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)

 

 

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.

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(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.

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)

 

I will not give up on truth seeking

Few weeks ago Oxford Dictionaries announced the word of 2016 is “post-truth”. Followed by “alt-right” (alternative right) or “Brexiteer and others. It was chosen because this year there has been such a sharp increase in how and when this concept is used. Especially during the Brexit campaign and US elections.

According to Oxford Dictionaries, post truth is an adjective defined as ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’. Now I hear people, including my friends, say that “we witness post-truth politics” and “we live in post-truth society”. And there is long list of other expressions like virtual reality, fake news, polarization, etc.

This is not completely new but I will agree that post truth concept is looming large. Like a big, dark cloud over our society. It is in the social media, it is in the mainstream media, it is in the experiences, it is in the conversations, it is in the arguments… it is in the air. It is on my mind and it is definitely destroying the peace of my mind.

Because I believe in truth. I believe in searching for the verifiable facts. I believe in truthfulness and integrity. I believe in certain absolutes. I believe in truth seeking.

I try to choose my words carefully because I believe that we should call things as “they are” if we care to get to the point where things are as “they should be” (even the words “should be” imply something certain).

I believe in truthful politics. Yes, we all know that it is a dirty and complicated thing but we should apply the same standard we try to apply to business, education, media, science, family and especially the church. Without integrity we are doomed in every sphere of our lives.

I refuse to live in a post-truth world because such life would be foolish and meaningless and, of course, dangerous. It would be the survival of those who just want to survive or pure existence. But I want to live a good life that is God’s design for all of us.

If we are created in the image of God (Imago Dei), than we have God’s imprint of truth in us. It may be distorted but it is there and we are on a lifelong journey to discover these things which are true, good, just, honorable, excellent and worthy of praise (Phil 4:8)

How to be practical about it? Well, this is the challenge. We live very busy lives and we don’t want to spend our time to research and verify everything said or published if it is true, partially true or false. Something true and something false can be stirred equally fast (unfortunately the bad news spreads faster). We are struggling to trust anything and anybody. We need to regain this trust because without it we will not make it.

I want to hear your thoughts, reactions and practical ideas about how to reverse this trend of post truth. Let us pursue “back to the truth seeking world”!

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Preach it!!! (photos from personal archive and internet)

Latvian:

Pirms dažām nedēļām Oksfordas vārdnīcas paziņoja, ka 2016. gada ievērojamākais vārds ir “pēcpatiesība” (postpatiesība). Šo jēdzienu izvēlējās kā šogad arvien biežāk un plašāk lietoto. It īpaši Brexit kampaņas laikā un ASV priekšvēlēšanu cīņās. Sekoja tādi vārdi kā “alt-labējie” (alternatīvie labējie) and “Brexitietis”.

Saskaņā ar Oksfordas vārdnīcas terminu definīciju, pēcpatiesība (postpatiesība) ir apzīmētājs, kas “attiecas uz apstākļiem, kuros sabiedrības viedokļa veidošanā objektīvi fakti ir mazāk ietekmīgi nekā vēršanās pie emocijām un personīgiem uzskatiem”. Man visapkārt cilvēki, arī draugi, sāk lietot frāzes, ka “mēs piedzīvojam pēcpatiesības politiku” un “dzīvojam pēcpatiesības sabiedrībā”. Tālāk iet runa par puspatiesībām, viltus ziņām, viedokļu vienveidību, utt.

It kā tas nav nekas jauns, taču es piekrītu, ka šobrīd šis pēcpatiesības jēdziens ir pārklājis rietumu sabiedrību. Kā liels, drūms mākonis. Tas ir jūtams sociālajos tīklos, plašsaziņas līdzekļos, sarunās, debatēs… tas vienkārši virmo gaisā. Un tas ir ienācis arī manā prātā kā vēl viena aktuāla problēma, kas laupa sirdsmieru.

Jo es ticu tādam jēdzienam kā patiesība. Es ticu tādai lietai, kā faktu pārbaudīšana. Es ticu patiesīgumam un godīgumam. Tātad es ticu kādām absolūtām vērtībām. Es ticu patiesības meklēšanai kā vienai no dzīves prioritātēm.

Parasti cenšos izvēlēties savus vārdus ļoti uzmanīgi, jo mums jāsauc lietas “īstajos vārdos” (ja tos vispār zinām), ja gribam nonākt līdz tam, “kā būtu jābūt” (jau pats apgalvojums “kā būtu jābūt” kaut ko izsaka).

Es ticu patiesīgai politikai. Jā, mēs visi zinām, ka tā ir pelēkā, sarežģītā, korumpētā un netīrā zona, bet vienalga uz to ir jāattiecina tādas pašas prasības kā pret izglītību, biznesu, zinātni, medijiem, ģimeni un pat baznīcu. Bez patiesīguma un godīguma nevar nevienā dzīves jomā.

Es atsakos pieņemt pēcpatiesību kā normu, jo tāda sabiedrība būtu muļķīga, bezjēdzīga un, protams, briesmīga. Tajā izdzīvotu tie, kuri vienkārši vēlas izdzīvot. Taču es vēlos dzīvot labu un pilnīgu dzīvi, ja tāds ir Dieva dizains mums visiem.

Ja pieņemam, ka esam radīti Dieva līdzībā (Imago Dei), tad mūsos ir arī patiesības nospiedums. Varbūt tas ir izkropļots vai sagrozīts, bet tomēr tas tur ir, un mūsu dzīve ir meklējumi pēc patiesā, labā, taisnīgā, cieņpilnā, vērtīgā un slavējamā (Filip 4:8)

Ko tas nozīmē praktiski? Jā, tas nav viegli izdarāms. Mēs dzīvojam ļoti aizņemtas dzīves, un mums nav daudz laika meklēt, salīdzināt, pārbaudīt, vai lasam, dzirdam un saņemam patiesību, puspatiesību vai klajus melus. Kaut kas patiess un kaut kas viltots var izplatīties vienlīdz strauji (parasti gan viltotais izplatās straujāk). Vēl mums strauji zūd uzticība jebkam un jebkuram. Bez uzticības vispār mēs ilgtermiņā neiztiksim.

Gribētu dzirdēt jūsu domas un praktiskus padomus, kā nesekot šai pēcpatiesības modei. Dzīsimies pēc pasaules, kurā mēs vienmēr meklējam patiesību!

How the whole world “elects” the US president

From my little corner of our planet in Latvia, it seems like the whole world just “voted” for who should become the next president of the United States. My friends in many countries have countless postings on Facebook. Every news channel, talk show and every conversation at one point or another brings up this topic. At the moment Donald Trump is the most talked about person in the world. He is in our heads.

I went to my theology class and guess what??? We discussed the election results. Many of my friends in  Latvia feel sad and shocked, others are amused and say “it will be interesting” and others are happy because they think the Americans chose wisely. The same mixed emotions and opinions as in the USA (overwhelming majority of Latvian and, I will say, European young people are upset, though)

This is something quite hard to explain to some of my American friends who have not traveled outside the US. The whole world watches what happens in this most powerful country and the whole world cares. Literally.

Personally I think it is not normal that the choice of 120 million (people who just voted) which is less than 2% of the world’s population, has such an overwhelming impact on the rest. I am not an American citizen, my husband is and I see and feel this reality every election year. But I have never seen such a global interest and concern and anxiety as this time. So many hopes and fears and expectations invested in one person and one country.

I don’t know how it makes my American friends feel. This is such a huge responsibility and, like I said, not just for domestic affairs but for the whole global community. For better or for worse, this is how it is and will be for some time.

We live in such a fast paced world. Things are changing and so are we. The results of many recent elections and referendums, including Brexit, show that the young people think more globally and are not as afraid of these changes. I may be proven wrong but I think they feel more connected to the rest of the world. Whether it is through the internet and global social media or through traveling around the world in a more engaging way. If I think of all the volunteers from NGO’s, religious organizations and aid groups and how young they are, I can see why they care so deeply about the global challenges – environment, human trafficking, inequality or better term “injustice”, marginalized people groups and so on.

One of my Latvian friends said: “I think the whole Erasmus program for student exchange in Europe is meant for stopping wars and teaching people how to live as good neighbors with each other”. That is why so many young people in the UK voted to stay in the European Union. When you actually become friends with people from other nations, they are not just another news story. Estonia, Spain, Russia or Iraq or Nigeria or Thailand becomes personal. Their challenges become something you care about and  you don’t want to withdraw from them.

There are great challenges around the world right now. No need to list them. For example, for people in the Baltics every word the US president says about NATO is of utmost importance. So, we all know what a difficult job the next president of the United States has and how much is at stake domestically and globally. No doubt we need to pray for him and his team of advisors because without wise council and wise decisions this is mission impossible. Of course, the US has an amazing democratic system where all the power is not in the hands of one person or his clique (versus to the current regime in Russia) and it is for a good reason.

Still, these elections were run in a way that made it look like all the hope is in one person who will fix everything. This is trust misplaced.

But there is something else about these elections and other deeply polarizing campaigns which grieves me immensely. It is the irresponsibility and ignorance of politicians and leaders and media and even the church (yes, we need to point the finger at ourselves) to drive the wedges between “Us” and “Them”, add “fuel to the fire”, manipulate, tell half-truths or even lies and then the next day tell people “Now we need to unite and respect each other”

Yes, we need to unite. Yes, we need to respect the people who think differently or have a different vision for our nation. Yes, we need to listen. Yes, we need to heal our divisions and bridge the gap. Yes, we need to support our government and help them to succeed.

But what about the horrible words and attitudes and actions that were modeled for so many months that hurt so many people and drove the wedges even deeper? “Out of the fullness of heart the mouth speaks”. Who will take responsibility for this? Who will be humble enough to say “I am sorry for being a part of the problem”? Who will say that this is not right and this is not American?

So, the whole world will continue watching and discussing and learning from the US…

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(Both photos taken from the internet)

Latvian:

Pat mūsu mazajā zemeslodes stūrītī Latvijā rodas sajūta, ka visa pasaule “piedalījās” ASV prezidenta vēlēšanās. Vērojot draugu ierakstus Feisbukā dažādās pasaules malās, šobrīd nav karstākas tēmas. Katrā ziņu kanālā, aktuālo tēmu raidījumā, arī lielākajā daļā ikdienas sarunu tiek pieminēts Donalds Tramps. Lūgts vai nelūgts – viņš ir ienācis visos prātos, un tik ātri nekur neaizies.

Šobrīd studēju teoloģiju, un ko mēs šonedēļ pārrunājām? Protams, ka ASV jaunievēlēto prezidentu. Daudzi Latvijā ir galīgi satriekti, daži pat tuvu asarām; citi groza galvu un saka, ka “būs interesanti, kas tur tagad Amerikā notiks”, bet ir arī daudzi, kas priecājas gan par ASV demokrātijas izturību, gan par vēlētāju izvēli. Vieniem tādas pašas kardināli pretējas domas un sajūtas, citiem neitrāli viedokļi. Gluži kā šobrīd ASV (man gan liekas, ka vairākums jauniešu Latvijā un Eiropā uztver Donalda Trampa ievēlēšanu ļoti negatīvi, bet par to vēlāk).

Man ir ļoti grūti izskaidrot to saviem amerikāņu draugiem, kuri nav daudz ceļojuši ārpus savas valsts robežām. Visa pasaule skatās, kas notiek šajā visspēcīgākajā valstī, un lielākajai daļai ir viedoklis par to, kam tur vajadzētu notikt. Pasaulei nav vienaldzīga ASV politika. Burtiskā nozīmē.

Personīgi man tas neliekas normāli. 120 miljoni (apmēram tik daudz cilvēku tikko nobalsoja) ir mazāk kā 2% no visas pasaules iedzīvotājiem, bet viņu izvēle tik spēcīgi ietekmē visus pārējos. Neesmu ASV pilsone, bet mans vīrs ir, un katrā vēlēšanu kampaņā es redzu un jūtu šo globālo realitāti. Bet neatceros neko līdzīgu šim gadam. Tik milzīgu globālo interesi un uztraukumu piedzīvoju pirmo reizi. Tik daudzas cerības, bailes un gaidas liktas uz vienu cilvēku un vienu valsti.

Nezinu, kā amerikānim par to visu justies. Tā ir ārkārtīga atbildība, ne tikai attiecībā uz ASV iekšzemes lietām, bet uz ārpolitiku un attiecībām ar pārējiem. Gribam vai negribam, tā tas ir, un arī tuvākajā laikā nemainīsies.

Mēs dzīvojam pasaulē, kur viss notiek ātrāk un ātrāk. Lietas mainās, un mēs paši arī. Pēdējā laika vēlēšanu un referendumu, piemēram, Brexit rezultāti atklāj, ka jaunatne domā daudz globālāk, un tik ļoti nebaidās no šīm straujajām izmaiņām. Varbūt kāds pierādīs pretējo, bet man liekas, ka jaunieši daudz labāk izjūt šo globālo saiti. Varbūt dēļ interneta, vai sociālajiem tīkliem, vai ceļošanas apkārt pasaulei daudz iesaistošākā veidā. Domājot par visiem sev pazīstamajiem brīvprātīgajiem gan starptaustiskās nevalstiskās, gan starpkonfesionālās reliģiskās organizācijās, kur lielākā daļa ir gados jauni cilvēki, es saprotu, kāpēc viņi jūtas daudz tuvāk un daudz ciešāk sasaistīti ar visu pasauli. Viņiem rūp globālās problēmas, piemēram, vides aizsardzība jeb cīņa ar cilvēktirdzniecību un mūsdienu verdzību.

Pirms dažiem gadiem viena mana paziņa teica: “Man liekas, ka visa Erasmus studentu apmaiņa ir domāta tam, lai Eiropā nebūtu karu un lai mēs labāk iepazītos un tuvinātos viens otram.” Arī Brexit referendumā lielākā daļa jauniešu nobalsoja par palikšanu Eiropas Savienībā. Viņi jūtas daudz piederīgāki pārējam Eiropas kontinentam. Kad tev ir draugi citās valstīs, tie vairs nav tikai ziņu virsraksti. Tu vairs neesi vienaldzīgs.

Pat vienaldzīgajam skaidrs, ka šobrīd globālo izaicinājumu ir daudz. Kaut vai no Baltijas valstu perspektīvas raugoties, NATO vienotība un rīcībspēja ir akūti svarīgas. Tā kā mēs varam iedomāties, cik grūts darbs gaida nākamo ASV prezidentu, un cik nozīmīgi būs viņa lēmumi gan iekšzemē, gan ārlietās. Protams, ka vajag aizlūgt par viņu un par viņa padomdevēju komandu, jo bez gudra padoma un gudriem lēmumiem tā būs neiespējamā misija. Un vēl var iedrošināties no tā, ka ASV ir tik apbrīnojami attīstīta un norūdīta demokrātiska sistēma, kur visa vara nav viena cilvēka vai vienas kliķes rokās (atšķirībā no patreizējā režīma Krievijā).

Taču šīs vēlēšanas tika pagrieztas tā, it kā visas cerības jāliek uz vienu cilvēku, kurš visu salabos un izglābs. Tāda cerība liks vilties.

Bet pāri visam ir kaut kas tikko notikušajās vēlēšanās un sabiedrību pamatīgi sašķēlušajā kampaņā, kas man liek tiešām dziļi sērot. Tā ir ASV politiķu, ievērojamu personu, masu mediju un arī baznīcu (jā, mums jārāda pirksts arī uz sevi) bezatbildība, tuvredzība un liekulība, veicinot šo šķelšanos starp “mums” un “citiem”, piemetot “malku ugunij”, manipulējot, stāstot puspatiesības vai pat melus, lai nākamajā dienā pēc vēlēšanām teiktu, ka “tagad visiem jābūt vienotiem un jāciena vienam otru”.

Jā, cilvēkiem un nācijai ir jāvienojas. Jā, ir jāciena citādi domājošie un arī tie, kuri vēlas citādu virzienu valsts politikai. Jā, ir nepieciešams ieklausīties pretējos viedokļos. Jā, ir jādziedina sāpinājumi un jābūvē attiecību tilti. Jā, ir jāatbalsta un jālūdz par valsts vadītāju.

Bet ko darīt ar visiem tiem briesmīgajiem vārdiem, kas tika pateikti par imigrantiem, citu rasu un reliģiju pārstāvjiem, sievietēm, cilvēkiem ar kustību traucējumiem? Ko darīt ar to briesmīgo un uzputīgo uzvedību un attieksmi, kas tika demonstrēta vairāk kā gada garumā? Ko darīt ar to slikto piemēru, kas tika rādīts visiem, ieskaitot bērnus un jauniešus, kuriem jāmācās vērtības (skat, tikumība)? Kurš uzņemsies atbildību par to visu? Kurš būs tik pazemīgs, lai iesāktu ar atvainošanos un pateiktu, ka “man patiešām žēl, ka es biju daļa no šī milzīgās problēmas”? Kurš no uzvarētājiem pateiks, ka tās nav amerikāņu vērtības?

Un tikmēr pasaule turpinās skatīties, pārrunāt un mācīties no ASV…

The age of information diarrhea

I took this photo in Berlin while sightseeing around Brandenburg Gate. It was one of those surreal moments when you have to get out your camera to prove to yourself that this is real. Most of us notice it and most of us do it. I knew that it would be a good photo for one of my blogs.

This autumn I am taking some classes at Latvia University and I love it. Yes, there is some homework that tortures my brain cells and gives anxiety but the joy of learning is greater and more lasting. Also, it is a university within the university because of my classmates. Every one of us is a small universe with life experiences, thoughts, beliefs, dreams, friends, families, talents…

For the title of this blog entry I borrowed the words of one of my new peers. During a discussion he said: “We live in an age with chronic diarrhea of information.” I have a good imagination and his words make a good sense. We take in so much information daily without processing. Since it is available and free, just take it. Whether it is worthwhile or simply junk.

What if it cost me more? If I have to buy a magazine or newspaper, I am very picky. I want to get my money’s worth. I want to read something that will enrich my mind and my life. I will pick up “Time” or “Newsweek” or “The Economist”… But if I am standing in the checkout line at the shopping mall or killing a few minutes at the airport, I will browse through some women’s magazines or tabloids. (It sounds better to say tabloids then gossip and sensational news, right?)

Secondly we don’t give enough time for reflection. (Here is that magic word – time. I said  the free information does not cost me anything but actually it does. It costs my time.) I remember my mom used to eat and chew very slowly. She firmly believed that it was healthier.It used to drive me crazy but I did think that she was right. Plus eating together had its many other wonderful benefits.

My own brain capacity is so limited. I find that even lots of the good information that I want to retain and digest and reflect on, disappears quickly. I think part of the problem is these horrible habits of taking in too much, too fast and too superficially.

There are many bad side-effects. Especially social. As if there is this invisible force that effects us in invisible ways. For example, the growing problem of polarization. People become more divided in their views and less able to dialogue and to have a polite and respectful debate with good listening skills. When I go on Facebook or other social media, it does the thinking for me. It “chooses” who my best friends are, which kind of news I “want” to read, what I want to buy, etc. It makes my life easier by grouping me with “like-minded” people.

Thanks for taking the few minutes of your time to read. A few more to reflect?

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The art of socializing (photos from personal archive)

Latvian:

Šis ir ar manu fotoaparātu piefiksēts dzīves moments netālu no Brandenburgas vārtiem Berlīnē. Vienkārši acīm neticējās, ka tā mēs tiešām tagad dzīvojam. Lielākā daļa to ievērojam, un lielākā daļa to darām. Zināju, ka būs kaut kad jāuzraksta.

Šoruden man ir iespēja mācīties Latvijas Universitātē, un man patīk. Protams, ir mājas darbi un lietas, kas mocīs smadzenes un šad tad bojās nervus, bet mācīšanās process kā tāds ir izbaudāms. Turklāt ir viens liels bonuss – mani kursabiedri. Katrs pats ir maza universitāte ar savu dzīves pieredzi, domām, ticību, sapņiem, draugiem, ģimeni, spējām…

Pārdomām es virsrakstā izmantoju viena sava kursabiedra teikto. Nesenā diskusijā viņš izteicās, ka “mēs dzīvojam laikā, kur ir hroniska informācijas caureja.” Iztēle man darbojas labi, un šī metafora tiešām liekas precīza. Mēs uzņemam tik daudz informācijas, bet pavisam maz vai nemaz to nesagremojam un nepārstrādājam. Šī informācija ir tepat ar pirkstu galiem sasniedzama, turklāt par brīvu, un tāpēc jāņem. Vienalga, vai tā ir derīga, vai mēsls.

Kā būtu, ja man par to būtu vairāk jāmaksā? Pērkot žurnālu vai avīzi, esmu ļoti izvēlīga. Gribu, lai mana nauda būtu ieguldīta vērtīgā informācijā. Piemēram, žurnālos “The Economist”, “Time” vai “Rīgas Laiks”… Bet, stāvot veikala rindā pie kases vai nositot kādas minūtes lidostā, pasķirstu arī dzelteno presi (labāk skan “prese”, vai ne? nevis aprunāšanas, tenku un sensāciju stāsti)

Otra problēma ir tāda, ka mēs neveltam pietiekamu laiku pārdomām. (Te ir tas astlēgas vārds – laiks! Varbūt informācijas uzņemšana man nemaksā naudu, bet laiku gan.) Atceros, kā mana mamma mēdza ēst ļoti lēni un visu kārtīgi sakošļāt. Viņa teica, ka tā ir veselīgāk. Mani tas tracināja, bet iekšēji ticēju, ka viņai ir taisnība. Turklāt ēst kopā ar draugiem vai ģimeni un darīt to nesteidzīgi ir pats par sevi viens liels ieguvums.

Manas smadzenes ir gan pamatīgi piebāztas, gan ierobežotas. Pat to labo informāciju, ko vēlos paturēt, pārdomāt un izmantot, grūti nepazaudēt. Varbūt te arī daļēji ir vainīga šī informācijas caureja? Un sliktais ieradums uzņemt par daudz, par ātru un par seklu.

Ir daudz citu blakusparādību. It sevišķi mūsu attiecībās ar apkārtējiem. Tāda sajūta, it kā neredzams spēks darbotos mums neredzamā veidā, bet ar lielu ietekmi. Viens piemērs –  pieaugošā polarizācijas problēma. Cilvēki arvien vairāk sašķeļas savos uzskatos (kas pats par sevi vēl nav problēma), un arvien mazāk spēj sarunāties un sadzīvot ar citādi domājošiem. Arvien sliktāk prot debatēt un nemāk klausīties. Mēs izmantojam Facebook un citus soctīklus, bet tie sāk domāt mūsu vietā. Caur saviem algoritmiem, utt. Tie izvēlas, kuri ir mani “labākie” draugi, kuras ziņas es “vēlos” lasīt, kādas reklāmas man “vajag”, utt. Tas “atvieglo” manu dzīvi, jo palīdz sazināties ar “līdzīgi domājošiem”.

Paldies par tām dažām minūtēm, ko veltīji lasīšanai. Varbūt vari veltīt vēl kādas, lai pārdomātu?

Growing up in the Kingdom of Crooked Mirrors

Often people ask me what was it like to grow up in Soviet Union? What kind of childhood I had and how did it compare to the way they imagined it. They want to know the story behind the story.

Winston Churchill coined the phrase “Iron Wall”. Of course, there was a literal wall in Berlin and largely our borders were impenetrable but mostly it was an invisible but powerful barrier of different kind. Not physical, but ideological one. Like looking at each other through the Looking Glass where the reality appears very different. If not the reality itself, then certainly the definition and meaning of things.

Even children’s stories revealed this. In the USSR, we often had our own versions of famous Western novels. I am sure that some critics would argue but to me one of those ‘revised copies’ was a Soviet fairy tale called “Kingdom of Crooked Mirrors” by Vitali Gubarev which was also made into a popular children’s movie. A Soviet answer to “Through the Looking-Glass” by Lewis Carroll

The plot of each story is different but the main idea remains the same – reality is distorted on the other side. In Lewis Carroll’s story, the main character Alice experienced weird and illogical and confusing things in the strange chess world of power inside the looking glass. But the heroes of the Soviet story, Olya and her mirror image Yalo, were not confused. They saw things clearly. They discovered a world of evil and exploitation and greed and they overcame all the challenges because they came from the “best country in the world” and they were brave little “pioneers”. (Pioneers – a communist youth organization in the USSR. We wore red scarfs which symbolized the Soviet flag)

The evil powers were three plotting characters who wanted to overthrow the king. Their names were spelled backwards (actually in the kingdom everyone’s name was spelled backwards) but they were Kite, Snake and Toad. I saw the movie many times and I quickly figured out that they must be the Western capitalists, imperialists and exploiters.

In the story, Olya and Yalo saved a boy named Friend. He was what you would call a political prisoner because he was imprisoned and sentenced to death for refusing to make the crooked mirrors. The mirrors are everywhere and they show you thin if you are fat, young if you are old, smart if you are stupid and so on. So, the whole kingdom is based on lies and people are turned into either hypocrites or slaves.

I loved the story and I enjoyed the movie. I wanted to be a brave little pioneer like these girls and I wanted to rid the world of all evil and greed and lies.

Then as I was getting older, I started to realize that our own country was full of crooked mirrors and people were making them (think media, education, official history, even literature and art) and people were made to accept the distorted ‘truth’. You did not dare to disagree and those who did… well, they were silenced, sidelined or exiled.

One day the Looking Glass came crashing down. The longer the distance of time the more I start to feel – did I live in a movie? Was it real?

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Photos from the movie “Kingdom of Crooked Mirrors” (USSR)