Choosing to Make a Difference
Turning Tragedy into a Sense of Mission: Nobel Peace Prize Winner Talks at PLU on Facing and Overcoming Obstacles
Jerry White remembers sitting in his wheelchair in an Israeli hospital, looking at his nurse.
When he found her, she just stared back, without sympathy, making no effort to help the 20-year-old American who had just had his right leg blown off by a landmine the week before.
“I expected them to help me, but the nurses just stared back,” remembers White, now working for the U.S. State Department as a Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization. “They told me to get my own lunch. The cafeteria was ‘that way.’”
The day he lost his leg – specifically, April 12, 1984—became White’s before-and-after date. It’s dates
White at PLU
White will reflect on his journey, as well as his current job, which entails reaching out to leaders – both religious and secular – in the world’s conflict areas, when he comes to Pacific Lutheran University on Feb. 21 as one of the keynote speakers of the Wang Center Symposium: Legacies of the Shoah.
White specializes in building cross-border coalitions and history-making campaigns, three of which led to major international treaties: the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the Cluster Munitions Treaty and the Mine Ban Treaty.
White remembers the former princess, who died a year after he met her, as a woman of natural charisma and keen intuition and intelligence.
“It was crazy to be hit in the face with that charismatic energy that she had,” he remembered. “She could come into a room and diagnose from the people there who was in the most pain. Her emotional and empathic intelligence was off the charts.”
She also had quite a sense of humor. When reviewing their “dates” after a particularly somber meeting with landmine victims, White said that Diana at first quipped that hers was July, 29 1981, the date she married Prince Charles.
As for his work against landmines, it’s not done. There are between 60 to 80 million still in the world—no one really knows for sure, he said. White obviously feels he’s just where he’s supposed to be right now – he had planned, before taking his current job, to become an academic in Cambridge. Life had other plans to put him in the right place, in the right job.
“I’m at my best under fire,” he said. “I’m at my worst when I stub my big toe.”
As for his advice to students who may be in the audience on Feb. 21?
Life will give you a date. Eventually. Inevitably. Choose life, and choose to make a difference because of it, he said.
“Victimhood is a disease you can slip into, “he said. “Use the crises in your life, big and small, to begin training to become resilient.
“Whether it’s before or after, transitions are quite formative,” White said. “When you ask people about the before and after moment, if it’s an international student crowd, quite a few will raise their hand. If it’s more of a preppy town, less hands will be raised. But your time will come.”