As a young man, Paul White could no longer tolerate the racial discrimination he was forced to live with in Brazil. Nor could he subscribe to his father's passive acceptance of a place that would allow a 9-year-old boy to be killed, unchallenged, simply because he was black. He felt compelled to search for a gentler, more accepting and tolerant place to live.
After living abroad, working for the International Voluntary Service (IVS), Paul found what he was looking for in Laos. There, he also met his wife, Somphon Siriphot. He tried to ignore his father's advice to always search for ways to convert negatives to positives. He subsequently realized he'd unconsciously integrated his dad's philosophy.
Paul later joined the US Foreign Service, working mainly for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Over 34 years with that agency Paul was instrumental in establishing social and economic development programs around the world and overseeing billions of dollars in U.S. economic assistance that has aided millions of people in third world countries.
The diplomat, with his wife, a nurse of Asian decent, now lives in Virginia working out of Washington D.C. He recently left his assignment at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico. Paul recalled when he realized that his own philosophy had coalesced with his dad's.
"The first time I ever remember actively using my father's "philosophy" of converting negatives to positives," Paul said, "was when talking with an anti-war friend of mine in Laos about IVS's involvement in Vietnam during the war.
"I said, look, I'm not responsible for the war, but I know the war refugees that I'm working with really need U.S. assistance. I'm building schools and clinics and training teachers and medics. I believe that is what I was called to do. Sometimes you just have to take a bad situation and try to make it as good as you can."
Prejudice and discrimination, of any kind, is the result of fear and ignorance. It's best combated with knowledge, understanding and compassion. By doing that, negative input truly can be turned into a positive outcome.
"It's just like the Japanese martial art of ju-jitsu," Paul said. "You use the energy from the negative force to defeat itself."
Paul's father seemed to know that and taught it to his son, not through the force of his actions or words, but by his quiet deeds and demeanor. Paul said that he joined the Foreign Service with the idealistic vision of John F. Kennedy, to change the world and make it a better place.
"Thank God, the world has changed," Paul said. "We live in a different world, today and it's a better place because of the changes. Even so, discrimination still exists. Most people face some kind of bigotry everyday. It's so important that we all respect one another.
"Though seemingly minor and not noticed by many, or if noticed, quickly forgotten by most, little acts of unkindness or cruelty perpetuated against others are tremendously powerful to those most directly impacted. They burn indelible impressions into hearts and minds that are not forgotten over a lifetime. The opposite is also true. Small acts of kindness can change the world in beautiful ways."
"As I said, I'm just an ordinary man who was given opportunities to do extraordinary things. I hope that I have fully used the opportunities offered to me and that I have let the challenges be inspirations rather than hurdles. I attribute much of what ever success I have had to the very solid foundation that I received in Brazil from family and friends, teachers, church, boy scout leaders and others. And especially, from my dad."