Final Reflection Piece

It has been a “week and some change” since SPP ended. For many of us, these past couple of days involved extensive traveling and settling back into old rhythms and patterns, or beginning new roles and assuming new obligations.

I have been thinking deeply about what SPP represents for me. Perhaps the biggest takeaway is that I now have more clarity about the trajectory I want my academic career to follow. The opportunity to learn from “industry experts” as to what the field of peacebuilding and/or development entails in such an intimate and relaxed environment is a difficult one to come by, and as such, I am continually grateful to Dr Iyer for organizing this.

Additionally, SPP was a refreshing reminder that the world is not such a dark place after all! It is easy—especially if one follows the major media outlets in this country—to believe that the world is on the brink of anarchy. Indeed, there are “pockets of extreme violence”; this violence fueled by sentiments that appear to be contagious. However, SPP was a reminder that there are many passionate, intelligent, industrious and caring people committed to establishing positive peace in various communities globally. And for that, I say thank you to my colleagues for all the insights and energy (most times, lol) we brought to SPP.

I think the biggest lesson I learned in SPP—and this is not because it was the focus of the last few seminars—is how important it is to establish a clearly defined moral and ethical framework, and, to take time for self-care. I’ve already mentioned the difficulties of a term like “self-care”, so I do not see the necessity of going into it now. However one defines the term, it is important to participate in activities and/or rituals that allow you to be your best self in service of others. Additionally, having a clearly defined framework from which you operate brings an integrity to your character—a trait so important everywhere–but particularly in this line of work. So again, the biggest thank you from my heart to everyone who was involved in making SPP a truly unforgettable 3 weeks 🙂

Reflections

We had our penultimate session yesterday with the ever brilliant Dr Pushpa Iyer. She challenged us to think about the elitism inherent within the Peacebuilding field, an elitism I think runs throughout academia. As a Ghanaian post colonial scholar, I am keenly aware of  how certain epistemologies are delegitimized while others elevated and portrayed as an apparent universal standard worthy of emulation. I recognize that academia has functioned historically as the ideological apparatus that has sustained missions of oppression and colonization. Presenting Africans as this ‘barbaric Other’ without a set of moral and legal codes justified the Christianization and colonization of the continent. Presenting women as irrational beings incapable of self determination justifies the violence that is continually acted out on their bodies and spirits. Academia can-because of the ideas that gain currency-can literally change the world.

However, the goal of yesterday’s session was not to lambast academia, but rather, call attention to the interesting fact of power dynamics. Who gets to produce knowledge and why? What types of  knowledge are validated and which ones are excluded?

Peacebuilding work requires extensive engagement with different cultural communities. However, what happens when the cultural framework of the community is in contradiction to that of the individual Peacebuilder? What happens when ideas endorsed by academia do not find currency in a particular context? Dr Iyer asked us to think about the ways culture and subject locations influence our understanding of self care.

I am beginning to recognize that crucial to being an effective Peacebuilder is the ability to navigate both high and low context cultures with sensitivity and intelligence from a clearly defined ethical framework.

Nonviolence as a practice of self care

My last two entries have focused on the role religion plays in constructing and influencing a society. I have discussed that it can act as an instrument to challenge oppressive structures. But what I haven’t mentioned is how the practice of faith and religion for many brings about a sense of internal peace and security. My goal here is not to do that per se, but instead, talk about how important practicing self care is for aspiring peace builders.

Almost all of our speakers–albeit in different ways–have communicated that in order for effective and enduring service to others one has to be at peace with themselves. And they did not describe ‘peace’ as the absence of stressful situations, but rather, the result of acting consistently within a clearly defined ethical framework and the ability to successfully engage with stress and conflict in a fashion that does not erode relationships.

This ability to engage with conflict to produce either internal peace or social change is one, according to Mr Kazu Haga, nonviolent training emphasizes. He mentioned that there is a difference between non-violence and nonviolence. The former term refers to an absence of violence but does not necessarily suggest a positive peace. The former refers to conscious and disciplined ways of engaging with violent people or structures in a way that brings about true and positive change for all. For Haga, nonviolence isn’t about what not to do, but rather, how you respond to injustice to change it. This insight changed my perception on the necessity for nonviolent approaches.

I haven’t always been a supporter of nonviolent approaches to situations of injustice. I felt that in certain contexts the only way to respond to violence was with applied force and aggression. However, I am recognizing that violence cannot be a vehicle for establishing enduring peace; a situation where multiple stakeholders are invested in working towards the ‘beloved community’. I now recognize that my understanding of nonviolence approaches was based on what the term non-violent suggests, and as such, failed to appreciate the wisdom and complexity of this way of life.

Perhaps the most striking comment of the session–and one I know will continue to challenge me for a while- is to make a distinction between hating forces of evil without hating the people enacting those atrocities. Haga showed an interesting diagram, which essentially communicated this: we should have anger for conditions but compassion for people. It was welcoming and encouraging to hear both him and Ms Goodman extol the emotion of anger. They mentioned that anger alerts us to the fact that we perceive that one of our values have been violated. So, to an extent, feeling anger is a sign of emotional intelligence. But, the trust test is how we respond and express that anger that differentiates a person of self control from an impulsive individual.

Haga, channeling Ghandi, mentioned that nonviolence is essentially a process of healing, self care and self purification. And it is definitely a way of life I will be exploring in the future 🙂

Patriarchy

If patriarchy can be defined as both an ideology and set of structures that actively promotes the interests of men by denying full human dignity to women, how can it simultaneously be harmful to men?

Our final speaker of the day, Mr Kazu Haga, shared sentiments to this effect, which I find to be so true and powerful. And my intention here is not to co-opt a narrative, but rather to introduce the ostensibly provocative opinion–as an extension to both my previous entry and the session today–that patriarchal structures prevent men from cultivating a sophisticated set of skills necessary for high degrees of emotional intelligence, which, as a consequence, disables us from creating and nurturing genuinely intimate and trusting relationships, thereby–but not to the same degree- denying us our full humanity. By limiting the availability of ‘masculine’ options one can inhabit, patriarchy circumscribes men to limited and outdated notions of who we should be and how we perform gender.

And I see a cycle developing here. Mr Kazu Haga warned that investing into systems of hurt and oppression only produce more hurt and oppression. He cited the militarization of the police in the US as an example. What patriarchy does is that it elevates men–who because of restrictions placed on how they can enact gender are not as emotionally and culturally intelligent as they could be–to positions of power that define the development trajectory for communities and nations. As such, gender egalitarian policies and pro-women health laws are not passed, for example, and labor laws continue to reflect androcentric impulses, thereby just strengthening patriarchal institutions even further.

If anyone has been following my blog, you know I never have answers. I do think one small step us as men–as brothers, sons, fathers and husbands–can take is to actively and empathetically (if possible) listen to the women in our lives and work on ways to divest ourselves of our male privilege.

My dear Religion

I majored in Religious Studies at a brilliant Quaker institution, yet still struggle to find the language to have nuanced, sensitive and informed conversations about it. Even as I write this blog-with religion as my central focus- my mind is swirling with conflicting and confusing questions.

How do we define religion? And what does it mean to be religious? Why does it seems to occupy and warrant– despite predictions that as the world became more technologically sophisticated it’s relevance will gradually diminish- such significant attention both in public spheres and private arenas? How is that religious ideologies can animate an individual to acts of genius yet motivate another to behave in ways that dehumanize and oppress? What is the critical difference in how people understand and orient themselves around ideas of the ‘Ultimate’ that allows “Jack” to think of religion as an instrument that can potentially promote economic development, social cohesion and increased political participation, yet influence “John” to view religion as a divisive and cancerous tool that has inflicted more harm upon nations and communities than good? I truly, at this moment, cannot come up with answers.

However, I am beginning to recognize that one’s subjectivity and social positioning influences how that person chooses to engage with religion and religious discourse. I do not see Religion as detached and non-embodied intellectual contemplation about the ‘Divine’. Rather, I view Religion as a dynamic, living and constantly negotiated set of moral and legal codes that provides an ethical framework that enables a person to interpret their reality. Religious identity can function as an integral part of one’s personality.

It is precisely because of this point that I struggle with the idea–communicated earlier today–that practitioners from other faith traditions have a role to play in intra-faith conflicts. I believe–and this point was brilliantly communicated by Dr Patton– that all religious traditions have intrinsic and internal resources at their disposal to mediate conflict. And while I agree that interfaith engagement, especially in our increasingly cosmopolitan, multicultural and multi-religious world is essential in creating enduring and lasting peace, I am still ambivalent about the idea suggested earlier. Different religious traditions enjoy more social and political currency than others. Therefore, there are always underlying power dynamics that influence inter-religious engagement. Hence, my suspicion is that attempts to mediate intra-religious conflicts by actors belonging to alternative faith traditions might evoke questions of value, worth and superiority and inferiority. I’m not sure.

I started this entry by describing my mind as a hodgepodge of ideas, and as such, I’m not sure of the direction I want it to go, so I will stop here. My point is this– a thorough and exhaustive analysis of the ways religion functions in building personal and social identities is crucial exercise for aspiring peacebuilders to conduct in contemporary society

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I was once asked whether I consider myself a ‘feminist’, and I said no. Now, before the knives come out, let me explain.

I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiments articulated by both feminist and womanist theology. I know there are key differences between the two, but it can be argued that a central premise that undergirds both lies in their ability to utilize religious resources as instruments to challenge systems of oppression that seek to circumscribe women’s agency and degrade their ontological value–namely patriarchal and racist systems.

I was taught that these theologies–crucially–are derived from the lived and embodied experience of what it means to be a ‘woman’. And because this embodied experience–and the associated notion that emotional intelligence is just as valid an epistemology as rational thought–is central to these theologies, I cannot ascribe the term ‘feminist’ to myself.

Instead, I employ the term ‘positive masculinity’: how do I construct masculinity that is not predicated on the supposed inferiority and dehumanization of women? How do I divest myself from patriarchal ideas of what it means to be a ‘man’ in order to create spaces that allows for female voices that have been historically marginalized and ignored to be heard? How do I engage with my world and the women in my life in a manner that reflects the radical ethics of love and honor embodied by the figure of the Jesus Christ described in liberation theology?

It might sound like an inconsequential change, but I believe the language we employ creates the realities and spaces we eventually end up inhabiting. And I believe that using language and terms that prompt me to examine the ways–both explicit and unconscious– in which I am complicit in sustaining patriarchal systems is my small way of currently striving to create a world that does not weaponize and punish gender.

So a big thank you to Dr Kathryn Poethig for so eloquently and passionately challenging us to think about the ‘politics of the body’.

 

As an aside, we discussed TRC’s and their effectiveness and particularly the TRC in South Africa. So please find attached an article that explores the relationship between the TRC in South Africa and gender 🙂

http://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2016-08-09-the-trc-and-the-womens-cause-the-march-to-gender-justice-remains/#.V6mH0fRHaJI

Cultural Memory

I truly enjoyed the 3 sessions Dr Montville had with us: History and Victimhood, Apology and Forgiveness and Reconciliation. He had such a mastery of the subject matter and depth of knowledge, but beyond this, the content shared in these sessions resonated with some ideas I had been having lately.

Early in the program we discussed the challenges of defining terms in the “Peacebuilding industry”: are there words that have universal application or are terms understood and employed according to specific cultural contexts? If the latter is the case, how do we have a conversation in which all multifarious stakeholders involved in “building peace” globally understand each other?

One such contentious term is “post-conflict”. How do we determine whether a society has arrived at this point? Is it merely the cessation of active and explicit violence? Or is it addressing the root causes that led to the violence in the first place? Difficult questions to answer.

However, Dr Montville made a statement that is difficult to contest- societies transfer certain memories, whether positive or negative, from generation to generation. Cultural memory, as the name suggests, is a way of honoring and respecting certain aspects of the historical narratives of a society. But how does a society overcome or wrestle with a traumatic cultural memory? Is it a legitimate argument to state that a constant engagement with that particular painful historical episode or episodes recreates feelings of negativity and hurt, and thus, certain historical events should be relinquished to the dustbins of history. But then, how does an society chart a vision of the future without recognizing the hurdles it had to overcome to arrive at its current point?

These were some of the questions I had during Dr Montville’s sessions. We examined the “success” of the TRC commission in South Africa. I raised the point that I felt it placed an undue burden and moral responsibility on victims to forgive the perpetrators. Dr Montville accepted that argument, but still said that the legitimacy of the TRC commission lay in the fact that it prevented the eruption of a civil war in South Africa.

I accept that point. However, I was left wondering how justice, reconciliation and reconstruction fit together in a “post-conflict” society, and whether law, which serves as a site for communal knowledge and collective memory can still simultaneously function as a vehicle and catalyst in creating a just society?

Puzzles

A puzzle, according to the Sarfo Dictionary Second Edition, is something with many pieces that fit in a particular fashion to make a complete image. I use the metaphor of a puzzle to describe how I am beginning to think about the criminal justice system in the US. It is such a multifaceted and sophisticated system, and as such, there are multiple entry points to any conversation about it.

Do we begin by talking about the racial bias that “appears” to exist in it? Or, do we start by attempting to examine the ethics that undergird the system? Should we place emphasis on retributive or restorative justice in the criminal justice system? And how do we explain increasing rates of incrimation? Do social factors- a poor neighborhood, drug infested environment- account for why people commit acts of violence, or are some people just naturally oriented towards criminal activity? How would a rehabilitation model realistically function within the criminal justice system? And why is the prison industry such an economically profitable one? These, amongst many others, are the questions I took away after the visits to the prison facilities.

It is easy to characterize inmates as the “Other”; “violent criminals who need to be locked away to ensure the security and safety of citizens and communities”. But a wonderful thing happens when you are a blessed with an opportunity to interact and engage with these ostensible “Others”: you recognize they are human. This is the power of building relationships. You move away from thinking of an inmate as a nameless “Other” to an embodied being with hopes, aspirations and fears. After the visits, I can only wonder whether people- who once reneged on a social contract- should be condemned to a lifetime of punishment because of a mistake or series of mistakes?

Discourse that focuses on reforming the criminal justice system necessitates nuanced, complex and creative ideas. As such, I have a feeling I’ll be putting the pieces of this puzzle together for much longer.


 

Anansi

Susan spoke to us about the beauty of storytelling. She mentioned that it is an instrument to create relationships between people and communities. Storytelling also enables us to be more empathetic. It allows us to understand the subtle nuances that shape a particular personality, or at times, the impulses that determine how an institution or organization behaves or carries out its mandate. Today we witnessed the beauty of storytelling at both Rancho Cielo and the Police station. The former was a beautiful display of the endless possibilities available when a community gathers around a common vision and strategically directs its resources– intellectual faculties, emotional energies, financial and material benefits–towards the actualization of a clearly articulated vision. It was a joy to witness the multifarious ways Rancho Cielo–which is a not-for-profit– functions in order to create a healthier community. The visit to the Ranch also got me thinking about the role business can potentially play in promoting economic development. And I do not use the term economic development here to refer only to an increase in material wealth, but rather, in the more expansive definition of the term–growth that affects all dimensions (spiritual and material) of a particular human personality. I am beginning to believe that business organizations that act upon clearly defined values can promote the social good.

The second story told today is extremely pertinent considering the racial climate of the US currently. We had an all access pass (thanks Pushpa) to see how a police department–in this case the one in Salinas–functions. This visit was necessary for me to understand that any conversation concerning the merits of police departments needs to be nuanced. Like a good story does, the visit to the Police station left me with numerous questions however. What is the role of the police in society? How is police legitimacy and procedural justice achieved? What are the root causes of criminality? Do certain police officers display acts of unintentional racism or are operating within an institutionally biased structure?

A good story reveals multifarious and conflicting truths, yet still manages to integrate these truths into a cohesive narrative. The stories heard at both Rancho Cielo and the Police Station are gradually helping me to make better sense of my world.AnansiStoriesWebDsgn-665x707

Akwaaba

Writing this first entry proved to be a more difficult task than I thought it would be. I have known for a while now that I would like to work and serve in a capacity that promotes the public service in the Ghanaian national interest, but highlighting the motivation or motivations behind this desire is still a challenging task for me. Perhaps then, one of the reasons that excited me about this program is its ability to allow for introspection and self growth whilst simultaneously teaching us to be better peace practitioners. Peacebuilding is crucial to developing a society that promotes the human genius of all within it. It therefore allows for multiple entry points into the process. The Summer Peacebuilding Program does a wonderful job of showing how complex and nuanced this field is, and gives us the necessary conceptual tools to be effective problem solvers on the ground. The opportunity to explore the relationship between theory and practice offered by SPP is one I could not pass on! I am looking forward to an intense 3 weeks filled with lots of laughter, learning and (maybe some drinks). LolMonterey-Hopkins Marine Station

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