Let’s talk about culture…

A discourse system, in a simplified term would mean a conversation. But the system has a deeper meaning that not only includes conversations but any type of communication. Discourse systems come under different outlines according to specific contexts, which help the general growth of communication ethnographically. Intercultural interactions help us understand individuality, sentiments and other different features that diverse civilizations use to exchange and communicate ideas.

The way we communicate with one another is different depending on where we come from. The use and interpretation of one word varies across cultural environments. Depending on your relation with the sociocultural area you will feel as an insider or an outsider. On my behalf I would say that I am an insider of the Rwandan culture. Though I have lived in different countries, adopted different cultures and interacted with different people, I am internally attuned to the Rwandan culture. Being an insider of the culture allows me to speak with freedom and less anxieties. I am able to give a political opinion, to speculate about the future, the past and the present and to speak for others with whom I share the same culture. An insider has no limits or he only has “natural limits”, natural because they were naturally set by the culture he belongs to.

Cultures can be shown, experienced and tasted but to fully understand a culture and feel as an insider you would need to start by comprehending the local language, then by understanding the discourse systems from the sentiments to actions to finally integrate unconscious habits that come along with the culture. This integration helps reduce trust issues some may have. No matter where we go, as peacebuillders will face trust issues from the people we work with. Doing our best to understand and adopt the culture would ease our goal to reach peace.

 

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It’s all about consciousness raising

I understand consciousness raising as the capability of perceiving the world through different angles, which enables us to transform it and advocate for what we believe in. And consciousness raising is the compulsory first step that any revolutionary movement need to undertake.

When women started raising their consciousness through lived experiences about the men-made society, not only they were becoming stronger but they were also creating a feminist movement based on mutual respect and communication. It all started with a sense of shared reality, which “lead us to our theory, theory to our action, our feelings about that action to new theory and then to new actions (Sarachild).” Though consciousness raising is the first stage for a greater impact, it incorporates sub-phases that one need to go through to be aware of her own situation and where she places herself in society. While increasing their knowledge on social conditions women provided themselves with the basis for social identity.

Consciousness raising allows women to approach the patriarchal world they live in through different angle. It allows them to find a way of changing the idea of male superiority and idea that has been internalized for centuries. Even though consciousness-raising focuses on women’s growth bug men should be encouraged to address this concept as well. Because the be social relation between women’s inferiority and men’s superiority has always existed and has not yet ended. Educating not only women but men as well would make greater impacts. It shouldn’t be a single fight but a mutual one between men and women.

In a peacebuilding group it is important to talk about why and how the problem we face is important to us. From that we will understand where we stand as an activist group. This will finally allow us to create a world outside our structured society.

 

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Perception does not equal Reality

Every single human has his own absolute threshold; we are limited in different ways. Our senses limit the way we perceive and understand our surroundings. Depending on where we are, whom we are with, we constantly change our gestures to voices.

We usually see what we want to see not what is in front of us. Let us take a basic example, like, meeting someone for the first time. In general, we would shake hands; introduce ourselves and talk a little about our background and we would usually start looking for what we have in common with that person. What we don’t realise is that depending on how our brain perceived that person, the way we presented ourselves was different that the way we did last week meeting another person. What changed? The assumptions. Our perceptions of people come along with assumptions that later will have an impact on how we behave with that particular human being or situation. But are we always right? Well, not really.

Humans don’t like uncertainties therefore referee to assumptions.  Your first perception has a vast impact on your future perceptions and decisions. We tend to think that a single situation can represent all the other situations. “Assumptions create illusions under specific circumstance.” You assume that I am this way because we met in this particular situation. The way I perceive things will be different than yours and that is because we have different backgrounds and different ways of thinking. Being mindful of our own perceptions and leaving our assumptions aside, can allow ambiguities to settle and leave place to accurate representations of reality, which is important for peacebuilding world.

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Are women better at Peacebuilding?

I am a great believer in the female species. I am a feminist. But before I continue, do we all have the same definition of a feminist? Because it all depends on the definition. If your definition does not match mine, then we might have a hard time getting our ideas across. I like to use Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie definition: “Feminist, a person who believes in the social, political and economic equality of sexes.” If you agree with this definition and believe in it, then you shouldn’t be scared of calling yourself a feminist. Now that I have given you a little introduction about feminism, let’s go back to my initial question: Are women better at peacebuilding? You might be expecting a biased response given my confession of being a feminist but hang on a little I mays surprise you (or not).

Once again I am from Rwanda, a country where women represent about 64% of the parliament making us the first country out of 193 to have the most women in our national legislatures. You can imagine how proud of a feminist I am to know this. The participation of women is important for any type of mission. Think about this for a moment: The number of men and women is roughly equal (with slightly more men). Given this, how inefficient would it be to only use half the population (men) and ignoring the other half? It would be ridiculous! I think we can all agree on this one. Imagine the amount of brains unused and talents unexplored. What a waste! My president, Mr Kagame said, “gender equality is an integral part of our national commitment.” I love this quote as much as I love him. He used one sentence that said it all. It is not my responsibility, nor is it yours, but Ours to promote fair opportunities for both genders. I strongly and profoundly believe in women’s capacity of being great peace builders. Would they be better at it than the opposite sex? How would we know if we don’t let them try?

Although females are viewed as sensitive specimens, they still have different characteristics and have different ways of thinking. Ultimately, I don’t necessarily believe that women are better at peacebuilding but I indubitably know that not including women in the process would be a great loss.

 

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Retreat Is All About Perspective

As peace-builders we often forget about ourselves. We are so busy thinking about ending violence and creating a better world that taking care of ourselves is last on the ‘to do list’. The first base to look after ourselves is to take a step back, retreat ourselves and practice mindfulness. Now, what is mindfulness? It became such a fancy word to use that no one really knows what it means anymore. Here: Mindfulness = Awareness. “Mindfulness is what arises when you pay attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally and as if your life depended on it” (Jon Kabat-Zinn). Imagine how useful this could be.

Have you heard of the neuroplasticity concept? It underlines that our brains are reshaped throughout our lives by both our experiences and our thoughts. Meaning, when we get caught up with stress, anger and anxiety we are reshaping our brain to be proficient at these negative feelings. However, when we practice being peaceful, focused and joyful we strengthen our ability to keep up with positive vibes. Let’s clear things up…

Practicing mindfulness does not mean ignoring our anger and stress controlled by a part of our brain called the amygdala rather learning how to manage and respond wisely to things that happened to us and strengthen our awareness. Mindfulness allows us to see our thoughts and feelings as they are beginning so that we can expand our perspectives on a given situation. “Perspective gives the ability to see a situation objectively, stepping back to gain a bigger view like seeing a circus parade from an upstairs window rather than through a whole in the fence at a ground level.” It is important to stay focused and being aware of our thoughts and actions so that we can choose positivity over negativity. Mindfulness is a tool to better us and a tool for a capable peace-builder.

 

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When you forgive you find peace… uhmm ya…Nah!

Have you heard of the expression “when you forgive you find peace”? What do you think? Because I certainly, strongly, profoundly and consciously disagree. They are so many clichés about forgiveness and none of them were able to help me let go of my anger. Now, don’t getting me wrong…I think forgiving is essential for inner-peace but I am talking about another type of forgiveness. The type of forgiveness that comes after justice not the one that does not need justice to exist. I C-R-A-V-E justice and I am not afraid of saying it. After reading these few lines you might think that I am an angry African woman who takes everything on a whole other level (you might be right) but that is not the case. Every time I think about forgiveness, I think about justice. They are two conjoined concepts like a person and its shadow, knife and fork, north and south or rum and coke. Forgiveness by itself looks awkward, there is a sensation of unbalance. “By forgiving, you are accepting the reality of what happened and finding a way to live in a state of resolution with it.” Okay, then what?  Why do I have to find a way? Why do I have to work hard to find inner-peace when it could be given to me? Justice is the first step towards inner-peace.

We had a great discussion with professor Hirsch about the truth and reconciliation commission (TRC). The discussion was very interesting but it did not change my views on forgiveness. Truth-seeking is certainly important but it is as important as justice-seeking that is why I don’t fully believe in the truth and reconciliation concept. Here is how I see it:

-Step 1: You admit your wrongdoings.

-Step 2: I Thank you for doing so.

-Step 3: Now that you have self-confessed, you feel comfortable enough to ask for amnesty.

-Step 4: I shall accept because reconciliation is important to promote peace.

This is where I get stuck. Maxwell says “a man must be big enough to admit his mistakes, smart enough to learn from them and strong enough to correct them.” Now, let’s talk about the last part, correction. Can someone explain to me how will the mistakes be corrected? My answer: Justice.

When I talk about justice, I talk about fairness, morality and honesty. I do not seek justice as a way to make the other person’s life miserable, I seek justice for balance. For me, justice is the essential piece for a complete puzzle.

 

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The dilemma of sustainable peace making

During Montville session we talked about the importance of walking through history to facilitate reconciliation. Reconciliation is about unity and respect between parties that are incapable of coexisting. Some see it as a set goal for a new vision of the future. Before I go further talking about reconciliation I first want to make an important distinction or at least important to me. It is essential to understand the difference between personal reconciliation and what I call “diplomatic” reconciliation. Personal reconciliation is when your soul, mind and body are seeking for harmony of opposites, basically the micro aspect. “Diplomatic” reconciliation would then be the macro standpoint where friendly relationship would be restored just for the nation’s good to move forward socially, politically and economically. Now that these distinctions are made, can anyone tell me what type of reconciliation is sustainable? I personally want to say both but from my experience I believe diplomatic reconciliation to be more maintainable. When people see their nation strive with success there is an automatic responsibility that arise. They all want to be part of the success, which creates a goal to reach. Diplomatic reconciliation can be the first step towards personal reconciliation. Once the country has improved its economic, social and political aspects there is an inner-peace that starts to form leading to a harmonious evolution of society. People are genuinely happier, which prepares the field to work on personal reconciliation.

 

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The world will tell you who you are until you tell the world

I never acknowledge the importance of stories. The world is moving so fast and we are all busy human beings. It is becoming harder and harder to find someone that is willing to sit down and just listen to you. We all have our routines and our everyday stress that we often forget to pay attention to each other. But that is the key to a better world: paying attention and carrying about each other. To do that we need to sit down and take the time to share our experiences. “Hearing about each other stories is essential”; essential for our own growth as well as building trust.

We all make assumptions, sometimes good but often bad ones. “Your brain makes up a story when hearing certain facts but it might not be the right story” that is what we call the danger of single story (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie TED Talk does a great job explaining this idea. I would advise everyone to watch it: https://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story?language=fr). We are often caught judging, consciously or unconsciously it does matter, we judge. Judging is one thing, stick to the judgement is another. Judging is a natural reaction, judging people specifically. But not giving a chance for people to explain themselves is where problem lies. “Each individual life contains a heterogeneous compilations of stories. If you reduce people to one, you are reducing their humanity.” We need to understand that our story is not the most important one and that they are stories out there that are as important. Once we understand that we are good to go. “Storytelling is the PAUSE that breaks up easy categorization and gives us that moment of freedom.” We free ourselves from judgements and welcome knowledge from one another and grow empathy, which are essential skills to have as a peace-builder.

To this day I commit not judge a book by its cover.

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I can’t even…

I love travelling. It is one of the greatest way to learn about new cultures but most importantly about yourself. Are you looking for a birthday present? Take me on a road trip, let’s go to Hawaii or easier, let’s go for a hike in the town near by. Anywhere you go will definitely have an impact on you, big or small you will leave the place with more thoughts and with even more questions. I went to Poland, about 5 years ago, to participate at a program called “march of the living”, which is an annual educational program that brings people from around the wold to study the holocaust and to “examine the roots of prejudice, intolerance and hate.” I must say that this trip changed my entire perspective of the world and of human beings in general. I obviously knew what the holocaust was about but never went deep into the subject. I have always considered myself as a philanthropist. I grew up with this natural sense of carrying about my neighbours and their wellbeing. But learning about one of the most devastating genocide in the world made me lose faith and love for the humankind and that is when I became a misanthrope. Here is the funny thing though… Well, not really funny but confusing to me. I am from Rwanda, a country known for its thousands hills as well as for its genocide against the Tutsis. One of the most horrifying genocide in human history happened in my country and I didn’t lose faith nor did I hate humans, which I personally think is a little messed up.

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It is not until I started deeply learning about other genocides that I started understanding my hometown’s. As Stephen Covey says “we see the world not as it is, but as we are or, we are conditioned to see it”. I believe I went through a long period of denial that is the only explanation I can find for not hating humanity earlier. I only looked at the surface of the conflict and didn’t try to go deeper because I was protecting myself from an emotional breakdown. Once I finally woke up I surely broke into pieces. Oh yeah! But this nervous prostration was more than needed to rebuild myself and to be somewhat of a human being again. All of this ‘bla bla bla’ to explain why I am part of the peacebuilding program at Middlebury Institute of International Studies today. It’s simple, I am tired; I am tired of not understanding what is going on around me and surely sick and tired of the frustration I am accumulating. I am here because I want to understand peace in its depth; I want to understand how to create sustainable peace, is that even possible? I want to understand how can people kill each other today and live next to each other tomorrow? Because to me that is just madness. Also who decides when its time to forgive or apologise? How can you from country A tell him from country X to act a certain way while you are ignorant of his culture and values?

So many questions I am hoping the program will enlighten. I am looking forward for these 3 weeks.

Sites DOT MIISThe Middlebury Institute site network.