March 10, 2013 | Comment

denise_scottoI am Denise Scotto, and I represent a mix of organizations within the UN community. For many years I represented the International Federation of Women Lawyers and the International Federation of Women in Legal Careers. I also more recently represent The Bridges of Hope project. At the same time, since I worked in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, I have been very involved with the UN Staff Recreation Council Enlightenment Society and other groups within the UN.

BKs unique presence at the UN

Through the work I have done in the UN and with the UN community, I have come across many different organizations, including a mix of religious and human rights based groups, professional and legal, and social work groups. There is also a whole category of different NGOs and people who are involved and doing work in the UN system. I have to say that I have always been impressed with the BKs because they are like no other organization; they really do have a very special place. I have been involved with religious NGOs that are doing good work but, at the same time, want to convert others into their faith, or want to move forward the Human Rights or UN agenda with specific conditions, using religion as a shield or sword in some ways. I found that the BKs are very inclusive and there is no coercion to collaborate on their terms or join in their practices. I have never felt any pressure by the BKs to be part of their internal philosophy. I have been involved with many events that the BKs have had throughout the years and I do see this inclusivity and real acceptance of the diversity that is out there, and I feel that it is genuine. I do see how different people are able to come and have a sense of community and a sense of collaboration. In my experience, this is what sets the BKs apart from a lot of other NGOs.

In terms of the greater work that goes on in the UN system at these world conferences, or the special sessions of different meetings for substantive issues, I know that the BKs provide a very safe place for people to come and reflect, to interchange, and to dialogue with a lot of integrity and exchange of heart. The BKs do provide this sense of relief, a safe haven, which allows people to come together and realize that we are not that different from one another. I treasure what the BKs are doing at the UN, because if this is not providing a sense of peace, I don’t know what is.

The one experience within BK activities that was most beneficial and effective

I have had a lot of wonderful experiences with the BKs and at the events they have organized; they have been top notch and of high quality. What comes to mind most is the recent event the BKs had during the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). In the second week of the Commission, the panel was talking about peace and inner strength. I think this particular event was so significant because I feel throughout the years of attending the CSW, that there is a real need for a heart connection. So many women come from different parts of the world and are overwhelmed and frustrated being in New York headquarters for the very first time since there is not a lot of opportunity to be heard by government officials or have access to those government meetings. Women are thirsty to exchange and to have a heart connection. They are thirsty and hungry to speak from the heart. This panel provided the opportunity to have the heart take over and to have a sense of all of us being connected through the heart; we felt we were all one and all together, that we do all share the same frustration and the same hope to move forward the agenda so we can create a better world. Women and girls can have better experiences in their home country. Women want to come and share, and the events that the BKs held during the CSW, the panel in particular, really gave that space for women. The men that come and want to be part of it, too, have a very different kind of experience. Instead of being in the head and talking about this word or these rights, it is about how we can really be together. This panel brought that home and stressed the need for future events to be organized like this.

BK strengths in the UN community

The BKs provide a special space of safety where people can come to have a heart-felt exchange, to have a sense of dialogue and not be judged, to be able to agree to disagree, to express one’s opinion and know that somebody else may disagree, but it’s OK. We are all here for the greater good, we have our own experiences, and we are full of dignity because that’s our birthright, and that’s what we are about.

The BKs have provided a lot of wonderful literature about human rights, values, and so many other issues. These resources are available to participants and it is critical to continue to provide those too.
The work the BKs have done with youth has been so inspiring for a lot of people who have been doing this work for quite a while.

It is crucial to continue to have circles, panels, group sessions, and even town hall meetings where people can really exchange ideas, information, and also the experience of what it is to be in New York, or Bali, or Copenhagen; or for a young person to come and speak of the frustration that he or she is experiencing and maybe not being taken seriously. Or just to have that kind of exchange with people who provide a different kind of guidance, not the usual talking heads of human rights and negotiations, or where we are in the outcome document, or what’s happening with the resolution, but to really have a different kind of experience.

The BKs celebrate the UN so beautifully. At the end of the day we can have a lot of frustration about the work we are trying to accomplish at the UN, but at the same time a lot of us are so grateful that the UN, as an institution, is here. We have seen how it has really made a difference for people in many different countries, and how it has had such a positive effect. And BKs do celebrate that.

Distinction between Religious and Spiritual

I see religious as having a special sense of dogma; Roman Catholics as opposed to Reformed or Hassidic Judaism as opposed to Sufi or Native American tradition. I have been an interfaith minister and have studied the traditions of the world religions and so I do see that there are teachings, dogma, practices, and rituals. I see religion in that sense, but at the same time I see how religions talk about creating a better life, a better world, respecting life, respecting the dignity that each of us are, that the animals are, that the earth is, that all living beings and all living things are. There is this sense of family, of community. There is this real sense of passion and love. I see the spiritual as really transcending religion in some way. I don’t think that there is one particular way that we have to express this love for family, or this love for humanity, or this love for the earth. Spirituality is more embracing and more inclusive in that sense.

I see the BKs as being a spiritual group and really being so accepting of the different people – the human rights people, the women’s groups, the indigenous people. I have participated in a number of BK events where I see people from all walks of life, all different ages, all different backgrounds – men, women, and youth. The BKs really do show how, if we use these spiritual values, everything comes together because it is all about being in one-ness, of being in unity.

I am really grateful to the BKs as I feel aligned to them. This, in and of itself, is promoting peace. At the end of the day, this is what is most important – having peace within one’s self, reflecting that outwards, and having a more peaceful and better world. If someone is not having enough food or a place to live, then they are not having peace of mind and they are not in peace. The BKs really illustrate this idea of peace in many ways and at many levels. I am grateful for their presence at the UN; I feel privileged to collaborate with such a wonderful group.

Importance of the double helix of the spiritual and secular at the UN

I like the expression ‘the double helix.’ I think it is very interesting because, for me, the spiritual is an integral part of my life, and it is not just about working to advance human rights, and the empowerment of women, youth, and other groups. It is about creating a better world and advancing the human consciousness. For me, I approach it from a spiritual standpoint and this is the real work to do. I have been very fortunate to have a profession, the legal profession where I am able to use the structure of the law and good governance as a tool to make that happen. The advancement of human consciousness is everyone’s birthright. Everybody is born with dignity and should be able to access fundamental freedoms. I take this very seriously within my heart because why shouldn’t everybody have this experience?

We may not have made huge leaps in this area, but each small step of the double helix has led to an increased awareness in ethics and values (if we want to use those words as opposed to spirituality), to a greater dimension of dignity and fundamental freedoms in human rights. Through my work with the Enlightenment Society and through the Values Caucus*, I have seen how there have been increasing numbers of people coming to events and an increasing interest in this kind of work. Also, an increasing interest at these ECOSOC functional commission meetings, like the Commission on the Status of Women and the Commission on Social Policy and Development, where people really want to come together and have a heart exchange. This is a big thing — to want to come together, to be able to talk and have a dialogue as opposed to just working on the outcome document or moving the human rights agenda forward. I know the Enlightenment Society has been having a lot more interest within the United Nations itself. It is a staff club for people who are employees of the UN and I see at our programs that there are people from the Department of Political Affairs or Peace Keeping Operations. After attending, they send notes saying thank you for putting this program together, or this was really incredible and I hope you have this guest speaker return again. Ten years ago this was unheard of; there was interest, but I did not get these kinds of thank you notes and follow-up emails. It gives me hope that this double helix, this kind of work that we are doing to create a better world within values or spirituality, is moving forward and is getting stronger and stronger. It is building and I do see this happening within my own exchanges, and with other NGO representatives who are working on human rights or on changing law. So that is very hopeful!

(*The Brahma Kumaris and The Ba’hais are co-chairs of the Values Caucus)

Filed in: BKs at the UN

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