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Private Scilla

Serving the Planet

I come from a military family. When I was 11 years old, my big brothers taught me how to fire a shotgun.I felt enormously pleased with myself, and went out into the woods alone. There I saw a nest high up in a tree, and I did something that was completely taboo. I pointed the gun upwards, aimed, and pulled the trigger. Down on my head came bits of stick, pieces of eggshell, pieces of embryo chick, and the sky blue feathers of the mother bird. I was so profoundly shocked by the violence of which I was capable, that I took the gun home and never touched it again.

I’ve spent the intervening years helping to prevent armed violence. I’ve seen how just one sniper’s bullet can condemn a family to three generations of suffering, never mind the human catastrophe of a missile attack. From what we have learned of the carnage of the past century, we humans now know enough about how to prevent war, that we can plan a viable world without war.

Photo courtesy of the brilliant Stuey Burnett (

I talk quite a lot about self knowledge

Some would say I go on about it, and I even helped start an organisation named SKGR [Self Knowledge Global Responsibility]. But I don’t always enjoy it.

My particular challenge is my hyper-active, noisy, unkind inner critic. It hits me as soon as I’ve done something a bit less than perfect. It evens hits me before I’ve done something a bit less than perfect, with the result that I lose my nerve. I get scared. So, what to do about fear? I have a little mantra: The things I dread get fat on the energy I feed them. Then they become real.

We all know the syndrome: I’m anxious about something, I worry about it, next thing I know I wake at 3am in a cold sweat, and by 4am I’m pinned to the pillow by this huge monster. That’s the moment to get up, make a cup of tea, and deal with the fear. I actually talk to it, as if I am the parent and it is the child, and I instantly feel better. I find out what it needs. Then we make a plan. Then I say: “Right. We’ll wake up in the morning and put the plan into action. But now it’s time to sleep.” And usually we do.

Scilla at her home in Sherborne

So what about anger?
Inevitably, where there’s injustice, there’s anger. Anger’s useful, but it’s inflammable, like gasoline. And like gasoline, if you spray it around and someone lights a match, there’s an inferno. But if you keep it well enclosed in an engine, it can give you the energy and courage you need, and drive you forward.

When I started working on dialogue with nuclear weapons policy makers, I was so outraged at the dangers they were exposing us to, I wanted to argue, rage, shout at them. Entirely ineffective. It took me a little while to learn that it was OK to use anger to fuel the work to eliminate nuclear weapons, but it was pointless – counter-productive in fact – to get angry with the people doing it.

Facing a crisis
When we face a crisis (especially if its accompanied by a nasty inner saboteur) it’s easy to freeze. I become stiff and I forget to breathe, with the result that the blood stops getting to my brain. So just when I need to fire on all cylinders, I’m sputtering on half of one.

I find that the best antidote is humour, and to bear in mind that this is merely an AFGO (another f***ing growth opportunity).
I reckon:

  • Emotional crisis enables change.
  • It’s the opportunity for change.
  • And things have to be excruciating before we change.
  • And the only person I can possibly change is [I’m afraid to say] me.

“I chose to work with Scilla as she has such a vast knowledge in the area of weapons of mass destruction. Her advice has been instrumental in seeing through my vision for the death star. Also, be careful what you say or I might kill you with a tray!”

Lord Vader
Supreme Commander of the Imperial Forces