Season of Advent reminds us why universal declaration of human rights still matters

Universal declaration of human rights? United nations? International cooperation? International order? Preventing wars? Striving for peace? Respecting human dignity? It is almost 70 years since this declaration was proclaimed and yet it is hard to shake the impression that many people/nations/leaders could care less…

I look up at the calendar on my kitchen wall and there it is – December 10 as Human Rights Day. I go to Facebook and there it is again – you can click ‘Like’ or share it on your wall. (I did not share it since I did not like the design. Or maybe I am just tired of online activism where we post slogans, memes, famous quotes, provocative statements and anything else to “make this world a better place”. But here I am writing this blog. I guess at the end of the day it is still better to add my voice to issues I deeply care about.)

This Sunday is also a religious celebration of Second Advent. In the Christian tradition and calendar it is a time of waiting and preparation. Waiting for the Hope and Light of the world to be born in a seemingly hopeless and dark place and welcoming this coming with open heart and mind. We sing “Oh come, oh come, Emmanuel” and we do it every year. Why keep saying it if we believe He has come already?  There are many theological reasons but one simple reason I can give is we need to remind ourselves what this life and this world is like without Him.

It is amazing how quickly we get used to the good news, things and good times and take it for granted. It is also amazing how quickly we can descend into hopelessness and darkness again.

For very long time now, we take Jesus of Nazareth and the way he transforms our human existence for granted. Nowadays we also take the Universal declaration of human rights for granted. We cannot imagine a world without these commonly accepted principles because most of us did not live before 1948 and during Second World War. We, at least the Westerners, are so used to speaking about our human rights that we think nothing of it.

But here I read the lines from the declaration’s preamble: “The advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people.

(…) Whereas it is essential to promote the development of friendly relations between nations.

Whereas the peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women and have determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,

Whereas Member States have pledged themselves to achieve, in co-operation with the United Nations, the promotion of universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms,

Whereas a common understanding of these rights and freedoms is of the greatest importance for the full realization of this pledge,

Now, Therefore THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY proclaims THIS UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction.”

Have we achieved and experienced the advent of this kind of world yet? Are all people free to speak their mind, practice their religion, free from fear and want? Are we, the peoples of United Nations, keeping our pledge? Do we even believe in this larger freedom? Do we still have common understanding and emphasize the word “common”? Or are we putting our trust in the world of “mine”? My country. My people. My rights.

The answer is obvious. Thus we are still waiting, still striving and longing…

“O come, Thou Wisdom from on high,
And order all things, far and nigh;
To us the path of knowledge show,
And cause us in her ways to go.

O come, Desire of nations, bind
All peoples in one heart and mind;
Bid envy, strife and quarrels cease;
Fill the whole world with heaven’s peace.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel”

 

 

Beware of narrow vocabularies and two-dimensional world

The great “back to school” migration has begun… public transport packed with excited or anxious children, proud or worried parents and other happy or annoyed passengers who observe this happy noise and energy. In fact I am building up my own excitement for continued studies in Latvia University which begins on Monday.

In Latvia (and many other post-communist countries) it is called the Day of Knowledge. I think about my studies with far more expectations for myself than for my professors.  They certainly have lots of knowledge in their scientific fields and different styles for conveying it to us but ultimately it is up to me to take it or leave it or store it for later. I love my field of study – theology and religious studies – because it wrestles with the truly important and relevant questions of human life. One classmate who would not describe himself as particularly religious commented that he came to this faculty to explore the big question of “Why?” Don’t we all?!

There is one thing that I absolutely love about being a student again. The libraries! There is not enough hours in the day and not enough days in year to take full advantage of these amazing archives of human exploration and resources. Our faculty has a small one but still it is one of my favorite spaces in the whole building. Books, books, books… thoughts, concepts, reflections, facts, thesis, questions, answers, arguments, paradigms, worldviews, research… and words, words, words.

Recently I read a small, short manifesto book “On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons From The Twentieth Century” by Timothy Snyder, a prominent American historian. He wrote that “the effort to define the shape and significance of events requires words and concepts that elude us when we are entranced by visual stimuli. Watching televised news is sometimes little more than looking at someone who is also looking at a picture. We take this collective trance to be normal.”

He also reminded of authors and thinkers like George Orwell whose novel 1984 portrays a world where “one of the regime’s projects is to limit the language further by eliminating ever more words with each edition of the official vocabulary. Staring at screens is perhaps unavoidable, but the two-dimensional world makes little sense unless we can draw upon a mental armory that we have developed somewhere else.”

It feels like George Orwell novel when our societies/politicians/media/we become narrow in our vocabularies. Or words gets changed, diluted and become meaningless.

Word like ‘humility’ should mean “the greatest among you shall be your servant. Fōr whoever exalts himself will be humbled.” (Jesus Christ)

Word like ‘greed’ should mean “Do not covet” or “There is enough for everyone’s need but not enough for everyone’s greed.” (Mahatma Gandhi)

Word like ‘dignity’ should mean “Dignity does not consist in possessing honors, but in deserving them.” (Aristotle)
Where is your mental armory? How do you develop it?
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The beautiful old library at Trinity College, Dublin (from personal archive)

 

 

Most difficult peace with ourselves

My claim to fame – meeting and talking with Brian “Head” Welch from Korn. I was never a huge fan. I could not relate to their darkness and anger and even less to the destructive lifestyle, but few years ago I heard Head perform his solo album “Save me from myself“.

Talk about a story of redemption! Now two books later, re-joined with Korn and traveling the world with a very different kind of message – one of brokenness, hope and more humility – Head caused some controversy when he reacted emotionally to the death of his good friend, Chester Bennington of Linkin Park. On Facebook page he wrote “Honestly, Chester’s an old friend who we’ve hung with many times, and I have friends who are extremely close to him, but this is truly pissing me off! How can these guys send this message to their kids and fans?! I’m sick of this suicide shit! I’ve battled depression/mental illness, and I’m trying to be sympathetic, but it’s hard when you’re pissed! Enough is enough! Giving up on your kids, fans, and life is the cowardly way out!!!

I’m sorry, I know meds and/or alcohol may have been involved, I’m just processing like all of us and I know we are all having some of the same thoughts/feelings. Lord, take Chester in your arms and please re-unite him with his family and all of us one day. Be with his wife and kids with your grace during this difficult time.” Later he added, “I didn’t mean to sound insensitive about Chester. Just dealing with a range of emotions today. Love you Chester. I’m pissed that you did this, but I know this could have been me back in the day after getting wasted one night.”

That’s just it. It could have been Brian Welch, it could have been me, it could be many people I know. We come from very different worlds and backgrounds but there is something we all experience and struggle  with. The ability to forgive yourself or even harder – to love yourself. Self-hate and self-rejection, in whatever form it comes, is one of the most common human experiences. I have never had to battle a serious depression, mental issues and have been fortunate to avoid lots of self-destruction but I do know what I have felt or thought many times looking in the mirror or reflecting on my innermost thoughts and motives and past actions.

There is something else Head and I have in common – we are pursuing peace with ourselves, others and God. Started following the way of Jesus in very different circumstances but with the same desperate need – to be saved from ourselves. To be saved from my pride, selfishness and self-loathing among other things. We want peace in the world but this personal inner peace is the most elusive. To love your neighbor is often easier than loving yourself. To love yourself just as you are because you are loved by Someone who knows you even better yourself. To forgive yourself as you forgive others and are forgiven.

I was heartbroken when I heard of Chris Cornell‘s (of Audioslave and Soundgarden) death in May. Why did I cry and listen to his songs again? Besides coming from the grunge scene, why did it feel so personal? Yes, I liked all the bands he was in and I absolutely loved his vocal talent. More than that – I was touched by the lyrics Chris wrote. He had a special gift for raw poetry. I think of all “Audioslave” fans who have sung along these lines “You gave me life, now show me how to live… And in your waiting hands, I will land, and roll out of my skin”

Yesterday I was driving across the state of Minnesota and all radio stations were playing Linkin Park. The one I did not hear and my favorite is “What I’ve Done“. I really like the official video and the lyrics,

“So let mercy come
And wash away
What I’ve done

I’ll face myself
To cross out what I’ve become
Erase myself
And let go of what I’ve done

Put to rest
What you thought of me
While I clean this slate
With the hands of uncertainty

I start again
And whatever pain may come
Today this ends
I’m forgiving what I’ve done”

I pray for comfort to those who mourn the death of their idols, friends, family, parents, sons, daughters! And I understand the overwhelming emotions Head expressed when you want to say to dear friends… I don’t wish you to “rest in peace”. I wish you to “live in peace”.

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Brian “Head” Welch from Korn and Sunny from P.O.D. sharing about their fears, hopes and faith

 

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.

Have a brave and creative year 2017…

Rīga, Latvia… December 31, 2016 has turned out to be grey and misty. The sun has been hiding for weeks now and the snow is avoiding us, too. I guess there will be no New Year’s Eve sledding or snow ball fights.

I just re-read my first post of this past year and the predictions have come true. It was a bumpy ride with lots of wear and tear on my absorption capabilities. It became more and more uncomfortable as the year went on and I started reacting to the turns and twists more acutely. So, I am glad that 2016 is over even though for me personally it has been another incredibly adventurous journey. New places, new people, new lessons learned, new challenges – all the things I love about life.

But there was this cloud over my world. I would like to say ‘over the Western world’ but I think it has been a truly global feeling. That something has changed and ‘status quo’ is gone. That something got broken or twisted or even turned upside down. Most of us thought it was broken before but the glue was still holding. Suddenly the cracks were too many and truly tectonic shifts took place. I am not talking only about European and US political dramas; the tragedy in war in Syria and Ukraine; the big-mouth president in Philippines who believes in violence, not justice; the continued ethnic cleansing of Rohingya people; terrorist attacks or other ‘highlights’ of this year.

I am neither ‘gloom and doom’ person nor ‘happy go lucky’. I would like to think of myself as a realist who knows that lots of things are not as good and worthy as they seem but at the same time there is much more hope and love and peace and joy and good than we perceive.

Difficult, hard, even bad times are very important. I cannot be truly human without it. I cannot have compassion and generosity and gratitude and courage and determination if I don’t face the prospect of losing it all. If I don’t accept the frailty of my 92 year grandmother who is experiencing dementia and simply old age, I cannot love and support her in a way that she needs. If I don’t don’t accept the fact that people can and will start conflicts and wars and prefer violence over justice, I will take peace for granted and I will see it slip away.

Honestly I had many gloomy days this year. Many times my emotions were either too high (anger, frustration, disgust) or too low (indifference, discouragement, weariness). My view of humanity was fluctuating, too. I knew that this was not helping anyone and myself in the least. I felt unsettled but the good news is – I always had an anchor to hold onto.

“Faith is a simple trust in God. It does not offer ready-made answers, but makes it possible for us not to be paralyzed by fear or discouragement. It leads us to get involved, and sets us on the road. Through it we realize that the Gospel opens a vast horizon of hope beyond all our hopes.

This hope is not a facile optimism that shuts eyes to reality, but an anchor cast into God. It is creativity. Signs of it are already found in the most unhoped-for places on earth.” These are words from a small brochure printed for Taizé ecumenical gathering in Rīga which is taking place this week.

So, here is my New Year’s resolution… I want to be brave and creative! And I have hope because of God’s unlimited resources of truth and justice and grace!

Attēlu rezultāti vaicājumam “fireworks riga new year photos”

Best wishes from Riga! (photo from internet)

Latvian:

Rīga, Latvija… 2016. gada 31. decembris izrādījies pelēks un apmācies. Tāds ne šis, ne tas. Saule paslēpusies jau vairākas nedēļas, un sniegs mums arī gājis ar līkumu. Nebūs ne Vecgada vakara ragaviņu, ne pikošanās.

Tikko pārlasīju savu pirmo bloga ierakstu šajā aizejošajā gadā, un prognozes piepildījās. Gads bija diezgan traks, sakratīja ne pa jokam, un manas amortizācijas spējas tika pamatīgi pārbaudītas un noberztas. Jo tālāk, jo nēērtāk, līdz sāku reaģēt uz pagriezieniem un bedrēm arvien jūtīgāk. Tāpēc priecājos, ka 2016-tais ir beidzies, lai gan personīgajā dzīvē bija tik daudz kā forša. Jaunas vietas, jauni draugi, jauni izaicinājumi un jaunas dzīves atziņas – viss, kas man tik ļoti patīk.

Bet pāri manai pasaulei bija kaut kāds liels, drūms mākonis. Gribētos domāt, ka tas pārklāja konkrēti Rietumu pasauli, bet visticamāk šī sajūta bija universāla. Ka vēsture tiek rakstīta mūsu acu priekšā, un mēs knapi spējam pāršķirt lappuses. Ka kaut kas ir salūzis, aizgājis pa pieskari, apgriezies ar kājām gaisā vai nogājis no sliedēm (epitetus var atrast daudz un dažādus).  Liela daļa jau sen zināja, ka pieņemtajai lietu kārtībai ir milzīgi un bīstami defekti, bet līme vēl turēja. Pēkšņi spiediens kļuva pārāk liels, un plaisas aiziet uz visām pusēm. Es nerunāju tikai par Eiropas un ASV politiskajām drāmām; kara šausmām Sīrijā un Ukrainā; balamuti prezidentu Filipīnās, kuram patīk vardarbība, nevis taisnīgums un tiesiskums; etnisko tīrīšanu Mjanmā; teroristu uzbrukumus un citiem gada ‘spilgtākajiem’ notikumiem.

Neesmu ne pārliecināta pesimiste, ne nelabojama optimiste. Ceru, ka esmu reāliste, kura saprot, ka ne viss ir tik jauks, vērtīgs un vajadzīgs kā tiek reklamēts. Un ne viss ir tik bezcerīgs, tukšs un bezjēdzīgs kā izliekas. Pasaulē ir daudz vairāk cerības, mīlestības, prieka un labprātības kā mēs spējam aptvert.

Grūti, sarežģīti, pat slikti brīži ir ļoti svarīgi. Bez tiem es nespētu būt cilvēcīga. Žēlsirdība, dāsnums, pateicība, drosme, nepadošanās man rodas tad, kad zinu, ko varu zaudēt un cik ātri to visu var zaudēt. Ja es neskatītos patiesībai acīs redzot, kā mana vecmamma 92 gadu vecumā piedzīvo demenci, trauslumu un vienkārši novecošanu, es nespētu par viņu labi rūpēties. Ja es noliegtu patiesību, ka cilvēki spēj un pat grib izraisīt asus konfliktus un karus un izvēlas vardarbību taisnīguma vietā, es nedomātu par mieru, un cik neatlaidīgi tas jākopj un jākultivē.

Atzīstos, ka šogad piedzīvoju daudzas drūmas un pelēkas dienas. Pārāk bieži manas emocijas bija vai nu sakāpinātas (dusmas, aizkaitinājums, pat pretīgums), vai arī atsaldētas (vienaldzība, neizlēmība, pagurums). Arī mans skats uz cilvēci staigāja kā dzīvsudrabs pa termometra stabiņu. Apzinājos, ka nevienam no tā labāk nepaliks, it sevišķi jau man pašai. Biju sašūpināta, bet labā ziņa ir tāda, ka nekad nejutos atrāvusies no sava enkura.

“Ticība ir vienkārša paļāvība uz Dievu. Tā nesniedz gatavas atbildes, taču ļauj mums nesastingt mazdūšības bailēs. Tā aicina mūs iesaistīties un sagatavo mūs ceļam. Caur ticību mēs atskāršam, ka Evanģēlijs atklāj plašu apvārsni tādai cerībai, kas pārsniedz visas cerības.

Šī cerība nav vienkāršs optimisms, kas piever acis īstenības priekšā, bet gan Dievā mests enkurs. Tā ir radoša. Tās zīmes jau saskatāmas visnecerētākajās zemes vietās.” Šis citāts nāk no Taizē jauniešu tikšanās bukletiņa.

Te nu ir mana Jaunā gada apņemšanās… es gribu būt drosmīga un radoša! Un esmu cerības pilna, jo Dievam ir neizsmeļami resursi patiesībā, taisnīgumā un žēlastībā!

 

Navigating through fake news, stupid news and no news

Honestly I feel very challenged. This is getting harder and harder and some days my brain simply revolts and screams at me. “Stop stretching me so thin! Stop feeding me this stuff! Give me something good to chew and digest that will bring life! Give me a break… period.”

We are taught to be critical thinkers and we know the importance of critical analysis. But the current atmosphere feels as if we have put things in reverse. The more advanced we become with technological skills, the more primitive we become in communication. The more we know, the less we care. The more we read and see, the less we understand. The more we scream, the less we listen. It is miscommunication on steroids.

First is the invasion and epidemic of fake news. Of course, we have always lived in a world with slanted and corrupted news, but it used to take some effort, time and money to spread false or fake stories. Now it does not cost anything.. Anyone can create a website or a news portal and simply copy and paste and alter photos and spread fake news. Plus, make money while doing it. It does not matter if those fake news are malignant or benign – they erode our trust in any news source.

Recently I spotted two fake news stories on my friend’s Facebook. One story was political and it looked like a deliberate effort to create bad image of the leaders in the Baltic states. Something did not add up and I checked the facts. It turned out to be a fake story. Then I noticed that some people had started sharing it and I decided to inform my friend. He quickly removed it from his wall. The second story was more innocent and it was posted on a Christian website as a story of some big miracle near Israel. I noticed the headline photo which I had seen in another story posted on CNN. It had nothing to do with Israel or a miracle. It had to do with Sudan and climate change. Again I decided to inform my friend.

I did not think that these friends of mine were knowingly spreading false or fake stories but I did not want for people to start sharing. I would expect the same reaction from my friends – if they see something I am saying/ sharing/ posting/ publishing  which is false or fake, they should let me know. It is impossible to stay truthful without the help of others.

Also, we see the invasion of “fake facts” or “no facts” in the mainstream media and politics. I am not talking about traditional empty campaign promises. I am talking about pure fabrications. Politicians can utter them and go unpunished. Media can publish them and go unpunished. In the end it is nobody’s fault and life simply goes on. Only people become even more disillusioned and pessimistic. And without trust our societies cannot be healthy and functional.

Secondly, we are bombarded with stupid news. This is the junk food that my brain complains about as I am guilty of consuming it, too. Let’s see “how is Brad and Angelina’s divorce proceeding? what are the experts saying about the experts about someone’s tweets? how to travel around the world and act stupid? how to be obsessed with food and only food?” Honestly, will I have to live with Mr. Trump as the biggest news headline for the next 4 years? Yes, he will be the president of the most powerful and influential country in the world, but he is not the center of our universe.

Which brings me to the last challenge. The challenge of “no news”. I have practically given up on the big TV channels like CNN and Fox News which used to be news channels. Now they are 24/7 talk shows. Opinion upon opinion upon opinion… Opinions are not news!!! Also, people tend to share opinion columns more than the actual news stories. It is boring to read and search for the facts, right? And who wants to bored in our exciting world of opinions, “hot air”,”world news in 60 sec”, “out of sight, out of mind”, etc.

I also have an opinion therefore I write this blog or journal but, sorry to disappoint you, this is not journalism. I am grateful and honored that you read my reflections on peace building but let us not simply recycle each others opinions. Let us search deeper and think harder!

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This is my thinking face (photo from personal archive)

 

Giving thanks for my vivacious sojourners

I love this photo and I love the memory of this moment. Mae Sot, Thailand may be a small town (developing and growing fast) on the Thailand – Burma border where tourists go for border crossing and locals for shopping and business, but for me it is “home away from home”.

These kids from Mae Sot are my sojourners in life and part of my story of “peaceroads” and I am very thankful for them. I am not thankful that they were always on the streets begging or collecting plastic bottles. I am not thankful that they were not attending school or that they had to carry small babies to attract the foreigner’s compassion. I am not thankful that they were bathing in the dirty and smelly town canals.

No, my heart was sad and angry that these beautiful, smart kids were so adopted to the life on the streets that they thought this is normal and even kind of fun. Of course, it was not fun when they had to be out at dark or when their parents told them not to come home until they had collected a certain amount of money. It was not fun when they were hungry or yelled at or treated like some stray animals.

A little comfort but I was grateful that at least they were in a small community like Mae Sot where people tend to watch out for each other more than in the big cities like Bangkok or Manila with too many children-at-risk to count.

This photo was taken at one of my favorite tea shops “Borderline” which is a cooperative for women in refugee camps making handy crafts. Borderline also serves delicious vegetarian food and refreshing drinks. Whenever we could, we would buy the children something to eat and Borderline was one of their favorite places to go. It had a nice garden and calming atmosphere. An oasis of peace on a busy, dusty, noisy street.

The kids were so energetic, funny and savvy. They perceived things differently and they always looked out for each other. I realized that they did not like to be patronized (don’t we all) and they didn’t like to be pitied (don’t we all). But they wanted to be loved (don’t we all).

We communicated in beginner Thai and lots of signs and body language. The universal language of hugs, smiles, welcome, concern, pointing, nodding or shaking head… Sometimes I went home exhausted because in the West we are much less concerned with body language and much more concerned with the exact words. In Thailand and Burma it is the opposite and my brain was slow to adjust.

They read me. They read my walk. They read my talk. They read my eyes. They read my mouth. They read my hands.

However imperfectly, I hope that I was able to communicate the most important thing: ” I see you and I know that you see me. I am here because you are here. I am your teacher but you are teaching me things, too. I love you because I am loved. The image of God in you is the image of God in me.” Thank you for being you!

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Smile that spoke volumes (photos from personal archive)