The Finale

August 20, 2015

It’s fair to assume that I have now had sufficient time to reflect on the goings-on of the past three weeks. But although time has passed since the inaugural SPP conclusion, I have not freed my mind of its contents.

Many have asked me what I thought of the program; they knew of our trips to the prisons and talks with MIIS faculty, and of course almost everyone knew of the presence of Dr. Christopher MIMG_7796itchell, but I think my answer to the question, “How was it?” still surprised them. If I were told to pin point three of the most academically informative and thought-provoking weeks of my life, it may have been those.

There were many dynamics at work that contributed to this overall feeling I am still having; the lecturing staff was phenomenal. Each one had a different opinion or way of talking about sometimes-similar themes, and if we were lucky, we would start to see the personality of the lecturers shine through their presentations. The Mt. Madonna Center was a place dreams are made of! For me, it was the perfect combination of healthy, isolated, peaceful landscaping that provided an amazing environment for learning about conflict resolution (although we disrupted that peace on more than one occasion in the “classroom”).

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the group of students that participated made this program (credit to Dr. Iyer, who’s work is never a coinsidence) . This is not to take away from those other aspects I mentioned though, as those parts were always going to be great. But the experiences of each individual came out in every single session, and that enabled me to enter into this duality of learning: peace building and historical/cultural/social contexts of the countries represented. The atrocities that took place in the Balkans are now ingrained in my memory forever. What it is like to be a “do-er” on the ground in Nepal couldn’t escape my mind if I wanted it to. There are 14 other stories that I will forever be able to pull from and talk about to other people with such robust credibility, and for that “Cosmopolitan Street Cred” (thank you Peter Shaw), I am eternally thankful.

To round this up, I don’t foresee myself forgetting much of what was covered in the past three weeks. HOWEVER, I don’t trust myself. So, I have spent some time combining what I perceive to be the most important things from these weeks, in an effort not to forget, but also to relive those moments that I loved. Thank you all for changing the way I see the world.

The Oppressed, the Oppressor, and the Importance of Dialogue

August 17, 2015

I think we can all agree that over the past weeks, we have all gone through our own personal transformations, however small or big. I am certainly no exception. A part of this personal transformation includes the new ability to express some things that I was previously unable to express in any sort of coherent way. So, here we go…

There are many people that choose to identify as many different “cultural people”, or with many different identities that contain specific qualities that have received discrimination throughout history from “the oppressive white man” (like race, gender, etc). To be extremely clear, I think that a person having multiple cultural identities is not only immensely important for living a rich life, but it is also a part of what makes this place great. I also understand that some entities of these different identities are heavily discriminated against STILL, even if it is significantly less then before. Finally, I acknowledge that “the system” is inherently racist and biased in favor of the “man”, and that I am a part of that system and thus a part of its perpetuation. There should be a whole different blog post on this issue.

The same person that has multiple cultural identities (that have previously been discriminated against) can have the desire to surround themselves with others who naturally feel “entitled”, often including “the oppressive white man”, because there is a sense of personal/internal confidence that is contagious and has a positive internal impact. One specific situation that demonstrates this best is in academia; schools or school programs that cost thousands of dollars in beautiful corners of the world are EXACT situations where entitlement runs rampant, because only the fortunate and often-times well-off can participate. I see this as fact.

Those people who feel slighted somehow by “the oppressive white man” are, themselves, choosing to participate in the same system (of education) as that person, and that is both unavoidable and a good thing. The problem for me arises when those people say specific things within those “privileged/entitled” groups that perpetually condemn its members for being the oppressor. For example, “your struggle is so hard”, with a sarcastic tone that immediately creates a conversational gridlock.

I acknowledge that a part of my (The White Man) ancestral history includes oppressive regimes towards your ancestors. I also acknowledge that we are here, in this very safe academic space, together, meaning that being “privileged” or “entitled” is a part of both of our lives… not just me, the white man, but also you, the oppressed. To be accusatory, aggressive and sarcastic doesn’t offend me. I’m willing and excited to listen, and I’m comfortable enough in my body and the ways in which I personally identify with myself to take accusations and criticism (even though my ancestral history includes ethnic roles of “oppressor” AND “the oppressed”). However, given the situation of us being here in this safe space, talking about the duality of oppression, aren’t there more productive ways to discuss this struggle between two people without needing a representative of both sides? Is it even possible to have such a talk without both sides present? Can we talk in a normal way that isn’t an argument but instead a discussion? After all, if it can’t be done here, where can it be done?

These three weeks have taught me the power and importance of Dialogue, and a part of that is the ability to keep people engaged by using appropriate language and tone. By immediately taking on the accusatory tone, you shut the conversation down and make it impossible to understand you point, in addition to the fact that it deems you straight-up unpleasant to be around. This seems quite counterproductive since the purpose of you taking that tone is to impact some sort of change in the way that people see these issues.

I agree that there are MANY spaces where this sort of tone/attitude is completely necessary. Structural violence in this country towards racial minorities is disgusting; unfortunately, I foresee the only way to change this being a revolution of sorts, where there are no limits. However, there are situations where a little more finesse is required I think… if your goal is to make someone understand your point, that is. If you are using a conversation in a safe space as your opportunity to speak your mind and get something off your chest, then go forth and conquer. But do so knowing that you are not being heard, you are just talking.

To summarize, I hope that these words are clear. I’m reaching out to those who read this to help me better understand this situation. It’s difficult to be perceived as the white male oppressor AND speak out about such topics, but I hope it is clear here that I’m trying to make sense of these things for myself, and I am very open to listen to people that have new insights and want to open a dialogue about it.


Arrival to the Mount Madonna Center

August 9, 2015

IMG_7727As we came up the windy path to the center, my car sickness quickly subsided as we entered the gates into this heavenly place in the mountains: we are lucky enough to call this home for the next 5 days.

Of course, we all made the connection quickly: to study peacebuilding and discuss the topics that we are, it is only right that we do so in a peaceful place. So, as you can imagine, the shift from room 220 in the McCone building (as nice as it is) to THIS was quite an easy transition. Surrounded by tall Redwoods and a small lake, Mount Madonna is the definition of “peaceful” and I think once we all move beyond the initial awe that forces its way out of each of us in the form of a smile, I believe we will indeed be able to have a very productive final week of the Summer Peacebuilding Program.

The Mount Madonna Center boasts many self-soothing activities, including various hiking trails, yoga class, and it’s very own temple. Needless to say that this week, we will all have a chance to create our own internal peace with the hope that maximum output is achieved while maintaining our sanity.

Reality Check

August 6, 2015

As we started our journey home yesterday from the CeaseFire program info session in Oakland, I received a call from my brother who had just received some startling news: his best friend has been arrested and accused of driving drunk and fatally injuring a motorcyclist in southern California this past weekend.

The unfortunate fact about the place where I went to high school is that young people with DUIs are all too common and considering the topics we are talking about in the program, clearly there was a deeper connection. In class, I mentioned that it was extremely difficult to emotionally disconnect from the inmates in the Salinas correctional facility; to be inserted into a situation where other humans exist and be told NOT to interact with them doesn’t agree with my internal wiring. In this specific situation, as many mentioned in class after, there were certain emotional similarities to being in a zoo that I also had a problem with. This same disconnection is now impossible as I now have the unfortunate natural reflex to see one of my brother’s best friends doing pull-ups on the yard bars or running laps with all of his Aryan Brotherhood gang members.

I wasn’t expecting that day in the jail to emotionally influence me in the way that it did. The separation that my circumstances enable me to have from such realities was forever comforting but misleading; although the movies and media portray these types of things quite regularly, there is such a large distance from actually feeling the energy in a prison. However, after having someone very close to me spend some time in that situation, as well as having a very, very recent incident happen that involves someone I know potentially being faced with spending the next 25 years to life in that situation, things became real all too quickly.

Something that has profoundly changed within me as time passes being a part of this program is the idea of unconditional love for other humans. I think that I am inherently like this, but if someone makes a mistake and ends up paying the price to our justice system for it, I would have adopted the “He-deserved-it” approach before I arrived to the “That-poor-man” emotion in the past. Having now been in a prison, accompanied the idea of people very close to me being apart (or about to be apart) of that environment, AND having acquired some of the tools necessary to better understand and draw conclusions about the justice system in the country, I feel nothing but pain for the people in that place.

As humans often do, I immediately felt as though I wanted to help my brother’s friend but I think first I am feeling pain for how his life and the lives of everyone around him are all about to dramatically change for the worse…and that is a tough pill to swallow.

Here’s the article.

Motivation for Local Change

August 2, 2015

This past week has been a whirlwind of long, informative days. In attempt to learn about what peacebuilding is, I feel as though a more encompassing question is “what isn’t peacebuilding?” From nuclear weapons to conflict and water, we have already been exposed to so many different themes that all revolve around peacebuilding, and although I acknowledge this fact, I think that we all have consciously or subconsciously determined which of these many topics interest us the most. With that said, tying all these issues into ways that I can impact change right here in Monterey and the surrounding areas regarding peace has taken priority.

Between Police Chief Kelly and then Earthbound Farms, in combination with the amazing lectures given by Professor Matthew and others, the opportunities here are plentiful. This shift in my perspective was initially shocking given my normal international focus in coursework at MIIS up until this point, and I don’t think that I have moved out of that focus just yet. However, I do think it is possible to have an interest in both and that is how my mentality has changed. How can I focus on theory and practice that can benefit both local and international communities, with certain commonalities present in both that emphasize my personal beliefs and passions; building personal relationships with individuals while having an enormous focus on culture sensitivity and language.

Finally, a emphasis by many (direct and indirect) on the environment and the importance of improving our impact on our planet when discussing development in any context really has prioritized itself on my internal list of passions. For me, change starts with the individual, living as the example that you are talking about…which is exactly what I will do (or continue to do).

Perhaps these issues seem vague. Perhaps the hippie, man-bun wearing student in me has grown. Either way, the first week in this program has opened my eyes in ways that I didn’t expect and I look forward to the personal growth that is bound to happen in the next 2 weeks, and then where my perspectives stand after.