I saw a fantastic talk last week by alumna Layli Miller-Muro titled “Ending Global Violence Against Women: A Spiritual Imperative.”
She began with a quote by Alan Greenspan, Chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve, in response to a question about whether or not he considered the effect on the world economy of a decision he made. His answer was, “I don’t work for the world, I work for the United States.”
Miller-Muro used this statement to introduce the idea that humanity’s evolution mirrors the growth of an individual human being. The stages of an individual’s growth are 1. complete dependence as babies, 2. dependence with many rules as children, 3. a fight for independence as teenagers, and 4. a recognition of interdependece as adults. Miller-Muro explained how humankind is currently in the adolescent phase, in which nations are fighting for independence. Even though the U.S. gained independence a few hundred years ago, our foreign policy still, as Greenspan illustrates, shows that we as a nation are failing to recognize our connection to the rest of the world.
A statement that made this metaphor even more clear was that we have the power to blow up the world, and also the power to feed the world. What we lack is the emotional, intellectual, and spiritual maturity to use our physical capabilities responsibly.
After stating some startling statistics illustrating the inequalities between men and women (1 in 3 women is a survivor of gender-based violence, to share just one), Miller-Muro emphasized that equality between men and women is NOT a “women’s issue,” but an everyone’s issue. She used an image of the bird of civilization from the Bahá’í faith to make this idea more clear. The bird has two wings; one represents the male and the other the female part of society. Both parts need to be equally strong for the bird of civilization to fly.
So how do we promote equality and help humankind get out of this angsty teenager phase? Miller-Muro gave two answers.
- We make laws that protect women and children.
- We undergo personal transformation.
The latter is the most important and the most difficult. How do we begin this process of personal transformation? We examine our belief systems, which for most of us is religion. With the help of students from the Global Village School in Decatur, she quoted the Golden Rule in all the major world religions. In Chrisitianity, this is the familiar, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
If we all followed this rule, we’d all be equal, right? If this rule is in all major world religions in some form, why aren’t we all equal already?
Miller-Muro acknowledged that religion isn’t just the Golden Rule–there are many conflicting ideas within religious texts about equality. She also explained that with the power to do good comes the equal and opposite power to do evil. Like medicine, she argued, religion can expire or become outdated. It can be both liberating and oppressive. We should use religion today to promote equality instead of to justify oppression. To begin this process, we need to consider the cultural context of scripture in order to discern its most valuable application. We need to start engaging in honest conversations about faith.
Before concluding, Miller-Muro left us with a final image. A child drew her a picture and stated, “The prettiest constellations are made up of the smallest stars.” Instead of trying to be the sun, or the star that outshines the rest, if we all work together to create a more equal world, we’ll make a larger, lovelier impact.
Thank you Layli for coming and sharing your experience with us!
Did anyone else see her speak? I’d love to know your reactions.