Peace day speaker shares power of compassion

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Anna Marie Lux
Monday, September 16, 2013

JANESVILLE--Visitors to Janesville's Peace Park on Saturday will hear from a man who has every reason to be angry.

A gunman entered his place of worship at the Oak Creek Sikh Temple in August 2012 and shot six people, including his father.

But Pardeep Kaleka chooses to cultivate understanding rather than anger.

“I will talk about the power of compassion,” he said. “I will talk about how we have to do things compassionately so we can have productive discussions.”

Kaleka of Milwaukee is the keynote speaker at the second annual International Day of Peace, which will feature a labyrinth, peace readings and activities for kids at Janesville's Peace Park.

“Pardeep will speak as someone who has been injured by the kind of senseless violence we see everywhere,” said Michael Coogan of the Rock County Diversity Action Team. “But in spite of what happened to him, he says that we should be trying to take care of one another. He speaks with such conviction.”

Sponsors of the event include the diversity action team, the Hedberg Public Library and Rock Valley Fellowship of Reconciliation.

In addition to Saturday's program, the library is hosting a film Wednesday and a brown bag lunch Friday for peace discussions.

Kaleka was determined to turn the horror of the Sikh temple shooting into something positive.

He teamed up with Arno Michaelis, a former white supremacist, to talk about the practice of compassion. Together, they started a group called Serve 2 Unite, which brings together youth from many belief systems and cultural backgrounds.

“The purpose is to get more kids involved in peacemaking activities,” Kaleka said. “We get them to work on projects that address social issues near and dear to them and their communities.”

Last year, two Milwaukee schools with students from different backgrounds worked together on projects addressing racism, poverty and gay and lesbian rights. One of the schools does not allow its students outside at recess because of gun violence.

Kaleka believes that approaching difficult issues, including race, religion and politics, with compassion will help people find common ground.

“Sometimes, we ostracize the other side,” Kaleka said. “We have all this prejudice, and can't see what the world looks like beyond our own experiences. We need to be more open to hearing someone else's perspective.”

Kaleka is a former police officer who teaches at-risk teens with behavior and learning problems. He is married and the father of three young children. His late father, Satwant, was president of the temple.

Soon after the Oak Creek tragedy, all kinds of people identified with the humanity of the Sikh victims.

“They realized that my father was like any other hardworking immigrant who wanted something better for his children,” Kaleka said. “They saw that we share a common humanity.”

In addition to Kaleka, Maureen McDonnell, a Dominican sister of Sinsinawa, will talk about her work as a spiritual guide. She helps people explore their relationships with God. Her focus is on finding peace from within.

“Peace in any community begins with personal peace,” she explained. “We have to have peace inside ourselves before we can be part of an international community of peace.”

In 2006, she and two others began Wisdom's Well Spirituality Center of Madison. They provide spiritual guidance to adults and also offer programs.

Janesville's annual Peace Day event grew out of an observance marking the 10th anniversary of 9/11.

“There is a global unity in what we are doing,” Coogan said. “Peace Day celebrations are happening all around the world on the same day.”

Coogan said it is idealistic, but he believes that personal peace can grow into community peace and world peace.

“This is an opportunity for our citizens to connect with one another,” he said. “If I can be a peacemaker in my own world, I think peace will grow from there.”

Anna Marie Lux is a columnist for The Gazette. Her columns run Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call her with ideas or comments at (608) 755-8264, or email amarielux@gazettextra.com.

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