Pearls of Presence

Gentoo penguin mediator?

“We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny,” wrote Martin Luther King, Jr. In fact, through tending-and-befriending others from different cultures (or species), we grow and figure out something important about ourselves. We make sense of our internal struggles when we acknowledge the present struggles of others.

An ally of King was the Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, who died a few days ago at age 95. Both men invested in peace and nonviolence. Nhat Hanh’s attempts to promote peace through reconciliation between North/South Vietnam failed, but his actions influenced King’s opposition to the Vietnam War. Shortly before his assassination, King nominated Nhat Hanh for a Nobel Peace Prize in 1967, although the prize was not awarded that year. King’s summary of his peace buddy is striking: “Thich Nhat Hanh’s ideas for peace, if applied, would build a monument to ecumenism, to world [sister]brotherhood, to humanity.”

Ousted from his beloved country, Thich Nhat Hanh lived in exile for decades until finally granted permission to teach in Vietnam in 2005. He only returned permanently in 2018 after suffering from a stroke stealing his ability to speak. In spite of great trauma, an earlier and soft-spoken Nhat Hanh possessed a louder voice than if he spoke through a megaphone: “When another person makes you suffer, it is because [s]he suffers deeply within [her]himself, and [her]his suffering is spilling over. [S]he does not need punishment; [s]he needs help. That’s the message [s]he is sending.”

The world needs mediators like Nhat Hanh who attempted to stop his country’s feuds. However, people are not the only ones to fight over territorial “rights.” While capable of herding fish together with one of the fastest bird-swimming records of 22 miles an hour, Gentoo penguins can become aggressive in feuding over ownership of land (especially involving nesting sites). Agitated penguins open their bills, stretching their neck outward. Some protect their eyes by half-closing them. Do they expect the worst outcome?      

Actually, holding a vision of possible peace is really important. Martin Luther King, Jr. did not say he had a nightmare, but he had a dream. Are your eyes half-closed? We become so inundated with our own version of suffering that we forget about our capacities to change systemic flaws.

Name your own definition of holding a presence for peace. There are no perfect words or actions. There is no expectation that you become perfect. Life keeps challenging us with imperfect situations. The pandemic has reinforced the notion that there is no charmed life even if you win several pots of gold in lotteries.       

Embrace the wise words of the gentle mediator, Thich Nhat Hanh: “Waking up this morning, I smile. Twenty-four brand new hours are before me. I vow to live fully in each moment and to look at all beings with eyes of compassion.”      

Pearls of Peace (PoP) Quiz:

50. What is your dream for the future?

51. What peace-present actions will you take today?       

By Janis Johnston

Janis Clark Johnston, Ed.D., has a doctorate in counseling psychology from Boston University. She has worked with children, families, and groups (ages 3-83) with presenting issues of anxiety, depression, trauma, loss, and relationship concerns. She initially worked as a school psychologist in public schools and was awarded School Psychology Practitioner of the Year for Region 1 in Illinois for her innovative work. She was a supervising psychologist at a mental health center, an employee-assistance therapist and a trainer for agencies prior to having a family therapy private practice. Recipient of the 2011 Founder’s Award for her dedication to the parenting education of Parenthesis Family Center (now called New Moms), and the 2002 Community Spirit Award from Sarah’s Inn, a domestic violence shelter and education center, Johnston is an active participant in numerous volunteer activities supporting children and families in her community. A frequent presenter at national psychology and educational conferences, Johnston has published journal articles, book chapters, and two books -- It Takes a Child to Raise a Parent: Stories of Evolving Child and Parent Development (2013, hardback; 2019, paperback) and Midlife Maze: A Map to Recovery and Rediscovery after Loss (2017, hardback; 2019, paperback). In addition to augmenting and supporting personal growth in families, Johnston is a Master Gardener and loves nurturing growth in the plants in her yard.


  1. Jan,
    I spent my lunch hour calling congresspersons as part of a Lunch & Lobby zoom of Newtown Action Alliance. I often do this, and today we focused on getting sponsors for a national Ethan’s Law, a proposed law based on the CT law which requires all firearms to be locked when there are children residing in the home. It is actually wonderful to call and meet the aides who answer the phone, and to think about their lives and what they may be learning for the future. People from all over the U.S. join so if anyone would like to help, here is the link.
    After I got through, I read your “Pearls of Presence” blog! What an inspiring and life affirming piece! Thanks for the insights and ideas of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Thich Nhat Hanh!


  2. Your activism to address gun violence is SO important. People need to remember the many families still suffering from trauma in the Sandy Hook Elementary School community to understand why nonviolence is a vital goal worth pursuing.


Leave a Reply to carolrwade Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: