Emotional Jujitsu

As this is my final bog post (my final hurrah) of the program, I thought I would do something a little different. For my previous posts, I have tended to elaborated on thoughts that were triggered during presentations from that day. But, today I think I would like to delve into something and explore further an issue that I have encountered throughout the whole SPP program: emotion.

Funnily enough, even though my intention was not to focus on a presentation from today, the universe didn’t agree with me. Today, during a presentation led by Kathy Goodman, we looked at the various aspects of emotional intelligence. Through many of the presentations that we have seen over the past few weeks, we have been acquiring tools to analyze others, but this session differed as it equipped us with the skills to identify elements of ourselves. Although I was aware of this fact before this exercise, I was reminded of my difficulties with expressing emotions. I often feel like a robot when trying to recount my sentiments, as I find it difficult to deliver my emotions. The strange part of this is that I am aware of emotions, hyper-aware actually, but I actually make the conscious decision not to share and express them. So, it is not that I can’t, but it is that I don’t express emotions very well. I thought that would be a great way to preface a blog post regarding the emotions that I have been dealing with lately, as it may indicate why I have felt these ways.

From presentation to site-visit, to more presentations, I have been trying to critically approach each and every issue. Such exploration can be extremely emotionally taxing. Thus, these past few weeks have felt like a prolonged session of “Emotional Jujitsu” (credit to my wonderful room-mate, Katie, for this perfect term). I have been internally trying to process all of these feelings, battling one after the other. Now that I am sitting to reflect on this exhausting internal fight, I have identified two ways in which my emotions have been set to overdrive:

On the one hand, and perhaps the most obvious, is that the discussion of unfortunate topics has tested my emotional stability. From hearing about child soldiers, to the impacts of nuclear weapons, to gang violence, and more, this program has sent my emotions across the board. Being able to unpack my critiques individually, and with others, really helped me to ensure that these emotions didn’t stay within me. It wasn’t necessarily the expression of emotions, as I wasn’t capable of being explicit regarding the way I was feeling, but rather the unfolding of my opinions which further helped me with my internal “jujitsi” fight.

On the other hand, these debates and other interactions with others have made it stressful to be around people. Interacting with someone who you don’t necessarily get along with is exhausting, and tests your patience. I, personally, am very aware of my lack of patience. Thus, these interactions have truly tested my ability to maturely engage in discussions. It is not that these people or group settings have added to my stress directly, but rather indirectly through making me feel uncomfortable. Today we did an exercise in the art of noticing “how and where” we felt something. Through that, I noticed more and more that it is far easier for me to distinctly recognize the places in which I feel negativity, but less so positivity. For example, some interactions immediately made my jaw tense, head hot, and created a pit in my stomach. I think this notion of being able to identify the physical effects of emotions is extremely important. But, moving forward, I would like to look further at improving my ability to identify positive feelings. Anyway, this hyper-awareness of physical effects gave me the starting point to overcome these emotional difficulties, as I was able to immediately identify when I was becoming agitated by someone. Through this recognition, I decided to remove myself from that moment. I am aware that this is not always possible, as in other scenarios, I may need to address the people who impact me directly. However, I am glad that this experience has made me aware of this possible approach of limited engagement.

As this program comes to an end, I appreciate that I have been able to recognize these two situations which have so greatly impacted my opinions. As I move past this program and begin to work in the field, I hope to employ these same approaches to the situations in which I have to work alongside people I may not get along with, or situations where I am dealing with difficult topics and need to debate those without the explicit discussion of emotions. I am absolutely sure I will encounter these situations in the future, and I can’t wait to see if I can win that “Emotional Jujitsu” battle too.

The Band-Aid Approach

Today, as I sat across from Dr. Joseph Bock and listened to his stories from working under an organization, something stood out to me–the Band-Aid approach. He recounted a time in which the organization was involved in a conflict zone. They were fighting for USAID funding, and therefore altering their mandate as to conform with the funding requirements. Although another organization could have easily done the same work in their place, this organization fought to deal with this issue in order to receive the funding. Instead of focusing on their skill set, which in this case was connecting with religious organizations, and helping with the situation in their sector, they rather shifted focus in order to gain such funding. This is an unfortunate reality of the work that we wish to do. In order to receive funding, organizations often feel the need to alter their mission to accommodate requests from donors. In this case, other organizations had the capacity, history, and skill set to use the funding to offer temporary shelter. However, instead of letting another organization claim the funding and take the lead, the organization that Joseph Bock was working with essentially stepped on their toes. The reason why funding was directed to temporary shelter was because it results in visible, tangible results that the donors will be able to recognize. These donors will be able to prove that their money is being used to directly help people. However, these tangible options are not necessarily (rarely) long-term solutions to the issue at hand. Often times, organizations will deflect from their original intentions in order to receive funding. But, their original intentions, and their skill set, could be more valuable to create a long-lasting impact on a community post-conflict or post-disaster. Unfortunately, these organization’s intentions do not seem appealing to donors. Thus, we see more and more of the Band-Aid approach favored by organization after organization fighting to approach situations in the same way.

On the other hand, the Band-Aid approach can also be associated with another presenter that we saw today. This evening, we had the privilege of hearing a new approach to the scarce water situation that the whole world faces. Dr. Jeff Langholz presented on WaterCity, an intriguing innovation that could show a change in the ways that we collect water in the future. The business model and innovative engineering was incredible, and I greatly appreciated hearing that there is hope for the future. However, how long is that future? I couldn’t help but feeling I was falling for another Band-Aid approach to an issue that we see everyday–scarcity. Houses in New Zealand have been using tanks to collect rain water long before I was born. Unfortunately, due to global warming and the lack of rainfall in the nation, this no longer poses a viable option for gathering water. When these were first introduced in New Zealand, I’m sure there was great intrigue, and I am sure that not many people questioned the chance that rainfall would subside, as this was not within the scope of the time. Thus, there was no discussion of what would occur then, and whether we would need another option. While I really thought the technology for recycling water which was presented today was truly revolutionary, I couldn’t help but feeling like the gathering of water through “mother natures gifts” (aka fog) was just another Band-Aid approach. Many years ago, people found ways to collect water from “mother natures gifts” such as rivers and aquifers. But, it has since shown that mans interactions with the earth (from extracting too much from the earth to emitting greenhouse gases, and thus impacting these resources) have seen these resources depleted. I could not help feel like in fifty years we will be looking to the next approach, and that all the money we had spent on this infrastructure will once again go to waste.

So then what do we do about these Band-Aid approaches? If there is a situation, we must find answers, and usually the answers start in the short-term. To be honest, I have yet to answer this dilemma. But, I think it is extremely important to start by being critical of the amount of funding and attention that we should offer to short-term responses. Through these critiques, perhaps we will be able to understand the issue more, which may serve as a foundation to create more long-term approaches. Maybe then instead of putting a Band-Aid on the situation, we will instead treat the wound and let it heal.

Band-Aids

Orienting Ourselves as Peacebuilders

Today we were privileged enough to hear a presentation regarding Everyday Peacebuilding and Religious Conflict: Women and Active Interdependence led by Dr. Laurie Patton. Not only did the whole presentation invoke a great sense of pride to know that such an understanding and knowledgeable human being is the leader of the educational institution that I attend, but it also included many inspiring thoughts. One in particular was sparked by the comment she mentioned during her explanation of high pragmatism:

“How do the parties in the conflict orient themselves around the ultimate?”

Indeed, this phrase was very applicable to the role that finding peoples values in times of mediating conflict, but I argue it is very applicable in the interdependence of organizations. Among many other challenges that we face as peacebuilders, we must also learn to work in collaboration. There are many people who want to help vulnerable or marginalized groups to reach goals that they may not be able to reach on their own. However, the way in which each organization chooses to approach such an issue can vary greatly.

In the past, I have seen organizations struggling more so with interactions with similar organizations than they did with any obstacles to help those in need. Logically, this is an inefficient use of time and resources–instead of fighting with each other, we should be fighting for the cause. This is why this phrase resonated so heavily with me. If we, as peace builders, are able to engage in a secular sphere where we were able to understand each others ultimate, then perhaps the work that we engage in can coincide rather than cancel each other out. It fathoms me that as organizations that are trying to build peace, we also have the capacity to create such conflicts amongst ourselves. But rather than dwelling on these conflicts, when we are asking “why” an organization acts in such a manner, then we are inherently looking to their values. Just as Dr. Patton described, by doing this inventory analysis, we can understand the motivations and ultimate needs which can impact the mediation. I think that this can so easily apply to the interactions between organizations when trying to work within the same sector. If we are able to adopt these values by recognizing each other’s ultimate goals, then there is hope for collaboration. Through such an approach, we will truly be peacebuilders as we can truly say that we practice what we preach.

Teamwork makes the dream work!
Teamwork makes the dream work!

Emitting Kindness

Through the work that we do, we are often expected to conduct ourselves in a kindly manner. The expectation is that we, as people who choose to work towards creating a peaceful atmosphere, must speak and act in a peaceful manner. This, at times, can be extremely difficult. When it is completely necessary, indeed we are sure to be kind and friendly to the person standing before us. Surely, there are different situations that are easier than others. On the one hand, when working with children and adults who have been through great atrocities, the innate sorrow that we feel for those people will influence the way in which we interact with them. On the other hand, when working with young people who are disrespectful and unresponsive to the work you are trying to do for them, it is much harder to conduct yourself in a friendly manner.

In the last few days since arriving at Mount Madonna, I have encountered a man a few times. This man can only be described as one of the sweetest, whole-hearted, kindest men I have ever met. But, I have never heard him speak. As he practices silent communication, his only forms of interaction is through gestures, facials, and a tablet with chalk which he carries with him. Despite these restrictions, I feel as though I have heard him through his aura that he carries. The sheer friendliness and genuine kindness which he carries himself with really impacted the way in which I felt when I was around him. It really inspired me that someone could say so much without saying anything at all. It reminded me how important it is to practice what we preach. If we are to say that we are trying to make great changes, and truly want the best for people, then we should also carry ourselves in that light. Instead of just saying what we mean, we should live what we say. The power of communication without communicating is so powerful.

Don’t get me wrong, I am a strong believer in the power of words. I think that somebody can convince you of anything with the words that they speak. But, instead of solely relying on the ability to speak to people, we should be creating an atmosphere of peace.

This man also gave our group a quote from a famous reading of Thich Naht Hanh, whom I had studied some years ago. To read that quote, you can refer to Endi’s earlier post. Rather that reiterating that, I thought I would share some quotes from his work that I read many years ago.

“Hope is important because it can make the present moment less difficult to bear. If we believe that tomorrow will be better, we can bear a hardship today.”

“My actions are my only true belongings. I cannot escape the consequences of my actions. My actions are the ground upon which I stand.”

Thich Naht Hanh
Thich Naht Hanh

“Part-Time” Peacebuilding

Money

Pictured above is something we all know far too well–money. Not only does it oil the cogwheels that keeps the world turning round-and-round, but it also plays an integral role in the world of peacebuilding. Unfortunately, the reality is that in order to make a change, we first need to have the resources and man-power to do so. Resources can be reasonably accessible for low prices. However, skilled, dedicated, passionate workers are much more difficult to come by, especially if you don’t have stacks of money to offer them in return for their hard-work.

When we step in to this world, and choose to dedicate our lives to the cause, are we also preparing ourselves for a life of struggle. That after slaving away through many years of education, we are still to fend for ourselves day-in and day-out? This is where I think it is important to make a distinction between being comfortable, and having excess.

Many members within the group were uncomfortable with the way in which the Rancho Cielo manager would speak of money. Her intentions were not necessarily where we thought they would lay, but the outcome (in as much as helping people) was creating change in an area of need. So, because we don’t agree with her intentions, should be condemn the outcome? This goes back to the class discussion we had regarding Corporate Social Responsibility, where non-profit work is used as an advertising tool. Or, even more controversial, the role of companies that employ “charitable” strategies, such as Toms offering a pair of shoes to those in need for every pair sold in the USA. Because these companies are not coming from the “right” intentions, or aren’t conducting their business with charitable work as their priority, should we condemn them too?

In my opinion, we should continue to encourage this work. Little steps combine to make great leaps. As long as the work of one organization isn’t undermining the great work of another organization (Toms undermining the local economy), then why should we condemn their actions? But, in saying that, I think we should also encourage further civic engagement. We shouldn’t just stand around in ball gowns in a fancy hotel patting each other’s back and presenting acceptance speeches, but instead urging one another to do more. Everyone in a position of privilege (be that racial, socio-economically, or the like), should be using that platform to bring other marginalized communities to an equal standing.

However, before I finish this thought, I would like to reference something that Luigi articulated quite well during our conversation on the matter.

“You cannot be a part of the problem, whilst pretending to be a part of the solution at the same time.”

I have many friends who came into college ready to save the world. As they reach their junior year, I look over the shoulder and see applications for that coveted spot in Goldman Sachs. Their reasoning is that they will line their pockets a little before going out and saving the world. These actions I condemn. The work that could be done helping the system over five years could possibly take three times as long to rectify those actions. I am not saying that these people do not have the right to want financial stability, but they shouldn’t prioritize the gains of excess wealth over the survival of other groups.

The Victimization of Convicts

“Let us separate the behavior from the individual.” This statement, expressed by the Chief of Police of Salinas, is rather logical in theory, but a whole other story in practice. Before I begin, I would like to preface that the following statements cannot necessarily be applied to all prisoners, as each case is unique, but instead are generalizations of many prisoners.Conflicted

As we walked through corridors of cells, seeing prisoner’s lined from left to right, it ignited a sense of curiosity–what events led to this person’s life being confined to a 6 by 9 foot area behind steel bars? Understandably, there was a turning point in each and every one of their lives. There must have been a pinnacle point in their story that led to this moment in their life. There was a line that was crossed, which could not be undone–that one (or for some, many) bad decision(s) that changed the course of their life forever. It is this part of their story that I am sure of–that they did not necessarily choose to be here, but that they had made a choice that had lead to them being here regardless. What I was not sure of was whether I was standing before a victim of a system I spend my days trying to change, or someone who had purposefully wronged a system that protects me. It is with these questions in mind that I tried to separate the behavior from the individual, then reconnect the two, and see the difference. In what ways had this individual been subject to the misgivings of a system that continuously belittles the lives of so many, which led them to make poor decisions as they felt they had “no other choice”? Alternatively, have these individuals actions earned stripped them of the right to equal standing as you and I after they blatantly disregarded the law, of which we make the conscious decision to follow everyday? The difference between these two standpoints is drastic. On the one hand, we would essentially pity this person. When taking into account that this individual had “no other choice,” we are bound to cut them some slack. As victims of a system that oppresses them, they were just doing what they “needed to.” On the other hand, if we stand with the law, then their unlawful actions cannot be explained or defended, but are viewed bluntly as a violation of the principles that society has committed to. Therefore, are we to either victimize these individuals, as their actions are just products of a system that has continuously challenged their chance of success? Or, are we to define their whole life based on the decision they made? Or, is there a middle ground? I surely hope so!

I, personally, find it extremely difficult to ignore a prisoner’s life, and the factors involved in the crime that they committed. But, in saying that, I also find it very difficult to ignore the fact that these individuals should be held accountable for the choices that they have made. There are so many factors that can never truly be taken in to account. I feel as though I have made the unfortunate mistake of judging one too many convicts for the choices they have made, and rarely take into account the history behind their actions. But, I am still not sure I could view a convict as a victim. They have created victims through their actions. Just as the system should pay for the wrongs they have done towards that individual, they also should pay for their wrongs.

Telling Your Story in Order to Change the Narrative

Globalization has made it increasingly difficult to distinguish whether somebody has Maori roots. We are mixed–European, Pasifika, Asian, and so on. When people see me, they do not see Maori. I can be identified as a white, well-educated, athletic young woman who spent the last few years travelling the world. On the other hand, I can be identified as a Maori, former ward of the state, traditional school drop out young woman who grew up in the murder capital of New Zealand.

Over the years, many have questioned why I choose to emphasize my Maori heritage, even though I could blissfully live within the comfort of the privilege my British father gave me. Today, I listened to Ms Julie Reynolds unfolding the role of media influencing societies view, and most importantly, the ways in which society triggers media reporting. This inspired a number of thoughts on the way in which we see ourselves, which can change the way others view us, and on a macro-level, how those depictions collectively add to that categorical identity. I have seen this happen firsthand time and time again. Often, when I have shared my story with those who are familiar with Maori stereotypes, their first response to my story is that I am such a great exception to my peers. Instead of choosing a life of teenage pregnancy, government welfare benefits, and substance abuse, I have “risen above” all of those expectations. But those narratives are just that–stories. Instead of letting other people write our stories for us, we must breakdown those stereotypes. So many organizations come to work to resolve the issues of my town already armed with various assumptions of who we are, based on where we come from and our bloodlines. Rarely have I seen these assumptions positively contribute to the work being done. In actuality, I see it as quite the opposite. These assumptions are not only obstacles to making changes, but can also perpetuate the issue. If a young person is constantly bombarded with the idea that “we know this area is prone to gang violence, so we assume you’re involved in it too,” then young people will begin to believe it–hear something 1000 times, and you can believe anything.

I know many people who choose to suppress their Maori culture so as not to be associated with those stereotypes. But, I love my culture! At times, I look back and realize how the many valuable lessons I have learned from traditional stories greatly surpass those that I have learned in a lecture hall. However, the creation of these labels shouldn’t be held solely in the hands of the “other” (or the media), but we should rather take responsibility for not working to redefine these stereotypes. Instead of letting these labels define who we are, we should be drawing the labels ourselves. Instead of categorizing each other’s identities within the misgivings of the past, many of which we had no part of, we should uplift these identities. Maybe then we will be able to influence the negative labels that were laid down before we were even born.

So, I tell myself and anyone else with a story to tell; continue to share it. People may call you names, or make assumptions about your intentions. There is no telling if it will ever get easier, but what I am sure about is that it’s worth it. Don’t tell your story to boost your ego about how far you have come, but instead tell your story in order to change the narrative that has already been written about your identity, and who you are “supposed” to be.

Narratives

Interconnected Conflict

The great thing about this program is that one day you’ll be studying nuclear weapons, the next you’ll be discussing the psycho-analytical approach to religion, the next is storytelling, and so on. At first, I wasn’t quite in the right frame of mind. I was trying to look at each issue in its own right, without reference to the conflict that I hope to work within. However, over the past few days I have become more analytical and are beginning to question whether there needs to be blatant connections between my interests (which, in case I haven’t made it clear yet, is for the preservation of the rights for indigenous people), and other conflicts around the world.

This realization followed the discussion with Mr. Montville regarding his perspective of reconciliation, particularly with regards to the idea of a “walk through history” to understand the various elements that lay at the foundation of these conflicts. As you walk through the history of a conflict, you are more than likely going to stumble upon the religious element, political element, cultural element, economic element, and so on. There are numerous ways in which the world inherently impacts each other. The 2008 financial crisis showed the way in which an economic disaster could have lasting impacts on culture as people were displaced from their homes. On the other hand, it had a great impact on the political situation of the nation as citizens questioned the role in which the government should play in the private sector. However, we predominantly recall such an issue as economic. The point I am trying to make is that issues are never as simple as they first seem. When working to resolve a conflict, it is important to reference all sorts of factors to a create a truly holistic understanding of what needs to be addressed. Indeed, it is quite clear that the role of nuclear weaponry deterrence in the Cold War era doesn’t necessarily directly impact the conflict of which I am passionate about, but it has had an impact on the New Zealand nation. Peaceful protests regarding the testing of nuclear weapons in the Pacific Nations led to the declaration of New Zealand as the worlds first nuclear-free zone. Although such a case does not directly impact the relations between indigenous people and settlers, it was a fine example of the ways in which conflicting parties can come together to fight for a common cause.

In comparison to my previous discussion on cynicism, I think this realization insights a bit of a positive spin to the work that we do as change-makers. Once we can resolve, or even just influence a few steps forward in one conflict area (such as the views of justice), then we are inherently impacting other conflicts. As peace builders, we are constantly working as a team, without even knowing it, and with many hands makes light work.

Pearson Day 1

Image: The second round of meeting my extended family from all around the world, and seeing how much we had in common and how much our ideas of the changing the world were similar.

Cynicism and Realism: Finding an Equilibrium

As I listened to Dr. Richard Matthew unfold the facts of the world we live in today, I found myself falling into an unfortunate cynical understanding of my role in the “change” to be made. The words “breakthrough” and “breakdown” stared down at me from the screen. I felt defeated. It was almost as if these two words had finally made me aware of the reality that exists, that change was impossible. I began to consider the possibility of “breakthrough”–could we really breakthrough all of these difficulties that we face today? From environmental turmoil, to racism, to war? No. We cannot simply “breakthrough.” So, then I turn to “breakdown.” Is this really what I spend my days studying and trying to help people for? Only to hold off the inevitable breakdown of the system that we are continuously trying to mend? No.

With no satisfying conclusion to draw from these two words, I realized I was oversimplifying a situation far too complex to belittle to such a weak argument. I found myself feeling something that I do not often submit to; cynicism. If I could not have faith in the work that I had dedicated my life to doing, then why was I here? I walked and spoke with Richard about the intricacies involved with peace building, and the difficulties we face as change-makers. As I explained to him the cynicism I felt, I realized two things: Firstly, more often than not change-makers will find themselves surrounded by other change-makers. Together, we create this whole new spectrum of positivity. We are not naive (at least not all of us), but we tend to hold a lot more faith in the power of people to make lasting changes to a system that seems unchangeable. So, in retrospect, the lowest point of such positivity will comparably exceed the feelings of those who are not involved in the change-making field. Therefore, this cynicism that I thought I felt wasn’t necessarily that bad in the grand scheme of it all. Secondly, cynicism can often be confused with realism. When you constantly spend time with people who hope for the best of any situation, it is quite difficult to re-evaluate all of the elements involved and take a realistic approach. We do not wish to adopt such naivety thinking that we can change everything, but we must also hold some conviction in our dedication to the causes we stand for and therefore, have faith in our power to make change.

From day one, Pushpa has made it clear that approach and perspective and extremely integral to the peacebuilding process. It is with this in mind that I am grateful for this friendly reminder to check whether my approach is too cynical, or has just the right amount of realism. I am still not sure if I need to rethink my cynical mentality to some things, or whether my critical thinking just needs that extra hint of positivity–but I look forward to finding out and I’m glad that I can recognize this questions now.

Welcoming as Peacebuilding

I am well aware of how I see peacebuilding as strongly connected to the indigenous belief that it is in humankind’s nature to be peaceful. Many, if not all, cultural practices and traditions nurture the ideal that we must always be welcoming to anyone and everyone. This welcoming nature of my culture is a constant reminder of how negatively my people have been treated, yet continue to treat others with respect. Colonization has continued to impact generation after generation as domestic violence, depression, alcoholism, substance abuse and early parenthood continues to plague our communities. Nevertheless, we are welcoming and respectful. If anyone comes to our land, we give them an offering called a powhiri (pictured below) which essentially offers visitors the same respect that any tribe member would also receive. It is with this essence in mind that I try to approach conflicts and discussions, but that is no easy task. When those who you offer respect do not return such a courtesy, how do you continue to be open with them?

Powhiri

Peacebuilding, in which I see it now, has been a big part of my life. From the smallest situations, to a larger context. However, I expect the ways I see peacebuilding now to change over the next three weeks. As of now, I see peacebuilding as a way to overcome a conflict. In my opinion, this can be experienced on the playground in elementary school, in a foster home, or between races. These three situations are all examples of how I have seen peace facilitated, but these instances have shown me that context is extremely intrinsic to the way in which you approach peacebuilding. Although I try to embody the values of my culture in my approach to peacebuilding, however the complexities of the world that we live in today has dampened my ability to act with such openness that my culture encourages. It is my hope that an in-depth look at the theoretical side of peacebuilding will offer a foundation to further incorporate such welcoming into my approach to peacebuilding. How can we understand the views of others, but collaborate to make change?

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