For my books, coaching, and consulting, I have interviewed truly amazing people from all over the globe — individuals who I can only dream of emulating. Business leaders, social activists, scientists seeking to cure cancer, Hollywood producers, as well as Uber drivers, stockroom pickers, janitors, teachers, and bricklayers.
One of the most amazing is Feriha Nazir Aziz Peracha, a psychologist in Pakistan. Here’s part of what she shared with me…
“I had no idea what I was getting into. I was asked to profile the first twelve children who were apprehended during the counterinsurgency. I was scared of them,” she says after we promise to hide her face when sharing her interview.
“I soon realized that they were probably more scared of me, and that they were vulnerable, but not dangerous. But they were made to behave in a very dangerous way — so they should be given an opportunity to change that.
“It was an experience that left a deep impression. I was aghast at how children could be used in this way, as fodder.”
Feriha Nazir Aziz Peracha, is director and supervising psychologist for the Sabaoon Project, a school in the Swat valley of Pakistan. It was established to de-radicalize young boys after they had been abducted and unwillingly indoctrinated into the Taliban — as some have called her mission, “defusing human bombs.”
When they come to her, most no older than 12 or 13, they are filled with hatred, suspicion and defensiveness. Many had killed others, including their own townspeople, under the direction of the Taliban.
Peracha does not feel heroic. “I did nothing extraordinary. I just gave them good education, food, and psycho-social intervention for all the trauma they had been through, and religious education, so they understood the true teachings of love in Islam and the Qur’an.”
Yet she still lives with cautionary fear. Not only did she ask me to disguise her face during our Skype conversation, but she twice asked me to edit out certain portions of our interview to help ensure her safety.
So, how did she persevere? What did she call upon? “As a child I went to a convent school, and I had to read scripture,” she shares. “As I was raised Muslim, my mother was shocked: How could I learn scripture before I learned the Qur’an? My father said ‘She’s going to learn the Qur’an from the Bible. That’s a book of God, too.’”
“That simple idea — that we are all connected — has influenced my entire life. It has made it easier. The divisions are gone. I don’t know why in this day and age, where we communicate so fast, why these extreme and horrific views are prevailing still.”
She concludes, “We are living in one global village. Us and them … you and me … at some point in time, we have to erase those lines, don’t we?”
That’s where everyday, ordinary people — like you and me — come up with extraordinary courage and learn to push past our fears or whatever is holding us back.
When everything around you is in a state of disruption, flux, and is filled with sometimes scary change: the one thing that will keep you going, the one thing that will help you figure out what to do and how to do it, is your values.
Your values. That’s basic. A timeless character trait. We all have them. You learned yours from your family, your religion, your schooling, your community. They’re ingrained in you.
Your values. That’s the one thing to call upon to when fear says “no,” to turn that around into “fear means go!”