Dipping my feet in Americana waters

“What is the purpose of your visit? And how long are you staying?” are the routine questions I hear from US Customs and Border control upon arrival. I have quite the collection of memories from these annual interviews. Waiting in line for my turn, trying to decide which customs guy looks the friendliest, preparing my answers… I even have a list of my preferred airports to arrive in (Minneapolis, Portland) and my least favorite (Los Angeles, New York)

This time I traveled through Chicago and it was a late night arrival. I think the officer was ready to go home and not interested in long chats. “Where are you going?” was all he asked and stamped my passport. Surely he saw how many US stamps there are already. I hesitated when the customs guy asked if I have any food items to declare but decided that Latvian chocolate bars I was bringing as gifts did not count. Chocolate is not food, right?

I have never stayed longer than three months and have never lived in the United States. Besides visiting family and friends and speaking engagements, there are many reasons to enjoy it. America (even the US part of it) is just so big. I have lost count of the places visited but the wish list keeps getting longer and longer. I have yet to see the wilderness of Alaska, the mountains of Colorado, the museums of Washington D.C., the Grand Canyon of Arizona, the Statue of Liberty (if I don’t count seeing it from the airplane) and the list goes on.

It is no secret that Europeans and Americans often differ in their views. I would describe our relationship as mutual ‘I really like you but you frustrate me. And at times annoy’. It is sometimes complicated but, no doubt, we care about each other’s opinion. How can we possibly avoid it when so much of American gene is of European descent?! My American friends ask me what Europeans think about their international image, policies and politics. My European friends ask me what is going on in America. Especially after this summer trip I am expecting a lot of questions.

When there are things that frustrate me about the US culture, I start countering it with the things I like. Frustrating ones first? This is a big nation and very self-sufficient. It annoys me how many Americans still do not realize how interconnected and interdependent the world is. For better or worse. Americans can be individualistic to the extreme. It annoys me when so many who have the means and money to travel, have no desire to visit other countries and learn about other cultures. It annoys me when people here complain about first-world problems and many think they are poor. I challenge their definition of ‘poverty’.

It annoys me when Americans talk about their government (as dysfunctional as it often seems) as tyrannical and authoritarian. Again I want to challenge this definition of ‘tyranny’ and ‘authoritative regime’. I was born in a tyrannical and authoritative system (the USSR) and I know the difference. Of course, there is abuse of power and corruption and deep rooted injustices but which embassies people line up to? Where do they expect to find liberty and opportunity and choice and free expression of themselves? For sure, the US is still at the top of the list where people want to immigrate.

And my list of positives? The number one is the acceptance and welcome of the immigrant and foreigner. Yes, it is not perfect but human beings are not perfect. Still, this land is beautiful because of its diversity of race, culture, religion, ethnicity, political opinion and ancestors. Few weeks ago there was an International Festival in Burnsville, Minnesota and it was great. Music, dances, cultural performances, food, kids activities. Cambodian, Indian, Thai, Pakistani, Somalian, Nigerian, Brazilian, Mexican… you name it. The last performers was a Latino band which got the whole crown dancing. And Latinos can dance! Just like Africans, their bodies just know how to sway with the rhythm.

Besides the beauty of the land, the diversity of its landscapes and its interesting history, I like the energy of this place. There are so many interesting ideas floating  in the air and people like to dream. I like the entrepreneur spirit and the innovations. I like the arts, music, books… I even like the optimism of Americans and the attitude of “why not?”, instead of “why?”

And going back to the freedom issue… I remember the first time I landed in the US and walked outside the airport in Seattle, Washington. I breathed in the air and it felt very different from what I had experienced growing up. It was not just a physical feeling of freedom, it was something deeper. I felt like I am appreciated just the way I am and I can express myself any way I want. And the policeman walking outside was actually a public servant and on my side.

One day I would like to read this poem on the Statue of Liberty with my own eyes:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
MOTHER OF EXILES. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

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Portland and London united in grief and love

A skateboard. Something that is simply fun even though I cannot find my balance. A bakery. Somewhere to go if you have a sweet tooth like me. A bridge. Something that connects and helps you to get from one side to another. Borough Market. I get hungry just thinking about all the delicious food in that area.

I never thought these things would bring tears to my eyes. Another week, another terrorist attack. Even for those of us whose communities have not experienced this kind of trauma and grief, it has become a tragic norm to read the stories (Manchester, Cairo, Kabul, Portland…), to watch the videos and to be deeply disturbed and heartbroken. Last week during the horrific attacks on London Bridge and around the Borough Market I was in Latvia and there was and still is so much sadness here. Yes, there have been too many of these kind of evils in Europe, Middle East, Asia, USA, Africa and elsewhere but this one felt even more personal and shocking.

Not only because so many Latvians have visited London and for many of us it is one of our favorite global cities that is so beautiful and friendly and fascinating. Of course, many also have friends and family who live and work in London now, including my own brother and his family. I know the streets they walk, the trains they take, the pubs they hand out in and the shops they favor.

The other tragedy that broke my heart was the horrible attack on the city commuter train in Portland, Oregon where on May 26 two guys got stabbed to death because they intervened on behalf of two young girls who were being insulted because of their ethnicity and religion. The attacker was yelling that “Muslims should die” and the girls should get out of “his country”. Ricky John Best and Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche died from their injuries when they were stabbed in the neck and the attacker was arrested while he was still yelling hateful slurs and acting proud of his actions that “that’s what liberalism gets you.”

And this happened in another one of my favorite cities (I admit I am a city girl). If I lived in the US, I would want to live in Portland. Yes, it rains there a lot (so it does in London) but it makes everything so green and beautiful. The rivers and the valley is gorgeous and Portland has been called the “City of Roses” for a long time because its climate is ideal for growing roses.

There is so much in common between these two recent tragedies and the way these cities are now united in grief. On the side of hate and exclusion, there was extreme views, violence, attacks by knife and stabbing anyone who gets in the way or tries to defend the innocent. In both places the attackers were yelling that they are defending some kind of higher cause and exposing their views who deserves to live and who deserves to die. Who is in “my country” or “us” and who is “them”. In both cases believed they were “righteous”.

On the side of love and embrace, there were people who were living one of those simple and everyday moments of life. Whether it was coming home from work on a full train or enjoying a nice summer weekend and hanging out with friends, lovers and family. And then there were the “ordinary” heroes. In Portland it was the guys who tried to de-escalate the situation and stood up to protect the girls. In London, there was the Spanish guy, Ignacio Echeverria, who tried to help a woman, used the only things he had in his hand – his skateboard – and lost his own life. Or the brave Romanian chef, Florin Morariu, who hit one of the attackers with a crate and then helped 20 people to hide in his bakery.

There were many more heroes and most will remain unknown and to them we are so grateful. To the people who experienced these horrors and will have the memories for the rest of their lives, we are so sorry. And to those who lost their loved ones, words cannot express…

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Photos from internet

 

 

Helpful or harmful to talk about painful national past?

This is a common and valid question. When do the wounds, losses and memories from time ago truly become things of the past? When does it heal and hurt no more? When does dwelling on the past become harmful and we get stuck in it? Increasingly many people in my global circle of friends are reflecting on these issues.

I was giving a lecture on principles of reconciliation and one Swiss student in Latvia asked me, “Why do we need to talk about these tragic things that people and nations have done to each other? Doesn’t this just stir the pain and keep it alive? Doesn’t it actually harm good relations and infect the present situation?” Again a very good question most often coming from the youth who are 25 and under. When I was 18 or 20, I would have asked the same thing as I often felt that the older generations talked too much about the past. I only had the future to worry about.

In my case, with time and experiences around the world came a desire to see the bigger picture and also a realization that actually we do inherit national memories from the generations before us. We claim that it is “not our problem” and that we are “not responsible”. But we look at the reality around us and see that ‘yesterday’ still has a strong effect on ‘today’. And then we start to take ‘tomorrow’ more seriously because it cannot be taken for granted.

I use the word ‘yesterday’ because in this part of the world we live in very young nations. I don’t mean cultures or ethnic identities because there is long history here but many of our republics are celebrating 100 year anniversaries. Republic of Latvia is preparing to celebrate its 100th anniversary on November 18, 2018 and Estonia on February 24, 2018. Lithuania has a much longer history of statehood but on February 16, 2018 it will celebrate 100th anniversary of the Restoration of the State.

100 years is not a very long time. I did not know it when I was a teenager but I understand it now because my grandmother is only 5 years younger than the Republic of Latvia. And her generation is still around with their memories and stories and things to teach and pass on. In this life span there have been exciting highs of free society, high achievements, big dreams and deep despair of war, bloodshed, holocaust, ethnic cleansing. 50 of those years Latvia and Estonia and Lithuania have been occupied by a Soviet regime and forced to live under a system which was foreign and destructive. Not just physically, but psychologically, emotionally and socially.

Metaphorically speaking, we still feel this Soviet system poison in our ‘veins’ and we need to flush it out if we want to be healthy. How? Part of it is calling things their real names. For example, the Soviet times taught people not to trust anyone and how to become hypocrites. Saying one thing but thinking another and then doing something else entirely. The private and public lives often did not match but everyone knew it and pretended. The system was good at pretending. And we still find it hard to trust anyone and we still struggle with lots of corruption because our psyche has been so corrupted.

Another thing we need to flush out is “us” and “them” mentality. Again, the Soviets were masters of this art and they had good disciples. “International” by name but “chauvinist” by nature. And history was so politicized and used for propaganda and brainwashing that we actually could not have an honest truth seeking, grieving, forgiving, apologizing and reconciling.

So, you see we are dealing with questions which should have been addressed before but were delayed. The first step in any reconciliation process is truth seeking. If there is a conflict, pain or resentment, it is a given that something happened. What happened? Why did it happen? How did it effect people? This part of the homework is super hard. Many people want to skip over it completely. One journalist asked, “Can we have reconciliation first and then try to find out the truth?” Sorry to disappoint but it is not possible. That would be called “avoiding the topic” or “sweeping things under the carpet”. And that is exactly what most people and societies do because it seems much easier.

(I am not talking about situations where there is real violence and war and brutal conflict. Of course, you first need to have a ceasefire and stop killing each other and let things calm down before you can even address these deep issues. The basic need is always to preserve people’s lives and take care of their basic need like food, shelter and safety. You do not hold Truth and Reconciliation Committees in a battle zone.)

Last week I wrote about a Reconciliation event in Riga. There I had a conversation with a Latvian whose ethnic background is Russian. He is 21 years old and he was completely convinced that “if we truly want to have better relations with each other, we need to start by apologizing. If we only come together and talk about the facts but take no personal responsibility, we will get nowhere. When we come together, we need to ask each other for forgiveness.”

He wants a good and long future for Latvia and all people in Latvia and for those who will come to live here. So do I. The same for Lithuanians, Estonians, Poles, Russians, Ukrainians… and you can add your country to the list. This is exactly why we need deep and honest reflections about ‘yesterday’ if we desire a good ‘today’ and better ‘tomorrow’. And start apologizing and forgiving where needed.

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Spring time in Rīga (photos from personal archive)

 

Good Friday and The Cranberries in my head

The keywords  – Ireland, The Cranberries, Good Friday and Jesus – are not equal in importance but they are all part of my story.

I am a big fan of Ireland! I have never lived there (my brother has, my friends and close relatives do) but I have always been fascinated by it. The Celtic art, the history, the music, the land, the people. No, let’s put the hospitality first! Through marriage I even inherited a family name that is well-known in Ireland. Lansdowne road, Lansdowne rugby club and so on.  My American husband is an ‘Irish wanna-be’.

I am a big fan of 90’s rock bands! The Cranberries, Pearl Jam, Jesus Jones and Nirvana to name just a few. While living in Southeast Asia, I discovered how much Asians like to sing cover songs and I cannot count how many times I heard “Smells Like Teen Spirits” or “Zombie“, And every time I heard someone sing “Zombie” in open cafe, bar or street corner, I could not help but think, “They probably have no idea. What if they understood what the Troubles in Northern Ireland were?”

When I first heard this song I did not pay attention to the lyrics either. At the time it was just another popular rock song with great female vocals. We tried to sing as angry and aggressive as Dolores O’Riordan because we felt it was a protest song. But protesting against what? And what is this zombie in your head?

“Another head hangs lowly
Child is slowly taken
And the violence caused such silence
Who are we mistaken

But you see it’s not me
It’s not my family
In your head, in your
Head they are fighting

In your head, in your head
Zombie, zombie, zombie”

This song came to my mind recently! Last week I wrote about Syria and my words felt so inadequate, small and flat.  Innocent children keep dying in this war and I hear this angry and aggressive voice  singing again “And the violence caused such silence, Who are we mistaken?”

Here is the important part – I am also a big fan of Jesus of Nazareth! This week Christians around the world are celebrating and remembering the events that are the cornerstone of our faith . For me it has everything to do with what I see around. Borrowing the words of a Croat theologian Miroslav Volf, “A genuinely Christian reflection on social issues must be rooted in the self-giving love of the divine Trinity as manifested on the cross of Christ.” To many people the cross is an offensive symbol but I think of it as a scandal. This kind of humiliation and seeming defeat is the ultimate scandal. Jesus gives himself for the others but the violence does not stop. It takes his life and the powers-to-be seem unshaken.

But there is no way around the cross. There is no modern or post-modern solution to our or any age. M. Volf thinks that modernity creates “culture of social hope” and post-modernity creates “culture of endurance”. Jesus creates neither. Our world is healed by the “weakness” and “foolishness” of the self-giving love.

Going back to the Cranberries and Northern Ireland, I am also a big fan of Good Friday Agreement! What a beautiful name to have for a reconciliation process! Next year it will be 20 years since it was agreed in Belfast on April 10, 1998. Again I am speaking as an outsider who has neither lived through the violence nor faced the challenges and the walls that still exist. But I have much hope and faith and the people in Northern Ireland show us all something crucial.

Our world desperately needs Good Friday agreements. Unless we want to keep singing, “In your head, in your head… zombie, zombie… du, du, du, du”

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The Cranberries (photos from internet)

 

Zooming in and out this world and life of ours

Bangkok – Moscow – Riga… my flight itinerary the other day. I have been on this route many times before, bridging Southeast Asia and Northern Europe in less than 12 hours. Once I mentioned to a friend that I feel my one foot in Latvia and the other in Thailand. My friend laughed: “That is quite the leg split. How do you manage?”

On the long-haul flights I face a dilemma. Do I take the aisle seat for convenience of getting in and out without disturbing others?  Or do I take the window seat and catch the glimpses of the world bellow? Flying higher than even the migratory birds fly, for most of us this is high as it gets.

On this last flight I was lost in deep thoughts on what I had just experienced in Thailand and what was waiting for me back in Europe. It feels like the whole world is in some strange limbo and the scenes are changing and the events are happening much faster than our brains can process. (I guess this is why some people look to artificial intelligence with so many hopes and dreams. I am not one of them, though.)

And then I discovered a feature on our in-flight entertainment that kept me occupied and enchanted. When looking at the flight map and the plane location, it offered different views and angles. You could click on “right wing” and get the names of cities and places looking east. Or click on the view “left wing” and explore the west. There was the option of “cockpit view” or the view from underneath the plane. If the sky was clear, you could hope to get some actual views of landscape.

But my favorite thing was the zoom “in” and “out” option. At first everything was up close. Here is the plane and here is the name of some place I have never heard of. My first question is – where are we? What country is this? I would start to zoom out to get the big picture. “I see. Now we are flying over India and then we will cross into Pakistan airspace and then Afghanistan. Wow! And then other countries in Central Asia. And then the big country of Russia and finally my little country of Latvia. I love it.”

You can say that I am a big picture girl. Whether it’s the maps or the news.  I always read about the global affairs before the domestic ones. I always think of how something in Myanmar will impact the neighbors, how the regime in North Korea does not care about its own people and even less about the rest of us,  how the whole world is following every word that US president Donald Trump says and watching every move he makes (even my elderly Thai neighbors in Chiang Mai, Thailand asked me what I think about Donald Trump.. and we have never discussed politics before… ever)

There is no going back. Our world is so interconnected and when any part of the world hurts, it hurts the others. When any part is doing well and experiencing peace and well being, it helps the others. Even if by giving hope and dreams. We can speak “isolationism” and act like we are going to “circle the wagons” and only take care of “our own people” and put “our country first” but this is not the world we live in. We cannot create some walled-in enclaves of “peace and prosperity” as the way into the future. I don’t believe that this kind of picture of the world is good or desirable or possible.

What kind of picture of the world is desirable? Well, that is the big question and I certainly don’t have the full answer. Again, looking from the bird’s view, the challenges are huge – climate change will continue (human made or natural, it is happening), social inequality continues to widen (within countries  and among countries) and global migration will continue (and lots of it is connected to the first two ). You cannot live in your corner of the world and think that somehow these global challenges will not effect you.

But the reverse is true also and that is why I like to zoom in. Each country is cities, towns, villages and homesteads. Each place is people and families. I fly over the mega cities of India and think of all the millions of people down there and their daily lives and their hopes and their prayers. So many have to work very hard just to survive and cannot dream of sitting in those airplanes flying high above their heads.

I was looking at the landscape of Afghanistan and could see the roads weaving through the desert. I know people who have been there – soldiers, nurses, missionaries, volunteers, journalists. They have a real on the ground experience of this nation. The good and the not so good, the beautiful and not so beautiful, the daily lives of people. Their joys and their fears and their questions and their goals.

From my high ‘moral’ place in the sky, I cannot change anything on the ground. I start by zooming in and thinking about the actual dear people down there. I start by living out my vision wherever I land. I zoom in to be actually ‘present’ and ‘among’.

My point is – we need both. We need to lift our eyes to see that there is much more happening than what we realize and we need to lower our eyes to see the people right in front of us.

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Waiting to board my flight in Bangkok

Latvian:

Bangkoka – Maskava – Rīga… tāds bija mans maršruts. Esmu lidojusi šo ceļu vairākas reizes, savienojot Dienvidaustrumāziju un Ziemeļeiropu kādās 12 stundās. Reiz es stāstīju vienam draugam, ka esmu ar vienu kāju Latvijā un ar otru Taizemē. Viņš smējās: “Tad gan tev riktīgs špagats. Kā tu noturi līdzsvaru?”

Garajos pārlidojumos grūti izvēlēties. Vai sēdēt pie ejas, lai vieglāk tieku ārā no krēsla, netraucējot pārējiem? Vai arī sēdēt pie loga, lai baudītu dabas skatus, ja gadījumā nav mākoņu? Lidojot augstumā, kur tikai retais gājputns iemaldās.

Šajā nesenajā lidojumā biju iegrimusi pārdomās par tikko piedzīvoto Taizemē un par to, kas mani sagaida Latvijā. Ir sajūta, ka visā pasaulē sašūpojusies morālā un skaidrā saprāta ass. Notikumi un visādi pavērsieni uzņēmuši tik strauju gaitu, ka smadzenes netiek līdzi ( varu saprast, kāpēc daži tik ļoti ilgojas pēc mākslīgā intelekta, bet es par to nesapņoju).

Un tad es atklāju vienu ļoti jauku un interesantu izklaidi uz mazā TV ekrāna, kas ir katram pasažierim. Parasti var sekot līdzi lidojuma statusam un lidmašīnas atrašanās vietai, bet tagad mūsdienu tehnoloģijas pievieno vēl visādas iespējas. Piemēram, skats no “labā spārna”, kas norāda uz vietu nosaukumiem uz austrumiem. Vai arī skats no “kreisā spārna”, kas šoreiz bija skats uz rietumiem. Vēl bija skats no “pilota kabīnes” un skats “zem lidmašīnas”. Ja debesis bija skaidras, tad tiešām jūties kā putns.

Bet vislabāk man patika tāda opcija, kā “pietuvināt” vai “attālināt”. No sākuma karte rādīja visu tuvumā. Te ir lidmašīna, un te ir man nepazīstamas vietas nosaukums, kurai šobrīd lidojam pāri. Mana pirmā domā – kur mēs esam? Virs kuras valsts? Es sāku ‘attālināt’, lai redzētu kopbildi. “Skaidrs! Tagad lidojam pāri Indijas ziemeļiem un tad būsim Pakistānas gaisa telpā. Sekos Afganistāna un citas Centrālāzijas valstis. Cik interesanti! Tad būs lielā Krievija un pēc tam mazā Latvija. Kā man patīk ceļot!”

Man patīk lielā kopbilde un plašā perspektīva. Gan pasaules kartēs, gan pasaules ziņās. Es vienmēr lasu par notikumiem ārzemēs pirms vietējām ziņām. Es pārdomāju, kā attīstība Mjanmā ietekmēs kaimiņvalstis; kā Ziemeļkorejas režīms nicina savus tautiešus un vēl vairāk mūs pārejos; kā visa pasaule tagad seko katram ASV prezidenta Donalda Trampa vārdam un katram viņa lēmumam. Pat mani kaimiņi Taizemē, veci taizemieši, jautāja, ko es domājot par Trampu. Un viņi nekad nav runājuši ar mani par ārvalstu politiku. Nekad.

Laiku un pasauli nevar pagriezt atpakaļ. Mūsu dzīves ir tik cieši saistītas. Kad vienā pasaules malā iet grūti un ir karš vai bads vai citas nelaimes, pārējā pasaule arī cieš. Kad citā pasaules malā iet labi un mierīgi, pārējie arī ir ieguvēji. Kaut vai tādēļ, ka nezaudē cerību un savus sapņus. Mēs varam ‘izolēties’ un rupēties tikai par ‘savējiem’ un likt savu valsti ‘pirmajā vietā’, bet tāda pasaule vairs nepastāv. Mēs nevaram uzcelt sienas apkārt kaut kādām ‘miera un bagātības’ oāzēm, kur varēsim domāt un rupēties tikai par savu nākotni. Tāda pasaule nav ne vēlama, ne iespējama.

Kāda pasaule ir vēlama un iespējama? Tas ir tas lielais jautājums, un nevienam nav gatavas atbildes. Man ir šādas tādas domas, kas turpina veidoties. Tāpēc tik svarīgs ir tāds putna lidojums un skats no augšienes. Dažas problēmas tiešām ir milzīgas un globālas. Klimata pārmaiņas notiek un turpināsies (gan dabas, gan cilvēku izraisītās). Sociālās nevienlīdzības plaisa un netaisnīgums arī nemazinās, bet gan pieaug (gan valstu iekšienē, gan starp valstīm) un globālā migrācija un cilvēku kustība turpināsies (turklāt cieši saistīta ar pirmajām divām tendencēm). Tā kā skaidrs, ka nekāda izolēšanās nav atbilde un risinājums.

Taču tikpat svarīgi ir nolaisties uz zemes. Tāpēc man patika opcija “pietuvināt”. Katra valsts ir pilsētas, ciemati un mājas. Katra vieta ir cilvēki, indivīdi un ģimenes. Lidojam pāri Indijas daudzmiljonu pilsētām, un es domāju par cilvēkiem tur lejā. Domāju par viņu smago darbu, par viņu ikdienas dzīvi, par sapņiem, ilgām un lūgšanām. Tik daudzi var tikai noskatīties uz lidmašīnām sev virs galvas.

Varēju redzēt Afganistānas tuksnesi un ceļus, kuri vijās kā čūskas. Pazīstu cilvēkus, kuri tur ir bijuši – karavīri, medmāsas, ārsti, brīvprātīgie, misionāri, žurnālisti. Viņi ir, kaut arī nepilnīgi, guvuši zināmu pieredzi šajā zemē. Gan labo, gan slikto; gan skaisto, gan ne tik skaisto. Viņi var labāk iedziļināties afgāņu ikdienas dzīvē. Jo ir redzējuši cilvēku priekus un bēdas, bailes un cerības.

No sava augstā putna lidojuma es nevaru ietekmēt to, kas notiek uz zemes. Tāpēc vispirms ‘pietuvinu’ vietu nosaukumus un domāju par konkrētiem cilvēkiem. Pēc tam es lieku lietā savas atziņas un uzskatus dzīvē tur, kur nolaižos. Es pievelku ‘vistuvāk’ un cenšos būt ‘klāt’ un ‘blakus’.

Mums ir nepieciešamas abas perspektīvas. Mums ir jāpaceļ savas acis uz augšu, lai redzētu, kas notiek apkārt pasaulē, un mums ir jānolaiž savas acis, lai redzētu cilvēkus, kuri dotajā brīdī ir blakus.

 

Miscounting the bullets and choices that count the most

I have a new morning routine. I am not one of those people who can jump out of the bed once awake. I take my time and try to convince myself to look forward to getting up from the warm and cozy covers. The pillow has such a magnetic pull… So, I tell myself to make something useful of this ‘wrestling match’ and check the news headlines on my phone.

This morning I read the best news which made me so happy to get out of bed and live another day with hope and determination. I have been following the story of shooting of two Indian engineering students in a bar in Olathe, Kansas. One of them was killed and the other survived. One more sad hate crime committed by a distraught and unhappy man who had yelled out racial slurs and apparently thought that the victims were from the Middle East.  For those who have not heard what happened, here is a link to the news from February 22

The backstory brought me to happy tears and it deserves much more publicity.

First of all, the obvious hero in this incident is a local 25 year old guy, Ian Grillot. Someone who would be just another friendly face in a small town. Someone having a glass of beer and talking about going fishing the next day. But while he was hiding under the table and listening to the attacker firing shots, Ian was counting the bullets. Obviously he knows something about guns (as many Americans do) and he had made a fast decision to do something about this unfolding violence.

Ian went after the attacker, thinking that the weapon is out of bullets, only to be shot himself. The bullet pierced his hand and chest, hit his vertebrae and neck and barely missed the main artery. It is a miracle that Ian is recovering quickly and did not lose his life or ability to walk. When interviewed from the hospital bed, he said: “I was just doing what anyone should’ve done for another human being… It’s not about where he’s from or his ethnicity. We’re all humans. I just felt like I did what was naturally right to do.”

Now I found out more amazing details about the other patrons who were in the bar. The survivor, Alok Madasani, was helped a man named who ripped off his shirt and tied it around his leg to stop the bleeding. This act probably saved his life. “And earlier that evening, when the Indian engineers were at the receiving end of racial abuse, a businessman told them he’d taken care of their bill. He wanted to show that the language used by the suspected attacker was un-American.”

I try to imagine the scene and I can almost imagine how this tragic experience has united everyone who went through it. Sadly a life was lost but also the true meaning of life was found. When Ian said that he only did the naturally right thing, I think  about the power of these words and actions. When people use the slogan “Make America Great Again”, I hope they are thinking about Ian and those other brave people in the bar.

Something that was meant to divide and alienate people, has had the opposite effect. The community in this little town now is connected to people in India with a much stronger bond. There are already meetings with diplomats and Indian media and all kind of connections because of this. Also, the feature photo in my blog is from a Peace March and Vigil.

Thank you, Ian, for counting the bullets while not counting  your own life!

Bar Shooting Kansas

Ian Grillot (photos from internet)

 

 

I don’t want to be another brick in the wall

Few days ago I was giving a lecture on peace building and reconciliation and our group had a very good discussion about some of the issues and challenges that our societies are facing. It was in a religious context but the principles of good and healthy relationships vs bad and broken ones are the same whether you are religious or not.

One of the big issues seems to be a lack of good and healthy dialogue where people can express their views without being stereotyped or dehumanized or even demonized. Posting your thoughts on Facebook or other social media only goes so far. Very often it becomes just another platform for deepening our conflicts. Personally I do not get involved in discussions on social media because I feel that it is not very productive. Written words can be misunderstood so easily and people can say things with less responsibility than saying it to your face.

Many of my church friends have expressed that there is a lack of teaching on conflict resolution and lack of discussion about divisive topics in the Christian community. So, the conflicts rage and many of the words said or written are very ‘un-Christian’. Others who are the by-standers feel ashamed, confused, overwhelmed, unequipped and powerless to contribute something positive.

I have another problem. I tend to be so careful with my words that sometimes I say too little about things that really matter to me. I keep thinking about the proverb, “You cannot put out the fire if you keep adding more wood.” I don’t want to be a part of the problem but part of the solution. And we desperately need to learn being better listeners and better analyzers and better critical thinkers. I feel a sense of great urgency.

I have shared my thoughts on the topic of ‘listening’ in earlier posts and surely I will have to return to this theme again and again. Because this is truly one of the most difficult things in our communication with each other. Especially when talking about controversial or emotional issues. We do not listen because we don’t want to. We don’t want to change our views, our stereotypes and assumptions. We feel threatened.

There is a lot of suspicion going around. “When the other does not behave or speak according to our mental picture of them, we suspect their motives” or “we develop a “conspiracy complex”, anticipating that “they” want to harm us” (quotes from teaching by Musalaha)

We also fail to see a plurality on the other side. What group do you have stereotypes about? Religious groups? American evangelicals? Devout Muslims? Everyone in your government? Everyone in mainstream media? Ethnics groups? Russians? Latvians? Fill in the blanks…

This is where I dare to disagree with the man who currently dominates the global news. I am not talking about the policies or actual achievements because time will tell. But I am speaking about our words and blanket statements. American president Donald Trump often speaks in a way that enforces these stereotypes when using phrases like “dishonest media” or “drain the swamp”. The media has all kinds of people – honest and dishonest, professional and unprofessional, impartial and bias. The government also has all kinds of people – serving others and serving themselves, just and corrupt, professional and unprofessional.

To be fair – Mr. Trump is easy to criticize because he is saying things on a world stage for all to see. But what about us? What about me? My communication does not have the same affect but it matters as much.

If we are really concerned about the divisions and polarized views around us, then we need to make sure that we are not becoming bricks that build even higher walls.

hannovere-48

(photos from personal archive)

Latvian:

Nesen vadīju nodarbību par miera celšanu un izlīgumu, un mūsu grupā izveidojās ļoti laba diskusija par dažādiem aktuāliem jautājumiem un izaicinājumiem. Saruna bija reliģiskā kontekstā, bet labu attiecību veidošanas principi, ko pārrunājām pretstatā sliktām un salauztām attiecībām un konfliktiem, ir vieni un tie paši.

Viena no nopietnām problēmām ir laba, gudra un atklāta dialoga trūkums, kur cilvēki var justies brīvi paust savus uzskatus un pādomas un nebaidīties, ka tiks ielikti stereotipu rāmjos vai pat demonizēti. Var jau rakstīt Feisbukā vai citos soctīklos, bet šī komunikācija ir stipri ierobežota. Pārāk bieži tā kļūst par vēl vienu kara lauku, kur puses rok dziļākus ierakumus. Es parasti izvairos likt savus komentārus un daudz neiesaistos tīmekļa diskusijās, jo man tas neliekas pārāk auglīgi. Rakstītos vārdus, īpaši no dažiem īsiem teikumiem, var viegli pārprast. Turklāt cilvēki atļaujas teikt lietas, kuras neteiktu tev sejā.

Vairāki mani draugi, kuri ir kristieši un pieder dažādām draudzēm, ir teikuši, ka arī kristīgās kopienas vidū trūkst gan labas mācības, gan labas prakses, kā rīkoties konfliktsituācijās, kā veidot labu dialogu un nenonākt līdz dziļiem konfliktiem. (Piemēram, par pretrunīgām grāmatām.) Domstarpības par “karstām tēmām” starp kristiešiem pārvēršas par diezgan ‘nekristīgu’ vārdu un viedokļu izvirdumu. Savukārt citi, kas stāv malā un cenšas neiesaistīties, paliek apjukuši, nosarkuši, apbēdināti un nespējīgi piedāvāt kaut ko pozitīvu.

Es parasti iekrītu otrā galējībā. Es tik ļoti cenšos uzmanīt savus izteikumus, ka daudzreiz nepasaku savas domas par lietām, kas man liekas svarīgas. Man galvā atskan sakāmvārds: “Mēs nevaram apdzēst ugunskuru, ja paši metam tam klāt malku.” Es nevēlos būt daļa no problēmas, bet vēlos būt daļa no risinājuma. Un mums tik ļoti nepieciešams būt labākiem klausītājiem un labākiem analītiķiem un jāmācās domāt kritiskāk. Tā ir tik steidzama vajadzība.

Esmu rakstījusi par ‘klausīšanos’ jau agrāk, un drošvien atgriezīšos pie šīs tēmas vēl un vēl. Jo ir viegli par to runāt, bet grūti to darīt mūsu savstarpējā komunikācijā. It sevišķi, kad emocijas sit augstu vilni. Mēs neklausāmies, jo negribam to darīt. Arī tāpēc, ka baidāmies mainīt savu viedokli. Baidāmies, ka mūsu stereotipi un aizspriedumi sāks šūpoties. Caur uzmanīgu klausīšanos varam justies ‘apdraudēti’. Gaisā virmo daudz aizdomu.

Mums ir jārunā par konkrētiem cilvēkiem un konkrētām problēmām, un jātiek vaļā no stereotipiem par veselām cilvēku grupām. Kura grupa tevi uztrauc? Reliģiozi cilvēki? Amerikāņu evanģēliskie kristieši? Pārliecināti musulmaņi? Valdība? Politiķi? Masu mediji? Krievi? Latvieši? Vari tukšajā vietā ierakstīt savu piemēru…

Te es pieminēšu, ka uzdrīkstos iebilst cilvēkam, kurš šobrīd dominē ziņu kanālus gandrīz visā pasaulē. Es nerunāšu par viņa rīcībpolitiku un lēmumiem, jo laiks rādīs, kas no tā sanāks un kas nesanāks, bet es klausos vārdus un izteikumus. Es iebilstu ASV prezidenta Donalda Trampa runas veidam, kas pastiprina stereotipus un aizspriedumus. Piemēram, “melīgā prese” vai “izsūkt purvu” (domāti politiķi Vašingtonā). Masu mediji un žurnālisti nav viens liels vesels. Ir godīgi un negodīgi, profesionāli un neprofesionāli, ētiski un neētiski žurnālisti. Tas pats ar valdību un politiķiem. Vieni kalpo sabiedrībai, citi kalpo paši sev. Ir taisnīgi un korumpēti, gudri un muļķīgi, utt.

Taisnīguma pēc piekrītu, ka prezidents Tramps ir viegls mērķis kritikai, jo viņa teiktais tiek pārraidīts pa visu pasauli. Bet kā ir ar mums? Kā ir ar mani? Mani vārdi nav tik nozīmīgi un neatstāj tik globālas sekas, bet tie ir svarīgi manā mazajā ietekmēs zonā.

Ja mūs tiešām uztrauc tas, cik sašķēlusies un polarizēta spēj būt mūsu sabiedrība, mums pašiem jāpārbauda, vai neesam kļuvuši par vēl vienu akmeni jeb ķieģeli šajās sienās.