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In Difficult Times - A Unique Perspective

I was a soldier for over 27 years. I have operated around the world on many different operations and my proudest moments were when I was involved in peacekeeping operations, ensuring people were able to lead their lives free from tyranny and violence, both mental and physical.  Or indeed bringing people to justice for the crimes they commit ensuring that justice does take place.

For me, it has always been paramount to try to prevent things from happening rather than having to deal with the consequences when they do. That said, we know at times we need to have the strength of character to stand up for all we hold dear.

The terrible events of the last few weeks in the UK have once again highlighted the need for all of us to remember the key values we need on our journey through life, values that can and should guide our thinking and behaviour. In doing so, we avoid simple knee-jerk responses and repercussions that only serve to make things worse. After all, hate, revenge and anger are not values that serve any of us.

When it comes to helping young people think about values, I often talk of having ‘a compass’ and ‘a map’ that keep us heading in the right direction and help us be responsive and responsible on our journey, no matter the difficulties. Our map is the vision of what we want in our life and the compass consistently shows us the values needed to ensure that vision is supported in a way that allow us to grow and develop so we become the person we were always meant to be. It is at moments of great difficulty that we must ensure our compass continues to take us forward, regardless how difficult the terrain becomes. 

No matter what, we must always search for the most appropriate path, one that ensures our values hold true.

The last job I did in the military was as head of the Counter Terrorist team.  Our role was to support the government, military and police if there was an incident against the UK population.  What most people do not know is that our aim is not to be used. To do that, we support the police and other services in training, development and education so that we can prevent these events taking place, as well as be in a position to respond as and when necessary. Since leaving the military, a large amount of my time has been spent working in education and I wonder in difficult times such as these how you explain to children about the need to love, to forgive and to keep peace at the forefront of your mind? 

In reflecting on this, I am taken back to working in a very war-torn country, standing on the front line with a leader from one of the factions we were trying to negotiate with in order to bring about a cease-fire. All he wanted, he told me, were the weapons with which to fight other side. He was adamant that peace was unnecessary. I simply nodded. I had heard such claims many times before.

‘How many children do you have?’ I asked, changing the subject.

‘Two boys,’ he replied, ‘aged 15 and 13’.

I could see he was proud of his sons and how animated he became as he spoke of them. Then, pointing to the frontline of this war, I said 

‘The sad thing is that in two years your boys will be in that trench.’

I let him ponder the thought and then added:

‘I have operated around the world and every time there is a need for communication and dialogue in order bring about peace. It just takes courage to do so.’ 

Two months later he thanked me for making him think about the consequences of his current actions and we put the first foundations of a cease-fire in place. This is what happens when you put values first.

In my life I have seen people put themselves in the greatest danger to protect and save others.  In recent weeks, we have heard numerous stories of ordinary people willing to put their lives at risk to save others, not to mention our emergency services putting themselves in harm’s way to protect ordinary citizens. I have also seen children be the most resilient in difficult times. Especially when we explain to them the need to find a way to peace yet also be willing to stand up and protect those freedoms from the small minority of people in the world who wish to commit these barbaric acts against us. Searching for peace but understanding the need to stand up to the bullies of this world is an important lesson for all of us to grasp. Through education, through the tireless work of committed teachers in any country, we can use education to help children realise that we are all on this world to make it a better place for everyone in it and that we must understand our differences and embrace our diversity. 

For me, in difficult times such as these, education is more than ever the process by which wisdom and communication are used to influence future generations to make the world a more caring place. [ITL]

Associate Floyd Woodrow, MBE, DCM

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