Rohingya and soul searching in Myanmar

Myanmar is making international headlines again and the news is not good. Tragedy for the thousands and thousands of people who are losing their homes, ancestral land, possessions and fleeing to neighboring country Bangladesh… hundreds are also losing their lives and their loved ones. The story of Rohingya ethnic minority has repeated through the years but the current crisis is a new low.

Myanmar (Burma) holds a special place in my heart. Peaceroads was inspired by my friends from this beautiful but broken country. We have spent many hours talking, working and praying for peace, freedom, restoration and reconciliation in this nation. Many are already experiencing peace and freedom but not everyone. Not yet … and it will take even longer now.

It is racism but this is not just about race. It is religious but this is not just about religion (most Rohingya are Muslim minority in a predominantly Buddhist country). Nationalism, economics, politics, military power, etc… It is complicated, yes, and long story. There are violent and angry people on all sides, yes, and someone’s freedom fighter is someone else’ terrorist. We don’t know all the facts, yes, and Myanmar government accuses international media of misinformation (while not allowing them access to the conflict area!). Still, many facts are too obvious, stories are real, pictures speak for themselves and there is suffering for the whole world to see.

This is why international community is reacting with such sadness, criticism and challenge to the current leaders of Myanmar. For decades and decades people and governments in democratic countries supported the long journey toward freedom, dignity and rights of the people of Burma, including demand to release Aung Sun Suu Kyi from house arrest and let her lead the nation. Now many of the Nobel Peace Prize laureates are challenging her to speak out, act fast and defend the rights of ALL people.

I deeply care about real and lasting reconciliation in Myanmar and right now it is facing a dangerous moment. There are plenty of evil forces that are ready to exploit this fault line and make it even more violent (Al Qaeda, ISIS and other such groups are looking at this as a new cause to support). It is like a perfect storm brewing if there is no immediate and courageous national leadership and brave decisions. It also requires a deep soul searching in the whole society – who is this country for, who is my neighbor?

I am no expert but I know enough about Myanmar’s pain of the past, the struggles of today and the hopes for the future. This is not just about human rights; this is about right human relationships. How will these communities live? What will happen to these displaced people? If they are allowed return, how do they rebuild their lives? What will make them feel safe, protected and wanted? What about justice? What about forgiveness?

I want to copy an open letter by Desmond Tutu, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, which expresses many of my own thoughts…

“My dear Aung San Su Kyi

I am now elderly, decrepit and formally retired, but breaking my vow to remain silent on public affairs out of profound sadness about the plight of the Muslim minority in your country, the Rohingya.

In my heart you are a dearly beloved younger sister. For years I had a photograph of you on my desk to remind me of the injustice and sacrifice you endured out of your love and commitment for Myanmar’s people. You symbolised righteousness. In 2010 we rejoiced at your freedom from house arrest, and in 2012 we celebrated your election as leader of the opposition.

Your emergence into public life allayed our concerns about violence being perpetrated against members of the Rohingya. But what some have called ‘ethnic cleansing’ and others ‘a slow genocide’ has persisted – and recently accelerated. The images we are seeing of the suffering of the Rohingya fill us with pain and dread.

We know that you know that human beings may look and worship differently – and some may have greater firepower than others – but none are superior and none inferior; that when you scratch the surface we are all the same, members of one family, the human family; that there are no natural differences between Buddhists and Muslims; and that whether we are Jews or Hindus, Christians or atheists, we are born to love, without prejudice. Discrimination doesn’t come naturally; it is taught.

My dear sister: If the political price of your ascension to the highest office in Myanmar is your silence, the price is surely too steep. A country that is not at peace with itself, that fails to acknowledge and protect the dignity and worth of all its people, is not a free country.

It is incongruous for a symbol of righteousness to lead such a country; it is adding to our pain.

As we witness the unfolding horror we pray for you to be courageous and resilient again. We pray for you to speak out for justice, human rights and the unity of your people. We pray for you to intervene in the escalating crisis and guide your people back towards the path of righteousness again.

God bless you.

Love

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu

Hermanus, South Africa”

tutu

photos from internet

 

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)

 

 

“This Little Light Of Mine” in Charlottesville and elsewhere

I pondered this post for days. I was in the USA when the tragedy in Charlottesville took place. While many are discussing the statements and views of the current president, Donald Trump, and other political leaders, I have tried to find the ‘ordinary’ voices. The local people from this university town; the voices of faith communities; the family of Heather Heyer, the young woman who was killed.

People are shocked about the extent of incivility and division. Many have experienced real fear. I know the emotion of fear. While never facing a large crowd of young men shouting Nazi slogans, I have experienced groups who try to intimidate and bully. The tactics are always the same. Physical intimidation, verbal abuse and determination to make you go home and never bother.

More recent experiences were in Latvia when couple of years ago I participated in a very small rally to show support and solidarity with those who help refugees. The gathered group was young, quite reserved and calm until these buff men showed up and attempted to intimidate the small crowd. I would certainly label them as ‘white supremacists’ who clearly expressed racist views. All dressed in black, they tried to provoke a physical reaction like shouting, pushing, shoving or punching. They did not get the reaction they desired.

Another time in Riga I went to a lecture addressing Islamophobia. Again the audience was mostly young, curious minds who wanted to learn, to ask questions, to discuss and to express their opinions in a civilized way. Right away I spotted a group who scattered among the audience – some sitting in a front row, talking loudly, interrupting the lecture and some sitting in the back to shout over the crowd. One of the guys in the back  shouting things about Muslims and terrorists and immigrants had a very thundering voice and I was almost scared to turn around to see his face. I felt like he would punch me if I dared to stare at him. He did not punch anyone but did throw around some chairs before leaving the room and called the lecturer “damned idiot who will go to hell”.

After the lecture I turned around to greet my friends – two young girls – who looked absolutely horrified. They were shocked to experience this kind of behavior. It is one thing to see it on You Tube, right? Quite another to experience in a real life. This may seem trivial and naive when there is so much actual violence and wars around the world. Still we, Westerners, have grown so accustomed to peace and civility that we are shocked when we see such an erosion or absence of it. I know my American friends feel the same way – they are shocked at the current level of public incivility and disrespect.

What if Charlottesville was my home? (or Berlin where a small neo-Nazi rally took place today?) Knowing that these out-of-town people will come and turn my city in a spectacle of bigotry and division. Stay away? Stay in my church and pray? Or go to the Emancipation Park and lock arms with the clergy, people of faith and all those singing “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine…

I recommend to watch the memorial service for Heather Heyer. Her father said with deep emotion: ” We need to stop all this stuff. We need to forgive each other. I think this is what the Lord would want us.”

Around the world we need to do many things and surely forgiveness is one of them. We are in a desperate need of humility, love in action, listening to each other, kindness and moral courage – in real life in real time. At the same time we need to have moral clarity about dangerous ideas. One friend posted on Facebook: “You don’t get to be both a Nazi and a proud American (added – or proud Latvian or proud German or proud Russian) We literally had a war about this.”

Rec Walk

Photos 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”.

Cornerstone 2010 030

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

 

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.

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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.