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?

Lessons from Ukraine: peacemaking can be counterintuitive

My current ‘office’ is a nice coffee shop in Riga where I enjoy the warmth and tasty treats. The days are getting shorter and the evenings darker. The air is much colder, too. Is it just me or the autumn is a perfect time for reflections?

As promised in my last post about Nobel Peace Prize laureates, I will continue my thoughts on people who are peacemakers. People who should be honored and supported and imitated. And my mind is in a country not too far from Latvia. Where the days are also getting shorter and the weather colder – Ukraine. I think of people in eastern parts of Ukraine who are bracing for another winter without all the things we appreciate so much. Heat, electricity, food, accessible healthcare…

The global community, including Europe, is facing many challenges and it seems that news headlines change very fast. But the issues and conflicts don’t go away just because the attention shifts elsewhere. I wish I could think of Ukraine as “yesterday’s news” but I cannot. The war in the two eastern provinces – Donestk and Luhansk – is still there. Yes, there is ceasefire (mostly holding) and negotiations and different initiatives but there is no peace. Not yet. And it will not come easily.

One of the things I have learned and start to experience in the times of tension, pressure and conflict is that everyone talks about “peace” but not everyone wants to be a “peacemaker”. Because honestly – real peace is counter intuitive. It goes against our emotions and our normal thoughts. It is much easier to get angry and hateful when you get hurt then to do the hard work of searching for some grace and forgiveness deep inside. It is much easier to blame. It is much easier to seek justice as in ‘eye for an eye’ but it has to be ‘my’ justice. Or even revenge as in “your whole head for my eye’.

In the times of war, the peacemakers can be some of the most ‘unpopular’ people. Admired by many but hated by others. I want to honor all the men and women in Ukraine who are committed to non-violent and sacrificial resistance to any kind of oppression, corruption, aggression and hatred. I hope to meet some them in person in the future. Meanwhile one of the ways we can support peace and restoration in Ukraine is by sharing the stories of love and compassion and great sacrifice.

Through social media and some personal contact I know one of these remarkable men. A local pastor from Donetsk who was forced to leave his home city and his church in 2014 because his humanitarian work was putting him and his family’s life in danger. Sergey Kosyak would not like to be singled out but he has inspired and encouraged thousands of people. In Ukraine and beyond. I love his motto “Do good. It is possible.”

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Last year when the violence and conflict broke out, many cities organized prayer tents, including in the Constitution Square of Donetsk. The tent was there for many months with the banner “Pray here for Ukraine” and it united people from all Christian denominations and even other religions. A local Muslim imam joined. They faced harassment, violent opposition, eggs, bottles, even rocks. Eventually the tent was removed by force and destroyed and the prayer movement had to go “underground”.

Here is a story from his FB posts which Sergey Kosyak gave me permission to share. (Also all photos in this post are from his personal archive.) On May 23, 2014 he wrote: “Friends, today was a tough day, but for me very difficult. To begin with, representatives of Donetsk People’s Republic destroyed our tent, and then there was the following story.

Several times I have gone to the city administration building to talk with the leaders of the Donetsk People’s Republic, so I went once again. I didn’t find the person I had talked with earlier there but happened to see someone who attended my church. I was glad when I saw him, but he didn’t seem too glad we met. He began to yell that I was manipulating the people and things like that. In short, the negotiations failed, in the eyes of these people I had become the enemy. You tend to have short conversations with your enemy.

People are very angry, because, first of all, their hearts are empty and not filled with God. I told them that God loves them; I harbored no anger or hatred towards them in my heart, even when they beat me. I will not describe the beating itself, but that I am still alive, is just by the grace of God.

Among them were people who knew about our prayer tent, they cursed the others for what they did to me. After that, they gave me my things back and my money, then asked for forgiveness from me and that I would not be offended.

Before they started beating me I told them about Christ, called them to turn their hearts to God, and while they beat me I just prayed. I couldn’t make it to the prayer meeting in the evening because I had to go to the hospital.

Dark times have come to our region, people hate each other, they’re ready to kill, beat for a preposterous idea, and to die for those ideas. And they cannot see Him for whom it is really worth living and dying. God save the people, turn their attention to You.”

Since my post is getting long, I will continue with other stories later. But let me finish with the same encouragement that is even truer in the dark times… Do good! It is possible!

Volunteer team

Latviski:

Mans patreizējais ‘ofiss’ ir jauka kafejnīca Rīgas centrā. Te ir silts un garšīgi smaržo. Dienas kļūst īsākas, un vakari tumšāki. Gaiss arī daudz aukstāks. Kāpēc rudens vienmēr mani vedina uz dziļām pārdomām?

Kā jau solīju iepriekšējā rakstā par Nobela Miera Prēmijas laureātiem, es turpinu savas domas par cilvēkiem, kuri, manuprāt, ir miera veidotāji. Cilvēki, kurus jāciena, jāatbalsta un jāatdarina. Un manas domas ir valstī, kas nav pārāk tālu no Latvijas. Tur arī dienas kļūst īsākas, un laiks aukstāks. Ukraina. Domāju par cilvēkiem Ukrainas austrumos, kuri gaida kārtējo ziemu bez visām ērtībām un pamatvajadzībām. Siltums, apkure, elektrība, veselības aprūpe…

Pasaulē šobrīd ir daudz grūtību un izaicinājumu, un ziņu virsraksti strauji mainās. Taču problēmas un konflikti nekur neaiziet un nepazūd tikai tāpēc, ka mūsu uzmanība ir vērsta citur. Gribētos, kaut Ukraina būtu ‘vakardienas ziņas’, bet diemžēl tas tā nav. Karš divos austrumu apgabalos – Doņeckā un Luhanskā – turpinās. Jā, ir pamiers (kas pārsvarā tiek ievērots), tiek vestas sarunas, un ir dažādas idejas, bet miers vēl nav iestājies. Un neiestāsies tik drīz, jo smags darbs priekšā.

Es sāku arvien vairāk ievērot un piedzīvot, ka ‘juku’ laikos, kad ir liels sabiedrības spiediens un konflikts, daudzi runā par “mieru”, bet ne visi vēlas kļūt par “miera veidotājiem”. Jo atklāti runājot – īsts miers nav pašsaprotams. Tas ir pat pretrunā mūsu tā brīža emocijām un domām. Ir daudz vieglāk un ‘loģiskāk’ ļauties dusmām un naidam, ja tev kāds dara pāri. Nekā cīnīties ar naidu, un meklēt sevī spēju sniegt kaut kripatiņu žēlastības un piedošanas. Ir daudz vieglāk vainot. Ir daudz vieglāk dzīties pēc taisnības, lai būtu “acs pret aci”. Vēl vieglāk dzīties pēc atriebības, lai būtu “visa tava galva pret manu aci”.

Kara laikā mieru turošie var kļūt ļoti nepopulāri. Vieni viņus apbrīno, citi ienīst vai nosoda. Es gribu izteikt dziļu cieņu visiem cilvēkiem Ukrainā, kuri izvēlas cīnīties pret visa veida agresiju, korpupciju un naidu, bet ar nevardarbīgiem līdzekļiem. Tas prasa no viņiem ļoti daudz. Es ceru kādreiz satikt viņus personīgi, bet šobrīd es vēlos atbalstīt šo pašaizliedzīgo miera celšanas darbu Ukrainā, nododot tālāk stāstus par mīlestību, žēlsirdību un cerību.

Caur soctīkliem un saraksti, es pazīstu vienu lielisku cilvēku, kurš ir šajā komandā. Vietējais mācītājs no Doņeckas, kurš 2014. gadā bija spiests pamest savas mājas un dzimto pilsētu, jo viņa labdarība apdraudēja viņu pašu un ģimeni – sievu un bērnus. Sergejs Kosjaks negribētu, ka viņu īpaši izceļ, bet viņs ir iedvesmojis un iedrošinājis tūkstošiem cilvēku. Gan Ukrainā, gan ārpus tās. Man patīk viņa motto: “Dari labu. Tas ir iespējams.”

Pagājšgad, kad spriedze pārauga vardarbībā, daudzās pilsētās tika uzceltas lūgšanu teltis. Arī Doņeckas centrā, Konstitūcijas laukumā. Telts tur stāvēja vairākus mēnešus zem plakāta “Šeit aizlūdz par Ukrainu”, un lūgšanas apvienoja cilvēkus no visām kristīgām konfesijām. Pievienojās arī vietējais muslimu kopienas vadītājs. Viņi tika nosodīti, apsaukāti, pat apmētāti ar olām, pudelēm akmeņiem. Beigu beigās telts tika ar varu nojaukta, un aizlūdzēji nogāja “pagrīdē”.

Šeit viens īss stāsts no Sergeja Kosjaka Facebook lapas. (Viņš man deva atļauju izmantot gan stāstus, gan foto.) 2014. gada 23. maijā viņš rakstīja tā: “Draugi, šodien bija smaga diena, bet man pašam ļoti grūta. Iesākumā Doņeckas Tautas Republikas pārstāvji iznīcināja mūsu telti, un pēc tam sekoja šis notikums.

Vairākas reizes esmu gājis uz pilsētas administrācijas ēku, lai runātu ar Doņeckas Tautas Republikas pārstāvjiem. Tāpēc gāju arī šajā reizē. Nesatiku cilvēku, ar kuru runāju iepriekšējās reizēs, bet satiku kādu, kurš agrāk bija manā draudzē. Es priecājos viņu redzēt, bet viņš nelikās pārāk priecīgs. Viņš sāka kliegt, kas es grozot cilvēkiem prātus, utt. Vārdu sakot, nekādas sarunas nesanāca, jo viņu acīs es biju kļuvis par ienaidnieku. Un ar ienaidniekiem ir īsas sarunas.

Cilvēki ir ļoti dusmīgi. Pirmkārt, viņu sirdis ir tukšas, un tās nepiepilda Dievs. Es teicu viņiem, ka Dievs viņus ļoti mīl, ka es nedusmojos un neienīstu viņus. Pat tad, kad viņi sāka mani sist. Es nestāstīšu daudz par savu piekaušanu, bet tā ir Dieva žēlastība, ka paliku dzīvs.

Tur bija arī kādi, kuri zināja par mūsu lūgšanu telti. Viņi nolamāja tos, kuri mani piekāva. Tad viņi atdeva visas manas mantas un naudu un lūdza piedošanu. Lūdza, lai es neapvainojoties.

Pirms tiku sists, es stāstīju viņiem par Kristu. Aicināju vērst savas sirdis uz Dievu. Lūdzu Dievu, kamēr tiku sists. Vakarā gan es netiku uz lūgšanu sapulci, jo braucu uz slimnīcu.

Mūsu pusē ir pienākuši drūmi laiki. Cilvēki ienīst viens otru, ir gatavi nogalināt un sist kaut kādu iedomātu ideju dēļ. Ir gatavi arī šo ideju dēļ mirt. Un viņi neredz Personu, kura dēļ tiešām ir vērts dzīvot un mirt. Dievs, izglāb ļaudis.”

Vēl ir daudz stāsti, bet tos vēlāk. Nobeigumā es gribu citēt vēlreiz šos iedrošinājuma vārdus… Dari labu! Tas ir iespējams!

When fear drives out love…

Sometimes I look like this. At least mentally and emotionally. Like the little frightened and confused Gollum with voices in my head. One voice that talks about love, trust, forgiveness, reconciliation, hope and the other voice – full of fear, mistrust, hopelessness, bitterness, unforgiveness…

I talked about being a good listener but there are times when it is good to shut your ears . We are surrounded by narratives – our own or others. The other narratives come from media, family members, friends, schools, political and religious leaders and so on. When we want to build bridges, we discover that not everyone wants it. Some even try to prevent others from walking on this bridge.

Musalaha, an organization that promotes reconciliation, posted a good reflection on the so called ‘Gatekeepers’: “Gatekeepers” are described as a type of thought police. They often perceive themselves as key people who control the conversation by countering any new information or blocking it altogether. This is because any challenging information threatens their group identity and therefore questions their leadership, which is based on a certain power structure. But they are only as powerful as perceived by the group. (…) The language used is often dramatic and deals in absolutes: Light vs Dark, Good vs Evil, Outsiders vs Us, Enlightened vs Blind”

 

I remember those gatekeepers from my childhood and teenage years growing up in the former Soviet Union. It was very clear message (propaganda) of who the Good and the Evil were. We did not have just thought police; we had actual gates to keep the Evil out and keep us in.

If Gatekeepers are powerful, there is another group that enters the battle over our minds and hearts, especially on the internet and social media – the ‘Trolls’. The invisible groups of mostly anonymous writers and bloggers and commentators who want to start a fight or provoke. Does that sound like the Lord of the Rings now? Gatekeepers, trolls…

For example, when I read an article about the conflict and war in Ukraine, I see the ‘trolls’ are already in the conversation. Most of their posts look copy-pasted and a favorite opening line is “Are you really an idiot or just pretending?” And what they achieve… Well, they make lots of noise, confusion, bitterness, frustration, get some fights and basically they shut down a discussion. Anyone who truly wants to become a good listener leaves the conversation. As they say, “Do not feed the trolls!”

Wisdom of Solomon is an amazing book about speaking and listening. Here is a relevant proverb, “Do not set foot on the path of the wicked… Avoid it, do not travel on it; turn from it and go on your way.” It also says that “Hatred stirs up conflict, but love covers over all wrongs.”

Have you encountered these ‘gatekeepers’ and ‘trolls’ in your community? How do you recognize them? If we truly want to become good listeners, we cannot hang out in their company. And we also cannot let them silence us!

metal gate