Building Sanctuary for People, Animals, and Society

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By Hope Ferdowsian, MD, MPH

As a physician, I have spent years traveling the world to work with people and animals who have endured trauma—war, abuse, and displacement often driven by division and gaps in empathy. Over my career, I have also had the privilege of caring for patients and leading key research, educational, and policy initiatives. Many of these efforts have focused on the connection between the rights, health, and wellbeing of people and animals, as described in Phoenix Zones: Where Strength Is Born and Resilience Lives. Along the way, and as described in Phoenix Zones, I have had the honor of working in and visiting real and virtual sanctuaries where the injured can heal and thrive—from Congolese women thriving in a war zone to combat veterans and wolves recovering in a California refuge to political refugees seeking care in my own medical clinic.

These real and virtual sanctuaries have something important in common, and they provide lessons on how we as a society can better prevent, respond to, and overcome a history of violence and indifference. Individually and collectively, they advance principles like respect for liberty and sovereignty, the promotion of compassion, justice, and opportunity, and a belief that each individual has intrinsic worth. They provide guidance on how we can work together to create a world that is itself a sanctuary—a world marked by peace and healing instead of unmitigated suffering.

Toward this end, the Phoenix Zones Initiative is envisioned as a solution to structural violence, an unjust and divisive organization of society which trickles down to the individual in the form of suffering. Informed by what are found in Phoenix Zones, real and virtual sanctuaries around the globe, as well as the latest evidence on empathy, unity, and social progress, the Initiative aims to reach across imagined boundaries, foster key alliances, and build bridges to better address human and animal suffering.

In the fall of 2019, we will bring together key stakeholders working across myriad professional sectors and various human and animal rights movements to address a key question at the heart of the mission of the Phoenix Zones Initiative:

How can leaders across sectors work collectively to advance the rights, health, and wellbeing of people and animals with the urgency and sustainability required?”

At the nonpartisan summit, we will identify and develop cross-sectoral short-term and long-term strategies that revolutionize the ways in which the rights, health, and wellbeing of humans and nonhumans are perceived and advanced, specifically:

  • Novel opportunities that nimbly address structural violence against both people and animals;
  • An expansion of existing initiatives that effectively advance the rights, health, and wellbeing of people and animals; and
  • Systems-based, collective leadership and the creation of thriving formal and informal alliances to catalyze more rapid social progress.

At the meeting and beyond, we plan to address the creative tension between vision and reality and foster results-oriented processes toward measurable impact. We will set off on a path to deconstruct pathogenic norms, attitudes, and behaviors, and existing legal and political paradigms—as well as the myth that progress is a zero sum game—in order to fuel structural resilience instead of structural violence.

If you’re interested in learning more, or contributing in some way, please reach out. Because big problems require big solutions. Today, we can and must dream and plan on a scale commensurate with what is at stake—the very principles and lives we hold dear.