The Cyclical Adventure of Choice-Making

From our dialogue with Jerry White, we have distilled a set of three principal values that could serve as milestones in an individual’s journey from personal choice to universal impact

What makes human life a true adventure is the realisation that, time and again, an individual reaches critical junctures where significant choices must be made based on the wisdom derived from the past and intuitions blossoming in the present, while having no clear vision into the future itself. At 20, Jerry White chose life over bitterness and death. A young adult who had his left leg blown away in a landmine blast in the middle of a delightful camping trip in Israel, Jerry literally stood up on his remaining leg, and promised himself that he would choose to create a world where victims did not exist, where survivors thrived. And, that choice is still making a huge difference, not only to him but also to millions of people who chance to see “things fall apart” in a world that seemingly acts upon them without seeking their consent.

During his recent visit to India, packed as it naturally was, Jerry graciously found nearly two hours to engage with LILA in a deep conversation. A few aspects of his personality and worldview clearly emerged from our interaction. The characteristic way in which he deals with hither-to unfamiliar spaces, we think, is exactly what is contributing tremendously to his daily global impact. Jerry has helped us derive an understanding of choice-making as a cyclical adventure, the stages of which can be directly connected with one’s impact-making needs at specific points. From our dialogue with Jerry, we have distilled a set of three principal values that could serve as milestones in an individual’s journey from personal choice to universal impact.

I. Making Time a Fellow Traveller:

Jerry White does not chase time; time travels with him. It seems incredible that, for someone who works on creating huge impacts globally, he is pretty relaxed. One wonders how he manages to be ‘on time’ despite his busy schedule. He keeps his promises, he replies promptly, he gives complete attention when you talk with him – he talks from his heart, does not have any sense of entitlement, does not take anyone for granted. How can it be?The answer lies in his understanding of the difference between ‘doing’ and ‘being’. In his recent talks, Jerry has proposed a concept called ‘Manopause’, about the way human beings fall into performance traps and perceive crises in their lives. At various times, one feels that “there is so much to do, and there is not enough time.” There is constant pressure at work, within family, among peer groups, to ‘perform’ in a certain way, along a given trajectory. This results in constant worry about not being able do as expected, which crystallises into a ‘pause’, a stagnation of mind and its movement. How does one resume the flow? Jerry recommends shifting one’s attention from ‘performing great’ to ‘being good’. If one focuses on understanding one’s core ‘being’ and aligning one’s ‘doings’ towards nurturing and developing the strengths of that nature, enjoyment becomes an integral part of one’s everyday life, and one becomes enthusiastic about ‘doing’ things on time, without pretence, and with resilience and happiness. Thus does one invite and persuade time to become a fellow traveller on one’s journey to be, as one chooses just to ‘be’ oneself.

II. Clarity of Thinking and Relational Communication

The focus on ‘being’ brings clarity to one’s thought and a sense of direction to one’s activities. It is possible that one encounters a lot of activities and people on a daily basis. This grows as one becomes more successful and become more of a public figure. How does one orient oneself in such a way that one can move and work towards specific goals but also live a multi dynamic life.

While talking with us, we noticed how Jerry was bringing in analogies and anecdotes from unexpected fields to drive home a point. And suddenly, not only does the meaning of what he says become clear to the listeners, but a new door of apprehending the connections between two apparently dissimilar fields opens before them, too. For instance, he proposes the need to appreciate coalitions in terms of the basic elements–social entrepreneurs and politicians as fire, pragmatic bureaucrats as earth, researchers and knowledge spaces as air, and community builders as water. Perhaps we might consider our global internet community as ether – one sees how clarity of thought can lead to the creation of an action channel connecting an amorphous idea with a tangible solution with impact.

Jerry emphasises the importance of paying attention to language and linguistics. “How are people using language? And when does language itself become violent?” – these are questions that become critical in conflict resolution and in forging sustainable relationships. We see how Jerry has successfully managed to find a humane middle path between the two traps concerning language that people normally fall into, in our times of communication revolution: 1. The misconception that technologists, scientists, industrialists and anyone outside of the world of humanities do not have to learn the nuances of language and it is enough for them if the ‘points get across’; 2. The fallacy that one can learn a set vocabulary of professional diplomacy and social niceness towards cracking the world of people management and cultural exchange.

Jerry’s method of expanding his area of focus by constantly investing it within sights and methodologies from various other spaces has a double-edged advantage: It helps him function in a multi dynamic manner by interacting and partnering with multiple players, even as he regularly breaks new ground in his chosen area of work. In this exploration, the employment of language in figurative ways, especially the use of metaphor, opens fresh possibilities of relational thought, communication and action.

III. From Strategic Coalitions to Lasting Partnerships

Jerry understands ‘resilience’ as a key word in the creation of coalitions. The question is, ‘how does one transcend one’s self interests and personal agendas while working as a team? One sees that his personal “recipe for resilience” can work as a strategic tool to create coalitions and build them into lasting relationships. This may involve the following processes.

a. Working with Facts: A prerequisite for choosing the right ally is to get one’s facts right. Jerry warns us against relying on assumptions and illusions and encourages everyone to ‘face facts’. In that sense, he positions transparency as an essential condition for a coalition.

b.Choosing Life: Facts can be depressing at times, but there is no running away from them. Hence, the determination to always choose life, and do whatever possible to remain alive against all odds, is seminal. This brings vitality to the core of coalition practices.

c.Reaching Out: If one is determined to survive, one has to reach out to get the support that one requires. It might take a lot to acknowledge one’s limitations and solicit help from ‘strangers’. But, forging a vital coalition is an act of courage, and one needs to develop the ability to take risks and to trust.

d.Moving Ahead: Movement is an essential feature of successful coalitions, which would involve focusing on common grounds and get moving, rather than discussing differences and causing stumbling blocks, and here again communication becomes a key factor.

e.Giving Back: Forging a coalition is not the end of the story. It can be a successful initiative only if the parties are willing to give back in lieu of what they have received. Generosity is thus the first step towards graduating a strategic coalition into a lasting relationship.

f.Being rather than Doing: Jerry has been keenly aware of the fact that resilience does not always lead to happiness, which is essential to sustain relationships. Towards transcending power politics and maturing in a relationship with grace, one needs to re-understand control. Unlike popular belief, true control is not in doing, but in being. This realisation will help one see that it is more important not to lose control of oneself than to impose control on others. It is an attitude of ‘enough’, which brings one happiness about just being oneself under all circumstances.

These core features of Jerry White’s adventures in choice have evolved over time, from the day he chose to remain with the survivors of landmine accidents and several other conflicts in Israel rather than going back to the US and getting the best of medical help. It was his early realisation that finding fellowship and empathy is the first step out of victim hood, which launched him on his immensely impact-making journey. He uses the power of partnerships, community, and leadership to bring issues of justice, human security, reconciliation, and inclusive development to the forefront of international decision-making. Every year Jerry helps thousands of conflict-afflicted people recover through peer support, rebuild through collective action, and reform through advocacy, creating policy reform and public awareness that cycles back into the original purpose of breaking the vicious cycle of victimisation and violence throughout the world.

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