toward the freedom to make our own choices, test our own limits, and determine our own fates.
Justice – Some populations, like children and animals, are far more vulnerable than others, and some individuals become even more vulnerable because of their circumstances. Justice is built upon correcting these inequalities, and justice demands we provide greater protections for vulnerable people and animals who bear the burdens of society.
Promise and Opportunity – As Phoenix Zones show, we will only realize our potential as a society if we are each given the opportunity to live up to our individual potential – whatever that may be.
Dignity – Dignity simply refers to worth or value. Phoenix Zones recognize the dignity of all.
All of these principles are critical to whether we can rise from our deepest vulnerabilities, regardless of race, nationality, gender, social group – and even species. But these are not new concepts. They are universally revered principles in ancient philosophy, religious texts, and throughout democratic societies. However, we rarely consider how these principles apply to our daily lives, choices, and actions. Phoenix Zones pull these principles together like a beautiful symphony brings together different instruments.
Now, one of our biggest challenges is figuring out how to apply these principles in our everyday lives to create solutions that are bigger than the problems they are meant to solve.
How do you do it?