In “How to reverse Mexico’s slide into a failed state,” (Nov. 9) New York Times columnist Bret Stephens emphasized the horrible massacre of women and children in northern Sonora, the Mexican economy’s nearing recession, the security forces beaten back while trying to arrest the son of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman and the weakness in Mexico’s judicial system.

We are not in a position to contradict any of this. But like so much of what the professional media engulf us with, the message is relentlessly depressing.

We have had the good fortune to get to know another dimension of Mexico. Our small local foundation, the Sullivan Ballou Fund, seeks out and recognizes people out of the limelight who are sharing their hearts with those around them. We have recently given two of our admittedly small financial awards to two members of Juvenile Justice Advocates International, an organization with Minnesota roots that is helping Mexican authorities improve the country’s system for juveniles in detention.

As a young lawyer, Sarahi Garcia Martinez spent her days in Mexico City fighting with prosecutors and judges to obtain justice for victims of human trafficking, and then spent evenings training volunteers and even sleeping in a group home. With JJAI in Chihuahua, her team monitors detention conditions for children and coordinates a network of churches and volunteers that provides shoes, clothing and family contact for children in detention.

She is fearless in confronting guards and wardens when she enters Ciudad Juárez prison, and none of this work was deterred even by the murder of a close associate of JJAI in 2018.

Andrea Moya Cordero came to JJAI from being president of an orphanage in Chihuahua. She trains volunteers, leads classes in detention and organizes events — like getting a nationally renowned opera singer to perform at a mothers’ day concert right in the detention center. She provides support for the families of children in detention — from getting bus tickets and arranging baby-sitters on visiting days, to tracking down children lost in the system and even arranging for a family to move to safety when their son was threatened by local gangs.

Stephens recommends an integrated civil/military counterinsurgency campaign conducted in Mexico like the surge in Iraq. It may well be that Mexico is at the point where that is the only viable option left. But perhaps Stephens should also see more value in Mexican President Lopez Obrador’s combating cartel violence with social programs and advocating “hugs, not bullets.”

Mexico’s most important natural resource is its courageous and good people. We should never overlook the significance of people like Andrea and Sarahi. After all, the historical evidence about the impact of heart energy is uncontestable. Perhaps the three most successful leaders in modern times were Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela. What bloodbaths did their open hearts forestall?

The process of achieving goals by attracting rather than coercing others is summed up by the term “soft power.” Initially recognized as an effective tool of international diplomacy, soft power means using credibility and legitimacy to attract others into a coalition seeking a common vision. The former dean of the Harvard Kennedy School, Joseph Nye, Jr., has recognized the value of “soft power” in the domestic scene:

“In the business world, smart executives know that leadership is not just a matter of issuing commands, but also involves leading by example and attracting others to do what you want. Similarly, contemporary practices of community-based policing rely on making the police sufficiently friendly and attractive that a community wants to help them achieve shared objectives.”

Looking just one step behind the grim headlines shows that diverse institutions are recognizing that attracting people to shared values is more effective than coercion. We have had personal experience with two.

The criminal justice system has found that in many situations therapeutic courts and restorative justice produce better results than retribution. And the medical establishment is realizing that just as important as following doctors’ orders is attracting people to self-care through techniques like mindfulness and even free health club memberships.

When you are standing in a dark place, you need lights along the path to find your way. That’s why awareness and respect for the brave hearts of people such as Sarahi and Andrea are so important. What inspires us can also empower us — but we have to see it.

We know from our foundation work that inspirational people can be found anywhere you consciously choose to look. We pray that the Mexican people can perceive the abundant heart energy in their country to guide them out of this darkness together.


Elissa Peterson is a therapist. Bruce Peterson is a senior Hennepin County judge. They are the co-founders of the Sullivan Ballou Fund.