Patience is another name for peace

It has been a very long pause… long pause in blogging, writing diary and social networking. I started February with a great determination to get back to regular schedule of weekly posts and then it happened. Someone very close to me was facing a difficult situation when unexpectedly becoming a primary caregiver to his newborn baby while the baby’s mother was in the hospital for an extended period.

Suddenly everyone in the family was on a steep learning curve of managing a crisis mode while learning all about baby care – milk formulas, nappies, burping, tummy issues, baths, etc. I remember how “relieved” we felt after the pediatrician had the first monthly check-up and gave a good report. It did not help that all this happened during the Covid-19 pandemic when our “lives as we know it” got severely interrupted and most of normal routines had to stop. It added so many complications that I cannot even begin to describe.

But something else happened. An unexpected twist which I will try to put into words. It seemed that during the quarantine the word on the street or, in this case, the word online was “time”. We have time. We have more time. Finally we have got the time. We have been forced to stop from our rat race and now we have time for what really matters. With all the million suggestions in articles, podcasts, interviews and talks to describe, analyze and define what is it that really matters.

But to me it felt like I had lost the time. More precisely, like I was living outside the time. Like the time stood still. Until I realized that this is probably what living in the moment feels like. I was pushing the baby carriage for long walks in the park, smelling the spring in the air, watching how people keep the distance from each other but still prefer to walk where they can see each other. Besides time to listen to some uplifting and inspiring podcasts, I kept reflecting on how this little helpless baby is teaching me something very important. The baby could not speak but every time she looked at me I heard loudly – slow down! I could not fix the difficult situation that my loved ones were in, but through this sense of slowing down I was also sensing a lot of hope in the midst of confusion and pain.

Today I found the exact words I was looking for. In a beautiful little book titled “Living Gently in a Violent World”, theologian Stanley Hauerwas writes: “Peace takes time. Put even more strongly, peace creates time by its steadfast refusal to force the other to submit in the name of order. Peace is not a static state but an activity which requires constant attention and care. [..] So, peace is the process through which we make time our own rather than be determined by “events”over which, it is alleged, we have no control.”

That is exactly how I felt it and saw it – I was learning in a new way how to make personal and social peace through an activity which required constant attention and care. I mean literal attention and literal care. And I am not talking about mindfulness, meditation or any other spiritual practice to “slow us down”. I am talking about listening intently to the “weakest” and “slowest” members of our community.

I would like to think of myself as a very patient person, but the little daily things routinely remind me that I am not. I walk back and forth, while I wait for the public transportation, to “kill the time”. I listen to a podcast, while on the public transport, to “fill the time”. But God through a little baby was revealing to me how to “still the time”.

Because at the heart of “living more gently in a violent world” is the realization that I have all the time I need.

P.S. I borrowed the phrase of Stanly Hauerwas for the title of this post.  It was simply too good 🙂

What makes us Latvian? Let’s talk values…

Few days ago I watched a debate about values in Latvia. Big topic and lots of interpretations. Afterwards I had more questions than answers. What is a value? Is there such a thing as specifically Latvian values? How are our values different from other places and cultures? Or are they the same?

I think of universal values. For example, the ones described in the declaration of Universal Human Rights and by world religions. The main value is the dignity of each individual human being. Yes, some of us grow up in very individualistic societies (like USA, France, also Latvia) and others grow up in very group oriented or collectivist societies (like Thailand, China, Rwanda) but still the dignity of each person needs to be protected and valued.

We, Latvians, like to emphasize our work ethic. But honestly, I have never been anywhere where good work ethic was not important. I have not met people who stated ‘laziness’ as their value. There are hard working Latvians and ‘lazy’ Latvians. It is true, though, that there is a connection between work and ownership. In the Soviet times many people were trying to work as little as possible or make low quality things because they did not see any purpose or benefit from their work. Everything was owned by the State. You care less when it is not your own and I think we still have some residue of this.

Latvians value patience, endurance and politeness. Also, we are know for our skills to adjust. Latvia has experienced so many different ‘rulers’, ‘systems’ and ‘ways of life’ that people have had to adjust and make the best of it. Patience and endurance are very good traits but interestingly we don’t mention ‘passion’ or ‘vision’ as our value. Actually we can be very suspicious of strong, visionary and passionate people and leaders.

Ask any Latvian and we will tell you that we love and value our cultural heritage. We grow up learning our folk songs and folk dances. I wanted to dance but I was considered too short (yes, we want our dancers to look certain way – tall and slender!) Instead I joined the choir. This is another thing we value – choirs, opera, bands… any kind of singing. We organize lots of festivals and events. I mean, lots!!! My grandmother likes to joke that Latvians have been doing so much singing and dancing this side of eternity, what are we going to do in Heaven?

We value good quality in music. So many kids study in music schools and play classical instruments. Even when singing along or having fun with karaoke, we are conscious. Something I can compare to Thailand where karaoke is the absolute favorite past-time and nobody cares if you can keep the tune or not. Latvians would find that embarrassing.

There is one value that I don’t hear mentioned when talking about specifically Latvian values. It is “hospitality”. Specifically hospitality to strangers or visitors. Too bad and I hope this will change.

I guess the best way to find out what our values are is to ask people from “outside”. Those who have lived in Latvia or visited. Even first-impressions can tell a lot of truth. If you are reading this blog and if you are not from Latvia but have been to Latvia or been around Latvians, what do you think? What comes to your mind when you think of Latvians?

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Yes, we love wild flowers and natural things… and yes, I can make this flower wreath (photos from personal archive)

Latvian:

Pirms pāris nedēļām biju sarunu festivālā LAMPA Cēsīs. Un pirms dažām dienām intereses pēc paskatījos pagājušā gada arhīvu. Viena interesanta diskusija zem nosaukuma “Latvijas vērtību anatomija”, kur dažādi Latvijas politiķi skaidroja savējās un mūsējās vērtības. Liela tēma  – kas ir vērtība? Vai ir tādas īpaši latviskas vērtības? Vai tās kaut kā atšķiras no citu tautu un kultūru vērtībām? Bieži vien pēc tādām diskusijām ir vairāk neskaidrības nekā skaidrības, jo katram pašam tas viss ‘jāpārmaļ’, un jāizdara secinājumi.

Vispirms man prātā nāk universālās vērtības. Piemēram, ierakstītās Vispasaules Cilvēktiesību deklarācijā vai arī lielāko pasaules reliģiju uzskatos. Vislielākā vērtība ir katrs cilvēks. Taisnība, ka daudzi no mums ir uzauguši sabiedrībās, kur pirmā vietā ir indivīds (ASV, Francijā, arī Latvijā, u.c), bet citur pirmā vietā ir kolektīvs jeb kopiena (Taizemē, Ķīnā, Ruandā, u.c). Bet jebkurā variantā vissvarīgākais ir cienīt un pasargāt katru cilvēku.

Mums, latviešiem, patīk uzsvērt savu ‘darba tikumu’. Taču es neesmu bijusi nevienā vietā, kur srādīgums netiktu novērtēts. Neesmu bijusi kultūrā, kur “slinkums” būtu vērtība. Ir strādīgi latvieši, un paslinki latvieši. Vienīgi pieminēšu, ka ir skaidri redzama saikne starp attieksmi pret darbu un īpašuma tiesībām. Mēs paši zinām, kā padomju laikos, kad viss piederēja valstij, daudzi “strādāja”, lai mazāk kaut ko padarītu, vai arī galīgi neuztraucās par kvalitāti. Ja neredzi savam darbam jēgu, vai arī neredzi nekādu ieguvumu, tev kļūst vienalga. Šī attieksme mūsos vēl nav pilnībā izzudusi.

Mēs, latvieši, augstu vērtējam ‘pacietību’ un ‘izturību’. Vēl esam pazīstami kā tauta, kas prot pielāgoties. Latvijā ir bijušas tik daudzas varas un ‘dzīvesziņas’, ka esam bijuši spiesti kaut kā to panest un dzīvot tālāk. Pacietība un izturība ir labas īpašības (ar to “pielāgošanos” gan ne pārāk lepojamies), bet es ievēroju, ka mēs nepieminām tādas vērtības kā “degsme” un “redzējums” jeb “vīzija”. Lai gan mēs gribam tādus latviešus, it sevišķi valsts pārvaldē un uzņēmējdarbībā, uzreiz kļūstam piesardzīgi, ja kāds ir ļoti dedzīgs un nāk ar savām idejām. Laikam tomēr augstāk vērtējam to savu ‘vēso prātu’ un ‘lēnīgumu’.

Vēl mums, protams, liela vērtība ir kultūras mantojums. Mana vecmamma smejas, ka latvieši tik daudz dzied un dejo, ko mēs debesīs mūžībā darīsim? Mums svarīga arī mūzikas kvalitāte. Tāpēc karaoke nekad nebūs tik populāra kā Taizemē vai citur, kur neviens neuztraucas, vai var noturēt meldiņu. Mums būtu kauns.

Ir viena vērtība, ko nedzirdēju šajā diskusijā, un vispār neredzu latviešu augstāko vērtību sarakstā. Viesmīlība! Konkrēti viesmīlība pret svešiniekiem, jo to vienmēr vērtē tie, kas nav “savējie”. Esam laipni, bet cik ilgam laikam jāpaiet, lai latvietis uzaicina pie sevis mājās? Vai piedāvā svešiniekiem naktsmājas? Vai kafiju? Vai palīdzību?

Un tāpēc man škiet, ka labākais veids uzzināt, kādas ir Latvijas un arī konkrēti latviešu vērtības, ir pajautāt tiem, kas nav no Latvijas. Kaut vai pirmie iespaidi, jo tie daudz pasaka. Tie, kas te ilgāk padzīvo, var mums atgādināt, ko mēs vērtējam un ko nē. Vai mūsu darbi sakrīt ar vārdiem, vai arī izrādās, ka ir pavisam citas prioritātes šajā vērtību skalā? Pajautāsim?