© Tessy de Nassau
Former princess Tessy Antony de Nassau attended the International Day of Peace 2019 event on Saturday, hosted jointly by the Bring Hope Foundation and Cercle Diplomative Geneve.
The former member of the Luxembourg royal family Tessy Antony de Nassau has attended the International Day of Peace 2019 event on Saturday. The Ordre Lafayette awarded her with knighthood for her international work and military service. In other words, the former princess is now a Dame!
In her acceptance speech, Tessy addressed four main topics: respect for diversity, respect for love, the battle against violence, and the prevention of conflicts through communication. Find her full speech below!
Tessy shared a video of her being knighted at the event:
Tessy's full speech
International Peace Day, Geneva 21st September 2019
Dear Dr Baker, Your Excellency Robert F. Blum, Dear Catherine,
Thank you so much for the opportunity you have given me to share some of my personal reflections with you all today.
Distinguished guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, fellow activists for Peace.
It is an absolute pleasure to be here, and I appreciate this chance to offer some of my experiences.
My address to you is framed around 4 topics:
• Respect for Diversity
• Respect for Love
• The Battle Against Violence
• Preventing Conflicts through Communication
Respect for diversity
We are all blessed in this room to have had the opportunity to grow up in a stable and functioning society. Also the nourishing, loving and supporting environment we have experienced from the people around us has also contributed to the strong ambition we all feel close to— to make this world a better place, a place of peace, a place of joy, a place of belonging .
The role of diversity was in my personal story of life key within this discussion. I had the enormous privilege to grow up in a country that invests in its people, their ambitions, their dreams and which is inclusive in its approach to change.
Diversity teaches us that opinions - and often the actions and conclusions deriving from them - stem from the differing aspects of a human being’s background, sense of belonging, religion, cultural awareness and interactions with their peers. This is the core of diversity. Not one person in this room is the same. We might share similar goals and ambitions; such as me and Dr Baker to foster a peaceful environment for all, as well as the love for cycling as I just discovered yesterday in the car.
But the way we act upon upcoming challenges is very much influenced by our own unique outlooks, the things that make us who we are. We must respect this fundamental variety, and integrate it in discussions of peace and how to maintain peace. It is difficult, of course, to understand an opinion that is not only different to one’s own, but is driven by different priorities and founded on different principles. The central challenge of our time is not simply to agree. It is to find the patience to understand one another, to account for our differences; and only through this to reach agreement, and thus peace.
This brings me to my second point:
Respect for love
In the words of author Marianne Williamson, “If we let the idea of a pure and all-powerful love, otherwise known as God, guide our life, we’ll experience far more happiness, satisfaction and meaning.” She clarifies that this is not a call to any specific religion, but a reflection on the importance of finding love for our fellow people.
Respect for love is socially, politically and economically influenced, and is a very important factor to include in the peace building process. We need always to consider social unrest and internecine tensions as part of this process; but Love, the way we love, who we love, how we love, is key and deserves respect. In many parts of the world, we have made significant progress towards this. We have seen a flowering of political force around gay rights, for example. But there is still much to do. The political decision that being gay will cost a person his or her life remains a debated one around the world.
The question one needs to ask oneself a leadership position is: why is it important for me to enforce such laws? Is it perhaps my cultural upbringing, the social norms where I rule or grew up, or my religion that demands this from me? One must find a way to stand by one’s principles while seeking to allow for diversity – in love, in lifestyle, in faith.
The question for all of us in this room is what we can do to support these leaders and help them, always with compassion and with consideration for different worldviews, to find a way for all members of a society to feel secure, respected and included.
I personally do not have an answer to this complex question yet. It speaks to a defining discussion within human history, one that threads through all culture and religion. For as long as we have been able to ask questions, we have asked: Who am I? And who are they? What makes this acceptable, and that unacceptable? We have lived and died by our answers to these questions. And we have, I think, been making gradual progress towards better answers.
I believe that fostering constructive dialogue and exchanging opinions and ideas at conferences such as this one is a good start - especially when young leaders attend, get involved, learn, listen. Conflict arises when we do not try to listen. Listening does not guarantee peace, but there can be no true peace without listening.
Laws, cultural norms and socially constructed rules and guidelines are all man-made. Hence, they can and must be adjusted to fit our fast moving – and in my opinion already quite inclusive and innovative – society. We must listen to the pulse of our discourse, and show humility in adapting to it.
This brings me to my third point:
The role of forgiveness.
I think this is a good moment to introduce a glimpse of my personal experience through my military career. I spent 6 years in the military, and was deployed at the age of 18, as the only woman of my draft, to the former Yugoslavia. Two groups were struggling with – and continue to experience – severe tensions in this region: the Albanians and the Serbs.
I saw much on the ground in 5 months of deployment. Families being torn apart by a decade-long conflict; people dying; children orphaned; a country left unstable, unsafe and suffering economically. Young people being raised with the bitter inheritance of their parents’ and grandparents’ suffering. This inevitably biases them in their approach to this conflict. It is hard to listen when you are in pain. It is hard to listen when you have been told from birth that someone is an enemy, that you should not engage with them except in violence.
Again, communication is key. The cycle of tension must be broken. Emotional wounds, cultural misunderstandings need to be healed. I am not saying that history needs to be forgotten. What I am saying is that there needs to be more opportunities for conflicting groups to interact and foster dialogue in a safe and constructive environment. I know of a few NGOs who are creating safe platforms of dialogue through, for example, sharing a meal in a neutral place, as a starting point for discussion. Recognising that those we call our enemies are of course different, but that they love no less than we do; listening to them; through this we can find forgiveness for them, and they for us. We can reject violence. This brings me to my next point:
The battle against violence
I think it is clear that where there are people, there are differences. Where there are differences there can be tensions. Where there are tensions, there can be violence.
If you follow the news and see troubling messages and information, you may often think: “I should really try to change something in my society.” It could be a local issue such as homelessness, or an international issue like the tensions in the Middle East. Violence is often not far from troubling issues, wherever they might pop up. When a human being is struggling, feels unheard and left out, it triggers actions which can include force and violence.
How can this be addressed? By getting engaged. One person can make or break a society. Hence, every effort to make your own society more inclusive, safe and prosperous, helps to diminish frustrations, injustices and inequalities.
Often people ask me, how and make reference to their own persona stating: I could never be so strong, I could never do this, and references such as - anyways, what I do does not matter and will never change anything.
I always stop them right there, reminding them that me to, I was and still are finding my own path to support my own tribes, be the change maker I want to be, emphasising that for me personally it is already enough to know that I changed one single persons point of view, that I empowered that one person in a certain community, that I took time for that one letter an individual just needed to receive and read. Each and everyone of us is a piece of a global puzzle and has the one missing piece to make this world a better place, one skill, one action, one word, one phone call at a time.
Triggering change is not defined by scale of its outcome, its defined by the genuine effort of doing so. An example for that was a lovely old lady I had the privilege to share a few moments in a hospital in Luxembourg. I sat there with my son Gabriel, waiting for our name to be called to see the doctor. That lovely human being came up to me, humbled and shy apologising for disturbing me before she even vouched her interest in doing so. I listened....
She said: "I apologise to disturb you Princess Tessy but may I just say, seeing you today with your son, the love you were giving him, the comfort you showed him made my day. She continued by saying, I lost my husband today of cancer which made my world crumble into pieces. However seeing the love of a mother to her young child reminded me that yes, we will die one day, but that it is important to enjoy the present moment, be conscious, be grateful, and cherish the memories I had with my beloved husband before his passing."
I hugged her, long, deeply with much love. After she left.
Still today, this very short discussion changed it all for me. It made me realise that everything we experience matters, everything we experience changes us and the way we approach life and our peers.
Therefore, a single person can have enormous effects for better or worse. Look at Osama Bin Laden for example. He was a man, one man who started a terrorist movement which grew to be globally destructive. I want to tie his personal story to the fact that his upbringing led him to become who he was. He was the 17th of the 54 children of a self-made billionaire. Most of his brothers were educated abroad, but Bin laden stayed in Saudi Arabia, studying and pursuing knowledge of his religion.
When in 1979 Soviet troops invaded Afghanistan, and Bin Laden found his calling. He joined the Mujahideen, working with Americans to oust the Soviets.
He returned from Afghanistan a hero, but his increasing militancy and his growing mistrust of US presence in Saudi – especially at the holy sites of Mecca and Medina – set him at odds with his own people. They cast him out. He felt left out, disrespected, unheard and angry. The ongoing US presence in his home country drove him to ever-greater distrust, and eventually to hatred. Neither the Americans nor the Saudis would talk to him.
Exile, frustration, feelings of disrespect and hate triggered the first terrorist attack on the American embassy in Kenya. It was the beginning of wars still ongoing today. Again, it started with one man. It takes only one man or one woman to make or break a society. Every one of us has the responsibility to invest into our societies in the best and most inclusive way possible which benefits society as a whole and not just the few.
Another example is the testimony of Adolf Hitler’s secretary, Elizabeth Kahlhammer. She talks about a leader who blinded a society into hate. People were frustrated, had no jobs, were economically unstable. Hitler provided them with a scapegoat, and with something even more powerful - a moral purpose. Again, he was one man of a certain upbringing, a man whose charisma and words inspired his followers to violence, and brought him the power to silence the many who opposed his views. To silence discourse.
What I want to say with these two examples is that if we have one man who can trigger such destruction, who can change the conversation for worse, then there can and must also be that one man or woman who can trigger the opposite, and change the conversation for better.
This leaves me with my final point: preventing conflicts through communication. A word is powerful, very powerful.
Just take as examples some of the most iconic words in history:“I have a dream,” from Martin Luther King. “Ich bin ein Berliner,” by John F. Kennedy’s stirring words of support for Berliners after the erection of the Berlin Wall. Just looking at these two small sentences as a framework for my next point: What did these words trigger? They triggered thoughts, ideas, whole movements which made history and changed society irreversibly. People listened.
The billion-dollar question is: how do we align different opinions? How do we find common ground? What I find interesting is not always interesting for other people. What I find unacceptable, my neighbour may entirely accept. As a silly everyday example, my neighbour in London drilled a hole through my fence to dispose of her wastewater. Why did she find it acceptable to do so without even asking me? Meanwhile, if my little hedge crosses her fence, she goes absolutely bonkers with me.
Even though it was not easy, I had to figure out a solution to resolve these tensions, as neither she nor I is likely to leave the neighbourhood anytime soon.
I had also more amplified situations at work and while being deployed. Situations will always arise. The key is in the way we react to it.
An anecdote I often use for the hundreds of men tees I have around the world.
Imagine you are sitting on a train. It’s an empty train. On the left you have the mountain with no sunshine while on the right you have the coastline with the sun and the birds flying around.
Where do you sit? It’s your choice isn’t it? Situations and how we approach them and react to them are exactly the same. Will you sit on the left or the right?
We must address all conflicts, no matter how small or large they might be, with reason, an open mind, know how, forgiveness and constructive dialogue.
Every opinion needs to be heard, even if not every opinion must be implemented. Just the action of sitting at a table and talking constructively can make a huge difference. Dialogue is the key to creating a more stable, welcoming and prosperous society. Words matter. When we talk, and listen, we practise the art of recognising others’ differences; of learning to love and forgive; of defusing and rejecting violence. We work towards peace.
Let me close my speech with a Chinese proverb which has guided me until today.
When there is light in the soul there is beauty in the person. When there is beauty in the person there is harmony in the home. When there is harmony in the home, there is honour in the nation. When there is honour in the nation there is peace in the world.
Thank you very much.