Mirror, Mirror

Mirrors are tricky things…you can pick out every flaw that you notice about your reflection; or, you can choose to see all the potential that you bring into this world. Everyone is attached to himself or herself, meaning – to one’s values.  Sometimes, for one reason or another (to our chagrin) we betray our own values.  That doesn’t necessarily make us bad people.  It just makes us human.  The ability to check oneself, see things from a bird’s eye view, and forgive – that is transcendence to another type of existence.  Forgiveness is a powerful tool; but sometimes, we must also forgive because we literally have no other choice.  To say that burdens are heavy to bear is a vast understatement. 

If you are unfamiliar with the story behind the decade-long war in Sierra Leone, I invite you to do a quick Google search. You’ll likely see footage of “blood diamond” mining, child soldiers, and tragedy in all forms imaginable.  Could you ever forgive someone for throwing around your baby & smashing them into the ground?  For raping your mother and cutting her head off afterwards?  For burning your loved one alive in front of your eyes?  Not many could, you may think; but…some have.  Now, I also recommend you seek out and watch the film, “Fambul Tok.” This is a miraculous example showing communities who have come together after experiencing tragedy about which words cannot even come close to doing justice. There is a proverb in Sierra Leone, which roughly means, “there is no bad bush to throw away a bad child.”  Instead of exiling, seeking revenge against, or even murdering with their own hands the ones who committed crimes against humanity (which maybe no one would blame them for doing)…instead, through the program “Fambul Tok,” they call back war criminals to testify to their victims around a bonfire, in order to begin the process of restorative justice and ultimate acceptance back into the community.   This a program cultivates & catalyzes the embedded, absolutely miraculous culture of forgiveness that the people of Sierra Leone already have to spark an extraordinary process of forgiveness, which no truth commission could ever do in the same way.  It also begs the question though, what other choice do they have?  There is so much suffering still present, as the program is not omnipresent (maybe one day it will be).  Hatred can eat away at your soul; but to truly forgive such atrocities may seem hard for an outsider to believe.  That said, it’s a process.  It’s a first step at moving forward.

Sometimes we get so focused on our issues, our priorities…we need to back up, and look again at what really is going on in the world.  Are there any truly gender-neutral zones?  Should we have 23 boxes to tick under the “sex” category on forms? – as some biologists say there are that many.  Do advertisements towards children enforce gender stereotyping in a detrimental way?  Not “if,” but “how” can peace exist without war as its predecessor?  Are we approaching justice with equality in mind?  Or must we take a step back in order to notice a problem with equity in the first place?  Humanity has extraordinary potential within; and as outsiders coming in, our role is not to impose the Western way…but to instead ask questions.  What is my role in all this? I must remember to come in as a learner and create spaces with the metaphorical mirrors reflecting back at the local individuals who already have everything they need.  We all monitor and evaluate to some degree; tools and skills like useful, but it’s important to not let any and all sentient beings become lost in the process. Expand your sphere to include animals and the environment. Check your lens with which you are viewing a situation, and be aware of your own biases.  Maintain humility, always ask questions of yourself & others.  “Mirror, Mirror, on the wall…how am I seen…who am I…what is my true purpose among them all?”

Diagnosis: Violence

When I get sick, I usually like to pretend it’s not happening, try to act normal, operate at full capacity, fool the world…but my sneezing & coughing usually betray my confidence.  Disease seems to be a recurring theme in SPP, metaphorically or literally – per today’s environmental conflict session, contagion & treatment-resistant diseases are considered a significant contemporary threat, right up there with terrorism & cyber war.  Sanitation & public health issues are continually at the forefront of behavior change campaigns and arguably will remain there.  When thinking of the characteristics of a sickness, one of the first questions that comes to mind is whether or not the carrier is contagious.  Why?  Because nobody wants to catch it.  Being sick is no fun, can spread quite quickly, drains resources, and can be debilitating or life-threatening.  Sounds a lot like violence, no?

Punitive Justice vs. Restorative Justice.  Revenge vs. Reconciliation.  Harm vs. Healing.  We’ve learned an extraordinary amount in these weeks, but I won’t pretend to be an expert in conflict resolution…however, I do agree that violence mimics disease in a remarkable way.  It gets into the very pores of your existence, it can spread quickly, it can be debilitating like a plague, sometimes it’s out of your control, it’s contagious, an epidemic, and preys on the weak.  But there is hope, and a cure is not impossible.  To end violence seems daunting; when it comes to gang violence, however, there are some promising remedies worth sharing.  Programs like Ceasefire and Cure Violence utilize intervention tactics, accountability, and moral authority to positively change behavior.  Ceasefire uses call-ins, meetings with gang members, religious leaders, police, and community members in attendance to enforce group accountability for the actions of one.  Cure Violence cleverly uses “interrupters” (intermediaries), usually former gang members, who have a higher moral authority – meaning, they are a part of the community and have the prior experience in their lives to better develop trust with the intended audience.  If a young boy is at risk of joining a gang…to whom is he more likely to listen if he is to be discouraged from doing so…a policeman, or someone from his community with whom he can identify, someone who has been in his shoes?  The concept of moral authority is a powerful one, and I think we seek it out more than we realize…I always trust someone more who has “been there” – because experience gives credibility. 

Diseases infiltrate individuals, populations, and spaces, without permission.  Space can be perceived, space can be surrounded by a border, space can be a neutral zone, or space can be a physical location.   Walls can be used to keep people inside a zone, or to keep them from entering.  An airborne disease permeates borders, it laughs in the face of a wall.  Just like violence.  Space can also act as a facilitator…how? An everyday space can be a great place to pursue reconciliation.  Violence can’t very well be tranquilized if the gathering is taking place on disputed territory or a place of historical marginalization.  There is healing power in acknowledgement – once issues are identified and pure honesty prevails, the mending has a better shot at survival.

So what is the moral of the story?  Contagion is scary, and so is violence.  If we treat violence like a disease, we also must remember that it does not excuse violent behavior or label a culpable individual free from accountability…but it certainly helps explain the actions of individuals who have walked down the path of violence.  In order to treat a disease, we must understand its behavior.  The studies of behavior and attitude are far from simple, nor are they short term goals; however, it is fundamental to understand their genetic makeup if we are to successfully develop the antidote to cure violence.

Who am I?

24601?  Jean Valjean?  For those of you familiar with Les Misérables, as our cohort was fortunate to go see as a group recently, you will understand the reference.  (There is something about the arts that is just a great escape from reality.)  The concept of identity can be challenged, questioned…people are comfortable with order and categories.  Sometimes, things don’t fit into a box quite so neatly.  Life is messy.  In the story line, Jean Valjean is struggling with his previous life-identity as a prisoner (24601) and sings about having been put into prison only for stealing a loaf of bread.  He is tried, sentenced, paroled, and struggles to find a new life purpose because society, embedded structural violence, poverty, and stigmas are cruel to his attempts at searching for a new purpose.  No one will give him a chance or see him as anything but a prisoner.  Always told to “look down.”  If people tell you are worthless enough times, self-fulfilling prophecy may seem like the only way out.  I’m a thief?  Ok, I’ll steal.  You call me a felon?  Ok, I’ll be one. It certainly could seem like the viable option, but it isn’t the only one.  A priest defends him in front of the authorities, despite his shortcomings, and that is when he makes a decision to become an honest man, that his past will not dictate his future.

There are so many references to conflict and violence in the play…but it is also full of hope and love.  Before I get too far away from the concept of identity…I want to speak to the term of “hybridity” or “hybrid identity,” which we spoke about in our sessions today regarding indigenous spaces and peacebuilding.  We need to move towards the idea of rejecting “otherness” or ostracizingthose who are different from us.  We are a world of bleeding identities and connectedness, constantly crossing man-made boundaries.   If we can shift the focus to include all parties in any narrative, everyone has a stake in the game, and we can then move the lens through which an issue is viewed.  Bringing it back to Les Mis, the character Fantine repeatedly struggles with her identity after she is fired from her workplace.  She has a daughter for whom she must provide; and in this moment, her identity as a mother is the most important thing.  She sacrifices her hair, her body, and her soul in order for a little bit of money for her child, to be the best mother she can be.  We have all experienced identity crises, I imagine, at one point or another in our lives, to varying degrees.  What should I be doing with my life?  What is my ethnicity?  Do I agree with my religion?  Questions are healthy, and your identity should come from within you, not what society decides to impose upon you.

After the play, we went to dinner at Delancey Street Restaurant in San Francisco, a great foundation which gives people trying to start again the chance to do so. Our waiter was kind enough to tell his story – he had a career and family he loved, but alcoholism got the better of him.  He came to Delancey Street Foundation to get back on his feet and throw himself into his work.  It’s a 2-year commitment, it helps them make amends with loved ones, and teaches conflict resolution and behavior change through correcting each other, nonviolently, while playing games and through mentorship.  If only Jean Valjean had such a place to go…everyone deserves a chance to make amends; your future is yours… “when the beating of your heart echoes the beating of the drums, there is a life about to start when tomorrow comes.”

Self-Care is not Optional


We’ve all heard of the “fight or flight” response; but did you also know that “freeze” is a viable option?  Not that we consciously get to decide, but I honestly think that’s the direction my body tends to react.  To say that the brain is a fascinating organism, is an understatement.  All of the things that the scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz said he would do if he “only had a brain…” Sometimes though, our brain can act out of the ordinary for many reasons: depression, lack of sleep, stress…and even trauma.  An overly-traumatized human exposed to repeated stressors can exercise poor judgment, execution errors, become easy to anger, or even contribute to immune and metabolic breakdowns.  In trauma healing work, self-care is absolutely not optional, because it is unsustainable to live overly-traumatized 24/7.

The concept of good stress (which causes someone to concentrate their attention, improve physical strength, create an acute sense of hearing, or make you more social) vs. bad stress (traumatic events that disrupt the normal emotional & physiological activities and cause the aforementioned behaviors) is an important category between which to distinguish.  There is a healthy acute stress response, where the brain secretes an appropriate amount of oxytocin, which can also be a healing response.  Anything in excess is damaging, and stress is no exception; in fact, it’s quite toxic to one’s overall health.  Trauma can masquerade as people “not cooperating;” when in actuality, it’s a chemical imbalance of neurobiology with sociology.  Personally, when I feel a certain feeling or react in a specific way, I’ve found the practice of metacognition quite useful.  If it’s becoming a pattern, I try to take a step back and figure out what is making me upset (this is not always easy when emotions are prominent).  If I can identify the trigger, it’s a good basis for me to ground myself and begin to deal with what is really going on instead of manifesting itself in a way that makes no sense.  This is particularly important when my metaphorical jar is full, and one more thing makes it all overflow.

So, how can we mitigate this?  First, it’s important to recognize that your body is reacting to emotionally charged encounters that don’t just go away.  Any performance issues could be manifesting directly from trauma, no matter how long ago.  It is important to recognize the trauma, and come up with a self-care plan that works; this can include: exercise, a nutritional diet, deep breathing, conversing with a confidant, not compartmentalizing to a fault…because if one doesn’t deal with underlying issues, they will fester and bleed into other parts of our lives.  Oftentimes, time is a big constraint to self-care practices.  We are all so busy all the time, and everything is a “crisis” (especially in a situation of extreme trauma).  If we can find a way to bring the temperature of a situation down, despite the urgency, we could discover a way to focus a bit better.  I think there needs to be a sense of “feeling safe” to do so; and a person who practices self-care in a more dedicated manner, may find it easier to get to more often reach a safe space, physically or metaphorically.

If we can heal the whole being, the healing can then be more sustainable, in order to live one’s best life.  “Being nice” is not the same thing as showing compassion.  Always remember to look out for yourself, try to know what you can handle and how to handle it…and if you have limits, that is alright too.  Empathy is entirely different than sympathy, and understanding HOW someone reached a point in their life can help you understand their behavior…but it’s not an excuse.  It can shed light on a situation, and help figure out the best way to move forward.  We can’t change the past, we can only learn from it, and decide what we want to do next with it.

I’ve got your front

We’ve all heard the phrase, “I’ve got your back;” which means, in whatever situation one is entering, your “friend” will “back you up,” it’s a reactive stance, you’re not going into it alone.  During our intense and immersive trip to both the maximum security prison and correctional facility, we had the privilege of partaking in the Substance Abuse Program group session at the latter; in which, my group was tasked with selecting life priorities from a worksheet regarding relationships, life skills, spirituality, etc. I was impressed with how open the inmates were being with their feelings in my “equality-themed” room; very simply, I would even say some finessed what were very complicated emotional issues into common denominator terminology.  The metaphor I was most impressed with was when someone was describing what a good friend actually is, as being someone who not only has your back, but also has your front.  Meaning, that this individual, instead of going behind you and making sure no trouble sneaks up on you, that they preemptively, instead of reactively, dissuade you from even going into the questionable situation from the start.  These types of friends are the truest ones; instead of having your back, they have your future and your best interests always at heart.  I understand that there are myriad sides to every story told in that room, and multiple victims per situation.  Regardless, progress on some level seemed achieved

Just prior to the groups joining together, I asked one participant what was happening as they took the temporary partitions down that divided one large room into six.  He just said, with a proud smile on his face and an eager joy to share the experience with an outsider, “you’ll see.”  Various programs are available to specific inmates when they are ready for the opportunities.  There are programs that allows inmates to raise dogs and train them; oftentimes, the dogs are hard to adopt and by training them, the inmates find a sense of responsibility in caring for another life form and simultaneously help the dog become adoptable.  One man cried when his dog graduated due to the bond formed; and so, his wife adopted the dog – saying it’s like having a piece of her husband at home, and who will eagerly be awaiting him one day.  Other times, dogs are trained as companions for veterans, PTSD sufferers, or people struggling emotionally and physically.  Seeing the hope and pride in the eyes of the dog handlers was inspirational.  Apart from these two programs, inmates also have the chance to earn a GED, master a tradecraft, commit to self-betterment, and learn that there are other ways to spend life besides belonging to a gang.  It’s very obvious, and the Correctional Officers (COs) unhesitatingly confirmed, that the gangs and inmates run the prison…and the guards are just there.  Standing in the General Population yard at the maximum security facility as the most precarious inmates were released for the afternoon, was similar to watching an elementary school dismissed for recess…except that despite being searched, 50% of the inmates were carrying concealed weapons that were undiscovered by the body search.  Gang politics that infiltrate every inch of the prison are no exception when it comes to yard territory – separated by gang, territory is maintained by sheer force and numbers, but order is maintained by a form of mutual respect and the requirement to co-exist.  There are “guards” from each gang watching the yard, counting numbers, protecting the territory.  It’s quite obvious.  When members go to the bathroom, they go two or three at a time – so that someone can always be watching the back of the other.

Our guide (lieutenant & former CO) having worked in the prison a long time, confirmed that one must not become desensitized, that he is always on alert.  These gangs are run from the prisons, and the prison population is aging.  The younger kids coming in, they don’t listen.  Gangs run businesses – and the younger ones don’t respect that.  A point raised was not that the prison system is failing them, it’s society.  It’s a multifaceted and complex issue.  You take a sizable bag of black tar heroin off the street (like we saw in the evidence room at the police station), and someone else heads out to the street with three more. The issues need to be corrected prior to reaching prison – society as a whole, needs to have more people’s fronts.


The result of feeling emotionally or actually being physically trapped can be born from a variety of avenues.  Ranging from being psychologically imprisoned from an unsatisfying or abusive relationship to literally being taken hostage or incarcerated, and everything in between along the spectrum, we can be for one reason or another, inhibited from freedom.

 The other day, we had a guest speaker who’s journey I will not soon forget.  A former gang member who, from a young age, was seduced by the gang philosophy of inclusion and belonging (arguably something every human seeks).  He became deeply embedded in his new found group – trapped  in the cycle of prisons, street violence, drugs, and a consistent battle for inclusion in a “family,” which he did not receive on the home front.  The stories he told us…the violent crimes he committed or witnessed…were incredible.  To my revelation, most gang violence comes within, intra-gang violence, as opposed to rival gangs battling each other.  To “quit” a gang is not something easily done.  Oftentimes this is when one can become a target.  Members who are done with the life for one reason or another (danger, fear, exhaustion, etc.) try to get out, as placidly as possible, but the active members simply do not allow it.  The individual (our guest speaker) in question finally found a way – and now, has completely turned his life around and uses his experiences to mentor others, encouraging them to leave the gang life behind; because otherwise, it may easily become too late.  Because of his background, he is able to utilize moral authority in a way that outsiders simply cannot.  He says that he always keeps it real with his “kids,” day or night, they can always reach out to him.

We learned that the age of victims of violent crime in the area is increasing; however, the perpetrators’ ages are actually decreasing.  In our visit to the prison, we were told that oftentimes the older generation of gang members become fed up with the younger ones, who don’t want to listen to authority, and that is bad for business.  Recruitment begins early with the youth of troubled societies, youth who are then forced to face a harsh reality, harden up, and grow up far too soon – but this isn’t without fear.  These gangs are basically run from the prisons, who get their orders sent out to the streets through a variety of sophisticated methods.  Prisoners who want to try to leave the gangs behind are able to join SNY or “Special Needs” yards, in the process leaving the yards behind completely controlled by active gang activity.  We were told time and again that the only way to really get out and become un-trapped is to physically geographically relocate.  The high recidivism rate (70%) of the prison can arguably be attributed to this feeling of being trapped – unable to leave the life of perpetual violence, physical, structural, self-loathing, whatever it may be.  The formerly incarcerated individuals also can become trapped by this feeling of being used to being institutionalized – what if there are no opportunities on the outside?  What if society doesn’t accept me?  What if I’m always viewed as someone who isn’t worth a second chance?

People like the speaker who came to our group, people who successfully leave gangs, may always be trapped to some extent – always watching over your shoulder to see who is there.  He has found a purpose, a reason to live, to improve the lives of others.  Life is not fair, and there is no denying that some can be dealt a tough hand of cards.  I’m normally a note-taker, but while he spoke, I was hardly able to take any.  I just wanted to listen to the power of his story.  He has a brand-new identity – and to him, despite the risk he faces, this is a form of freedom and self-worth that nobody can take away from him.

Linguistic Leverage

Some trends never go out of style, such as: kindness, humility, clarity, & respect.  George Bernard Shaw once stated, “the single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”  Good communication, or lack thereof, forms the foundation for things like relationships, transparency, understanding, diplomacy, and peacebuilding.  We had a session on dialogue the other day – dialogue occurs where the two sides meet in the middle, the ones even willing to listen to the other’s tale.  The extremists in the matter, unfortunately, aren’t able to even paint the illusion or fathom the idea that they can reach anywhere near the middle lane where the dialogue is meant to take place.  There exists the danger of the “telephone” game…messages getting relayed, bits & pieces become lost in translation.

Speaking of translation, the art of translation (written) and interpretation (spoken) is not for the faint of heart.  The art of relaying messages from one language to another, oftentimes simultaneously, is like an ultramarathon for the brain – code-switching, thinking in multiple languages concurrently or consecutively, the entire crux of multinational situations could depend on how a single message is conveyed.  Through a role-play exercise, we simulated a version of what it is like to be an interpreter in a meeting between NGOs and refugees.  Acting as the interpreter for the Spanish-speaking NGO delegate, I can appreciate why interpreters oftentimes can only work 20 minutes at a time and then must switch with a partner.  All of my knowledge of the language went out the window… I became too concerned with whether or not I remembered the order of the words my delegate stated, when in actuality, accurately conveying the meaning of the message in the first person is most critical.  Being able to leverage interpretation and translation can be a powerful weapon.

The acknowledgement that there is a worldwide refugee crisis  at the moment is an understatement.  “The Crossing,” a documentary by George Kurian, provided a first-hand look at Syrian refugees’ journeys by boat from Egypt to Europe.  Lucky to have all made it alive, one of the biggest challenges faced by refugees upon arrival, was communication.  Many didn’t speak the language, communication with loved ones was often impossible; but the biggest problem, refugees are seen as a problem rather than people who need our help.  The wrong messages are being communicated & disseminated.  These people aren’t fleeing by choice and looking for a better life…they are looking for A life

Oftentimes in history, we can see that religion has been used as an excuse for violence…when in actuality, nowhere in religious texts does it actually communicate the need or order for killing and violence.  People want the ends to justify the means, and so they leverage the interpretation of words and scripts incorrectly.  Everyone wants to be recognized, to be seen, to find identity and purpose.  The journey does matter though, maybe it could even be argued that the journey is more important than the destination; because no matter what compromises have to be made, we want to at least be able to recognize ourselves when we come out on the other side.  As the age old saying goes…treat others the way you want to be treated.

Stop and Smell the Roses

One’s chances at finding happiness and satisfaction in life are based upon one’s expectations, and ability to appreciate what is in front of their own nose.  Attitude is imperative.  Perspective can be the tipping point between a viewing a glass half full or half empty.  Much of the time, in our society we are just in too much of a hurry to stop and take a moment to appreciate a small win, the smile of a passerby, or even a flower at our feet.

We had the opportunity this week to get a bit more in touch with “grassroots” in all meanings of the word, but literally in nature through a visit to Earthbound Farms (pioneer in the organic farming industry) and with listening to an enlightening talk regarding conflict and natural resources.  It’s miraculous to think that such a simple thing as water, that seemingly covers the majority of our planet, actually when in short supply can cause catastrophic wars and conflict that bridges vast continents, touching all cultures and creatures…but, it makes sense.  Control the water, you control everything.

Walking through the herb and fruit gardens at Earthbound Farms, one has the opportunity to taste, smell, see, hear, and touch the myriad beautiful herbs, plants, trees, fruits, and berries…watching nature operate in harmony.  The yellow raspberries…who knew yellow raspberries even existed, and are actually creamier (if you can imagine a creamy berry) than their reddish-hued cousins? Pineapple sage…yes, that exists.  Fields of lavender, an assortment of mint, torpedo onions the same height as I am…nature is fascinating.  Which begs the question…why the need for chemicals in farming that kill every insect, good and bad?… when the environment actually sorts itself out quite well without human intervention.  The world’s current ways at harvesting potable water are unsustainable; and with a little bit of creativity, technology, and patience…we were presented with ways that water can be obtained from the vast ocean of H20 that actually exists in the air all around us all the time.  Innovation is extraordinary, and can be a key player at mitigating conflict.  Words like harmony, peace, balance…nature is really good at all those things, all on its own, if we let it do its thing.  Nature also has a way of healing and providing a type of escape, a spiritual connection for some.  A healthy dose of sunshine when feeling overwhelmed goes a long way.  A hike can destress, a swim can calm, and if you’ve never danced or played in the rain…definitely give it a try.

Focusing on the negative, or seeing the glass half empty…is draining & exhausting.  Holding grudges.  Racism.  The denial of basic human rights.  These are human practices.  Human potential I believe is extraordinary, but human beings could learn a thing or two from nature, which doesn’t discriminate.  Let the trees supply oxygen, allow the sky to give us water, permit wetlands to purify our air, keep wildlife in the wild, treat living things with respect.  Less is more…less intervention, less complication, less hate, less wasted resources…more harmony, more conservation, more inclusion, more common sense.  Let’s do what we can with what we have.  Simplify…and without question, always stop more often to smell the roses.

The Elephant in the Room

Though I’m not sure these magnificent and compassionate creatures whom I’ve grown to love & respect entirely deserve the comparison, it’s probably a safe bet to say that we’re all familiar with the metaphorical idiom: “the elephant in the room.”

As it turns out, not addressing sizable issues of palpable tension staring us blatantly in the face (also known as “the elephant in the room”), exercising apparent apathy, or turning a blind eye for reasons of wanting to be “polite” by not bringing clashing matters…is actually, in and of itself, an act of violence.  I had never thought about it this way before – I knew that I never have liked this concept of pretending that everything was fine when it was not, but have never previously considered this glazing over, sort of “Pleasantville” type comportment, to be blatant and intentional violence.  Previously unfamiliar with “Kingian Nonviolence,” I found our discussion regarding Dr. Martin Luther King (MLK) Jr.’s philosophy of “nonviolence” to be highly interesting and extremely thought-provoking.  Dr. MLK Jr. understood that “nonviolence” often requires disruption, something that can make Western families, stereotypically concerned with niceties at parties, cringe and cause their eyes to twitch in ways that perpetuates this avoidance of topics provoking disruptive conversation, however enriching and healing it essentially may be…and maybe at the expense of those who need to be recognized or heard.  This gesture of “nicety” can do more harm than good.  Why do we shy away from conflict?  I myself in the past consider myself an extremely conflict-averse person, preferring to be a pushover than to displease others…to my own detriment or at the expense of my own happiness.  Why is conflict not inherently seen as an opportunity for an improved situation, understanding, behavior, or attitude?  Conflict doesn’t necessarily mean fighting and yelling; as we discussed during our session, fighting and yelling are signs that a conflict has been mismanaged.  If we consider anger to be a powerful spark, but not fuel, emotions can be properly channeled in the most productive direction.  

“Negative Peace,” or the quiet & calm state that comes at the expense of justice and sweeps issues under the rug, can be mistaken for “Positive Peace,” better known as justice for all, working to end structural violence, the stealthy violence that runs through the veins of our foundational societal systems and perpetuates the lifeblood of inequality.  Maybe people are afraid of making issues personal.  However, if we attack the forces of evil instead of the people doing the evil things, suddenly topics become much easier to discuss.  Storytelling is a powerful tool; and if we understand people’s stories who are willing to share, we can empathize and better comprehend motivations, which are not the same as excuses.  We are intertwined.  Recently having spent some time in Thailand coincidentally with elephants, I have become interested in Buddhism – I believe the essence of the following quote is attributed to the aforementioned teachings: “Holding onto hatred is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”  Sometimes we are forced to let things go, simply because they are heavy.  If we cannot discuss the large elephant in the room & have those crucial conversations, how can we ever truly resolve anything in a meaningful way?

Bridging Realms

When I first think of peace, words like harmony, justice, and tranquility instantly come to mind.  Some say that there cannot be peace without war.  Peacebuilding, when I first heard the term to be honest, seemed fluffy, like something people do who are put on a pedestal and look down on others, or even like a puppeteer with his marionettes controlling the play from high above the protagonists.  However, I know that these analogies are wrong and that there is so much more to it.  I’m looking forward to this year’s Summer Peacebuilding Program (SPP) for myriad reasons, to set my own mental record straight, to delve into the nuances, and to learn how to incorporate Peacebuilding into the International Development career I so desire.  Prior to coming to the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey (MIIS), I worked as an Economic Development Volunteer in the Peace Corps in rural coastal Peru.  My background has always included a love of international studies, travel, and learning about foreign cultures from the inside out.  Though I started a career in international banking, I reached a pivotal moment when I knew I was destined to follow a different path.  Throughout my Peace Corps experience, I discovered a love of integration and wanting to understand why people acted the way they did, through different cultural lenses, religious backgrounds, and biases. What drove me to participate in the SPP was a combination of reasons.  In any career in any field, conflict or dispute resolution is an integral skill…because conflicts and disputes are omnipresent.  Upon learning further about the program beyond my initial reactions, I found the ability of Peacebuilding to bridge multiple fields across realms within and outside of the development arena absolutely fascinating, and I could see it being very useful in my hopeful future pursuits.  On the very first day of the program, we were taught that conflict is a good thing.  We were told to view it as an opportunity for change; because truthfully, there cannot be change without conflict.  Change should rightly involve a change in attitudes as well as behavior, and the field of behavior change fascinates me – ideally, I’d like to further investigate this in such a way that would positively impact the realm of wildlife conservation and animal welfare, but it’s all linked.  Sentient beings (people & animals alike) and the environment, etc. all have a role to play.  The sooner we can all learn that, the sooner everyone can work together, the sooner Peacebuilding will have a sustainable and everlasting effect.