On Emotional Intelligence

Awareness of your own behaviours and emotions is key to maintaining yourself in today’s high-paced world. Especially when engaging in professions that are very stressful, it is of great importance to truly understand yourself, as to not get carried away or overwhelmed by the impact your profession has on you as a person. I remember well that, growing up, plenty of adults in my community had to take leaves of absence from their jobs due to burnouts. As a pretty empathetic and emotional person myself, I truly recognise the importance of staying positive and stress free. I absolutely do not want to experience such burnouts myself. Of course, this is easier said than done, but I truly believe in God, friends, mind body techniques, positive attitudes and mindsets, and nature to help me to maintain a healthy emotional state. Today’s lecture, which spoke about emotions in great detail, really emphasised for me again that I constantly have to put effort into maintaining a healthy and positive mindset. This arguably is one of the biggest challenges I will face throughout my life, as there are so many things that I want to do and want to achieve. I realise that I must be careful not to overwhelm myself. Luckily, I believe that the fact that I am aware of this already is a big step. It makes me feel confident that I will be able to constructively maintain a healthy emotional balance.

Emotional-Intelligence

Be Careful With Your Words

First of all, I absolutely love languages. I love learning new languages, hearing people speak different languages… I am fascinated by the different tones and intonations people speak with, and the different sentence structures that exist. If you are somewhat unfamiliar with the Spanish language, and you heard two individuals speak, you may have thought they were arguing, whereas in the case of German you might think the person is choking. Mandarin might sound like the vocabulary consists of less than a hundred words, and to the inexperienced listener it is nearly impossible to tell apart Czech from Russian from Bulgarian from Serbian. Language is an absolutely fascinating concept.

Within language, vocabulary is of great importance. The weight words carry must not be taken lightly (note the wordplay there), as it is this vocabulary upon which we base our interactions among one another. Interactions, needless to say, are key to both life and peacebuilding. It is then important to be aware of how certain word choices may impact the message one tries to convey. Throughout my college career (as well as throughout this program), we often speak of “dialogue” as a vehicle to solve problems. Laurie Patton, president of Middlebury College and professor of religion, pointed out in one of our lectures that the word dialogue in itself may be questioned. Dialogue, for example, seemingly implies an event in time, an occasion that may or may not reoccur. However, in terms of conflict solving, the process really should be continuous, and the engagement should be at all times. This is just one small, simple example of how one may convey an unwanted meaning by a simple word choice. This has really motivated me to be extra careful of the language I use. While my thoughts make sense in my head (or well, most of the time they do), other people obviously cannot read my mind; consequently, I may convey a message I did not intend to convey, simply by an unfortunate choice of wording. This small example demonstrates the importance of being aware of the impact language has on the work we as peacebuilders do (and truthfully, the impact language has in any aspect of daily life, from interpersonal relationships to education to politics).

Theory VS Practice

Theory and practice are harmonious.

A medical student who studied the entire human anatomy, but has never performed one procedure on a human being, clearly isn’t certified to perform heart surgery on a person; a teenager who has been driving on his or her private property for years, and has fixed countless cars, but does not know the traffic laws, clearly isn’t going to be a save driver. Why would we expect this harmony to be any less true when it comes to teaching or doing fieldwork?

I have had plenty of teachers who know a lot about the subject they teach, but a significant part of those teachers has little to no field experience. I have long been aware of the fact that experience is integral to learning, but failed to question the credibility of those who teach me based upon that fact; being emerged in this intense peacebuilding program, I now understand the importance of it. You simply cannot deny the fact that, no matter how much knowledge one may posses, field experiences bring a level of knowledge to the table books simply cannot.

Learning from experts who posses both the “booksmart” and the “streetsmart” on the topics they teach is enriching, fulfilling, and super inspiring. It brings to the lectures a level of interactivity and personal connection that make the experience and lessons more impactful. I am extremely grateful to work with such uniquely experienced individuals, and it genuinely adds to my learning experience overall. I will incorporate the harmony of theory and practice into my own work and future endeavors as much as possible, and will encourage other people to explore this harmony as well. I think by doing so we all can become more well rounded individuals, and effectively work towards a more understanding and accepting society.

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We are peacebuilders

When discussing who peacebuilders are, it quickly becomes clear that you cannot easily provide one simple definition as to who (or what) peacebuilders are. There are so many ways in which social change may be brought, and through fulfilling all sorts of roles in society one may contribute positively to the cause of “making this world a better place”. To say that one is better than the other is somewhat egotistical. Though, I will not deny the fact that certain forms of peacebuilding may have more significant impacts than others. I feel obliged to question to concept of peacebuilding, because I have been exposed to it in so many ways, and it is often hard to convey to “outsiders” what it actually is that you are doing. Just like the “bubble” I was in when I attended the United World College in Bosnia and Herzegovina, I now find myself in a bubble of people that want to make this world a better place. Some people won’t understand what that means, some people may see it as a lost cause or a waste of time, and some people may perceive us peacebuilders as conceited.

No matter what people think of us, and no matter the many ways in which peace can be brought, I like to think that most of us have at least the right intentions (and in my opinion, it seems like we really do). However, I do have to be aware of the fact that my aspirations are at least a little idealistic, and that I won’t be able to make everyone understand what it is that I believe in, or what it is that I fight for. Not everyone has a sense of wanting to make a change, and while I find myself in a bubble of people that do want that, it does not make us better in any way. Quite controversially, I think a lot of us peacebuilders judge more than we should, and sometimes may fight a little too hard for our own opinions.

The more I learned about this world, the more opportunities I came across, the more important making a change became to me. I would be lying if I said that I was born with this ideal (though it may feel natural to me now, I have not always had such passion for it). Only over time did I come to understand the importance of respecting and learning about the unique individuals in this world. This makes me wonder what this world would look like if everyone learned about the world the way I did, if everyone got the opportunities to be as informed.

Ideally, I would put all the experiences of me and other peacebuilders in one colorful bag of beautiful lessons, duplicate it over and over, and hand this bag out to everyone I meet, creating a bigger and more beautiful bag one step at a time. I guess that is the idealist in me. I have to learn to accept incrementalism (a very slow incrementalism). Because really: change is possible, it just takes a lot (a lot!) of time and patience.

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Incarceration

In this peaceful place I’m currently finding myself, I finally have time to properly reflect on the past week. I’ve always been quite opinionated, but after this week, I’m just trying to be really careful about any statement I make. We visited two prisons and looked into corrections and rehabilitation. To see what a prison looks like first hand, to see what an inmate’s life looks like, to engage with both the correction officers and the inmates… it made quite an impact. The stark contrast of meeting with the chief of police shortly after was even more overwhelming. Ambiguity is the only word that comes to my mind when I think about these visits. There is so much to say for and against all these institutions. Institutional racism/discrimination in both prisons and police forces definitely is real. Moreover, youth at risk need opportunities, love, and a sense of belonging/identity more than anything else. Youth incarceration inevitably makes everything worse. It is upsetting to see how much money is spent on incarceration, and that for much less money those things I just mentioned could be provided. It’s almost like certain people are preventing the extreme incarceration climate from changing. And well, it makes sense, incarceration and all that comes with it is a multi billion dollar business.

And what about all the people incarcerated serving life sentences for non-violent crimes? It’s infuriating! It literally makes no sense to me whatsoever. There is so much to say about the American justice system, and I couldn’t really tell you what the great things are about said system. I already knew all these things I witnessed, but now they have been confirmed, I have seen them with my own eyes, and I really do believe drastic reform is needed.

I am very grateful to have had this experience however. All the people I get to work with and learn from throughout this program… it is just absolutely amazing and invigorating. It has motivated and inspired me!

Peace in the Mountains

I truly believe that peace starts from within an individual, you cannot make peace unless your mind and soul are in line with the concept of peace. Thus, you don’t have to be the most stable, content person in the world, but you must at least believe in the idea of peace and reject most violence. You must be willing to search for peace within yourself. If you mislead yourself, if you are constantly in conflict with yourself, peace will drift farther and farther away from you. Having said that, I find myself in a very, very peaceful place.

Today our group arrived at Mount Madonna, a yoga retreat center in the middle of nowhere high up in the mountains in a redwood forest (okay, fair enough, high up in the mountains for a Dutch person, it’s not like I’m struggling to breath, but we are above the clouds and my ears did pop, several times). I won’t go into too much detail regarding the retreat center, but, it is an extremely peaceful place. The energy here is great; as soon as I stepped out the car I felt relaxed, I could feel stress and frustration seeping from my body. We are extremely lucky to be here, to enjoy the fresh air and the luxury of eating lunch in the sun looking out over the entire valley. We will spend one week here. Hopefully I will attain a level of mindfulness that will allow me to continue to feel and spread such positive energy. We will see what the next few days bring.

On Privilege and Peacebuilding

I am incredibly, incredibly inspired by the people that are willing to put up a fight for the greater good.

While enjoying the soft, sparkly sand on the beach of Santa Cruz, taking photos of the palm trees, discovering the best ice cream places, enjoying music with friends… well, I thought about what it is about my privilege as a white western woman that is so infuriating. Sure, the police may treat me better, and I may have an easier time finding a job, and the people of the places I visit may be more welcoming, and sure I don’t worry about my brother having to walk back home from school. But what am I really saying?

I am saying that I am mad about a sense of tranquility, peace, hope, stability, justice and prosperity that I get to experience that many of the people that I love (and the people in this world) don’t get to experience. There are so many fears I cannot possibly imagine having, because I was born in the right place at the right time.

I am mad about privilege in general. That my friends and I get to attend university, go out to clubs, travel the world, enjoy good food, and always have a comfortable bed to go home to. What privilege means differs greatly from one person and one place to another, but I know one thing: the more safety, hope and stability you experience, the more privileged you are.

I am mad about the fact that people have to see their loved ones get raped, their houses get looted, and their partners get killed. I am mad that mothers have to hold their dying babies and that the poor must suffer the oppression of the rich. I am mad about the people that are being exploited, those who may never travel because they are not allowed passports; those who grow up in war, those children who would die to learn mathematics while others cannot stop skipping class for all sorts reasons. This world clearly is not a fair place; these past days, weeks, months and years, I have observed so many injustices, and it is maddening. It is maddening because it just doesn’t seem fair to me that I get to fall asleep so comfortably while others must cope with the most unimaginable traumas.

I don’t care if you think I sound cliché, if you think I am an overly positive idealist, that I am unrealistic. I don’t care if you think I don’t know what I am talking about, or if you believe I have no right to speak. I don’t care if you see only the darkness in this world. More important than any, ANY, of the above, is: there are thousands of people who are willing to put up a fight for the greater good, people who are changing lives for the better one by one, and I genuinely do believe in this goodness, in this greatness.

Nurses, politicians, lawyers, mentors, neighbours, teachers, elders, Monks, Imams, bar tenders, prison guards, motivational speakers, astrologists, chemists, mothers, fathers, youth, clerks, soldiers, bankers, interpreters… the list is endless. Moreover than focusing on all the injustices I observe and learn about, I focus on the hundreds of “peacebuilders” I have met throughout my life. Those who have changed lives and continue to change lives. Those who sacrifice their pay-checks and family brunch to bring a smile to someone else’s face, to help someone in need.

People that are willing to put up a fight for the greater good inspire me to work harder myself, so that I may contribute to that fight every day, to join them in that fight. Sometimes I get lazy, and take things for granted, and pessimism gets to me (because really, there is so, so much going wrong in this world, how am I going to make it a better place?). Then I come across those inspiring people, and I realise that I am not on my own. I am part of this large, large group of amazing people who change people’s lives slowly but surely. That is what matters. To not give up helping other people. To recognise our privileges and comforts and to use them to do good.

Try and smile every day. Laughing is the best medicine there is in this world. Laughing and loving. I know I sound like an idealist hippie but hey, am I wrong, am I delusional and wrongfully optimistic?

I think not.

Battling Ignorance

The past few days have been an emotional rollercoaster, and that is an understatement. For the fourth day in a row, the first minute for myself is not until after 10:30pm at night. I’m exhausted in the best way possible though – I’m making new friends (and I’m talking real friendships here, it’s like a crash course in terms of getting to know people), I’m learning about the world, and am constantly feeling immense gratitude. What did I do to deserve to be here? How can I possible put on paper everything I take away from this amazing experience?

Let me try to keep it a little short today, just for the sake of giving my mind a rest in order to process it all. My most important lessons so far are a confirmation of some conclusions I came about long ago. Firstly, the world’s (socioeconomic and political) systems are almost impossible to change, yet we must never give up on attempting to improve them. Secondly, the only way to teach people, and to battle ignorance, is to expose individuals to real life experiences. In other words, as I spoke about in my previous post, we can’t just teach people, but we must engage them. Lastly, together we stand stronger. As I started to feel conflicted in terms of what I can do to make a change, the past few days are giving back hope that I indeed can make a change. I’m extremely lucky to work with experienced practitioners, experts in the fields of conflict resolution and peacebuilding. Every bit of information they provide me with is like a small piece of a puzzle. I do not yet see the full image of what that puzzle looks like as a whole, but I’ll keep you updates as I try to put the pieces together. I’m very excited I have 2,5 weeks of learning left.

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Gathering Thoughts

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As I am sitting in the office of the director who accepted me into this peace-building program (Puspha Iyer), I am going over some extremely significant thoughts I have had over the past weeks. I am trying to figure out how to put them all into one coherent story, but perhaps the reason these thoughts are chaotic in my head is because they regard the world I see – a chaotic, troubled world. I believe as humans we are starting to lose sight of who we are as a unity, and have started to ascribe so many characteristics to “others” (labels if you will), that all of us share the blame in this chaos, a chaos breaking that unity. If you think your hands are clean, you are poorly mistaken. Let me tell you why.

My story starts at home, a small town in the Netherlands. I went to a good high school, stayed up to date on the news, and observed a lot of diversity in my home country. I thought I knew about the world, but little did I know.

I was selected to go to a United World College in Bosnia and Herzegovina at the age of seventeen, and spend some of the best years of my life there. At this school, where I studied, lived, and worked with people from all over the world, I came to understand some important distinctions when it comes to learning: there is a big difference between learning about someone, and learning from that particular someone, as well as learning about something versus experiencing something. Books, movies, and distant narratives lack a lot of important details and authenticity. I say over and over, you cannot truly know about one country, culture, or religion, unless you’ve experienced it and seen it, and most importantly, engaged in it. This is what I was referring too, when I said your hands aren’t clean either. Next time you want to say “in country x people do y”, for example, you might want to be aware of not only overgeneralization, but also of the sources you are basing such statements on (and the fact that all they do is provide a generalized and most often biased overview). Once again, unless you’ve experienced it and engaged in something, you probably know a lot less than you think. That may be an uncomfortable thought, because that makes it so much harder to label people, which, psychologically, makes us humans feel comfortable. Labeling people also helps us make sense of the world. However, by not being aware of the overgeneralizations you constantly make about “others”, you contribute to chaos, because you contribute to creating divisions. It is exactly these overgeneralizations that drove us all apart – from Muslim to LGBTQ to Latino to First and Third World to Republican and Democrat to Country and City to Becky and Thug – we now constantly treat people and perceive people based on such labels. Are these what make us human? Certainly not.

What makes us human are those traits that carry no connotation other than their actual meaning; that could be applied to any human no matter what they look like or where they come from. Such labels include: “kind, compassionate, funny, calm, understanding, curious, etc.”. Such labels, especially positive labels, can be applied to individuals all over the world. It is important to see the common thread all of us humans share. It is important to bring back the unity. However, I am struggling to find ways to effectively convey this message to people. I hope to learn how to more effectively apply my knowledge in practice so that I can actually make a change, rather than merely changing as a person myself. I can’t wait to see what the next three weeks are going to bring. Hopefully, I will leave here being able to share a more coherent story.

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