Last week was Jo Cox's 42nd birthday. There was an outflow of love and deep emotion, captured best by her husband Brendan's remarkable speech in Trafalgar Square, to honor her death on 16 June.
Jo had an inner light that shined so brightly, bursting out of her sparkling eyes, captivating smile and infectious laugh. I considered her to be a good friend, someone I adored and with whom I felt a deep, abiding connection. She was one of my favorite people in the world. One of the surprising, and humbling, aspects of last week was learning how many people felt the same way about her. She freely shared her light with everyone. She instinctively saw the dignity and worth of every person and was fully present to whomever was in front of her. She had deep passions and held strong views, but she welcomed contrary views and engaged with respect, open ears and an open heart.
Fundamentally, the very core of her being told her -- and she told everyone she could get hold of including in her maiden speech in Parliament -- that what divides us is much smaller than what unites us. She looked forward and outward, and encouraged everyone else to do the same. As an expert campaigner, she knew that when individuals, communities and nations look inward and backward, fear and the hate it generates can destroy us. History is littered with example after example of the horrific things we can do to each other on an interpersonal level, such has hate speech and her assassination, to passing fearful and hateful laws the feed cycles of fear, hate and killing to death and destruction on a global scale. Events of the past few months from Brussels to Orlando to Istanbul, tell us we are not learning from the past.
As Jo wrote not long before she was so brutally killed, a real conversation on cultural and religious differences is needed. But if we begin that engagement looking backward and inward, we will fail. If we look forward and outward there is no problem we cannot solve.
I first met Jo when she was working with Sarah Brown campaigning globally for the rights and health of girls and women. We stayed in touch as she advanced the fight against human slavery in all its forms including trafficking in persons and child marriage. At first I was disappointed when she pivoted to domestic issues. But then it was clear she would make a difference and that if things changed at home, that could help build support engagement abroad. I now work for an extraordinary organization, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria founded in 2002 to advance of global vision of solidarity to stand with the people of low- and middle-income countries to end their epidemics. At the time, ending these epidemics seemed like a fantasy. Now we are on the right side of the tipping point and we know how it can be done. It is a 21st Century partnership built on a framework of shared responsibility and mutual accountability. A clear statement that if we come together, work together, anything is possible.
We are living during a remarkable moment in history. Everything is in flux in a way it has rarely been - economic and political power from the personal to national to global level is rapidly changing and people and ideas are on the move as never before. The boundaries and walls of the past have been blown open. During times of such dramatic change, there can be fear that drives us to look inward and backward, to look for a false sense of security in a romanticized view of the past. To try to rebuild boundaries, borders and walls that can never be rebuilt. History very clearly tells us that when we go in that direction, we do really bad things to each other. And modern advances in technology have provided a quantum leap in how much destruction we can do.
Jo called on us to take a different path. Always to look forward and outward. To be excited by, not afraid of, change. To engage each other with humility and a sense of humor. To be passionate about what we believe, but to listen to those who are equally passionate about a different viewpoint. To believe in the dignity and worth of every person.
It was moving to watch the outpouring of love and support for Jo and her family. But now we must move beyond remembering her to honoring her by following her lead. By looking outward and forward. By rejecting fear and its corrosive companion hate. History has taught us that there is no problem we cannot solve when we act with hope and love, not fear and hate. But will we? Let's celebrate each of Jo's birthdays by honoring her though our actions. We can do it.