At the 2017 Spirit of Humanity Forum in Iceland, Jim Paymar sat down with Iceland’s Minister of Health, Ottarr Propper, who has attended each of the SOH Forums so far, to look at what has changed over the years in the Forum, but also what other countries can learn from Iceland.

JP: You have been to the Spirit Of Humanity Forum before, tell us what it means to have this Forum convene here in Iceland?

OP: For me it is a great opportunity to meet a very diverse group of people, a lot of very important characters who are working all over the world in different settings. That we are speaking about spirituality and the use of spirituality, and the reason it is so fitting we are meeting in Iceland is because Iceland is just a speck in the middle of the ocean, it is a small place, we are in between continents, we are not a part of a super power, so there is a free space for everybody.

JP: What do you see the Forum accomplishing?

OP: For the participants it is a great way of connecting with people who you may not usually connect with. But also taking a dedicated timeout to speak about spirituality and practical issues in a worldwide manner. We are not thinking about anything else, and for me that is so good. It feels like airing my brain out.

JP: Can spirituality help us as a world to help us solve the big problems, like climate change?

OP: I do believe so. Spirituality is a part of our make up as human beings and communities. It is an instinctive way for us to live together. Nowadays we often talk about attitudes changing, that can be a spiritual movement. The movement when they change, when we stop thinking about nature just as a resource and actually something that has its own value, something precious for example. That is a change in attitude but actually a spiritual change, and spirituality is not only an aspect but a tool for us.

JP: What has changed over time at the Forum?

OP: For me the first forum was a bit of trial and error. Trying to figure out what and why we were doing the forum and for what. Since then it has matured, we have seen more members coming in and a more diverse group, but also the purpose is more intense. I remember when we were working before trying to organise the first forum was whether it should be a closed session that was a safe session, or should it be open. I think now we have the confidence we are doing this not only as a session for the participants but also that we are open to speaking to the wider world.

JP: One of the reasons that Iceland was selected is because it is so peaceful by and large. How can we spread that beyond Iceland?

OP: I am an optimist, and believe everything is possible. The first step is to show it is possible. In 1980 Iceland was the first nation to elect a female president. Before that it was totally unthinkable. But after we had a female president, it became so normal, so much so that kids would say ‘he can’t be president, he’s male’. But other countries could look and see it was possible to have a female president. A small nation can of course spread a philosophy.

JP: Do you see a point in time that some of the things you have done here in terms of domestic violence, demilitarising, to be possibilities?

OP: I do, but not the easy way out. It is such an important goal that we need to strive for it even if it is far away. We have to start somewhere and an important part of that is to show it is possible.