Anna’s Personal Roundup, April 23

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Welcome to my own little corner of the internet and a random assortment of things.

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Rebecca Solnit is my favourite. Her latest Harper’s column against cynicism was just what I needed to read this week, and part of what I tried to write in my transition blog, but much more fully expressed. And of course, I feel great that I was somewhat on her wavelength! Perhaps the revolution always comes as a surprise?

What is the alternative to naïve cynicism? An active response to what arises, a recognition that we often don’t know what is going to happen ahead of time, and an acceptance that whatever takes place will usually be a mixture of blessings and curses. Such an attitude is bolstered by historical memory, by accounts of indirect consequences, unanticipated cataclysms and victories, cumulative effects, and long timelines. Naïve cynicism loves itself more than the world; it defends itself in lieu of the world. I’m interested in the people who love the world more, and in what they have to tell us, which varies from day to day, subject to subject. Because what we do begins with what we believe we can do. It begins with being open to the possibilities and interested in the complexities.

Speaking of possibilities, did the Vatican just throw out just war doctrine? Because that would be amazing! It only took 1500 years, but change is afoot to revoke “the primary normative basis politicians have evoked (correctly or incorrectly) to validate their waging of war.”

“as long as we keep saying we can do it with military force, we will not invest the creative energy, the deep thinking, the financial and human resources in creating or identifying the alternatives that actually could make a difference.” So—why is the Catholic Church reconsidering now? Reporter Terrence Lynne argues that there are five primary reasons for this—among them the fact that contemporary weapons of war render obsolete any positive impacts that war might have; and what he calls “the compelling, thrilling saga of nonviolent action over the 60 years since Gandhi.” Indeed, among the arguments Pope Francis used to encourage the conference participants was the dramatic rise in the effectiveness of nonviolent resistance over the past century—a trend we hear a lot around the halls of the Korbel School.

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Looking at complexities, I now want to read Yvonne Zimmerman’s book Other Dreams of Freedom: Religion, Sex, and Human Trafficking, after this interview.  I’ve been interested in other narratives and views of human trafficking ever since I read Laura Agustin’s Sex at the Margins: Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry a few years ago.  How do our cultural biases shape our responses to issues? As a Mennonite, Zimmerman is well positioned to talk about what our responses to trafficking reveals about who we are as Mennonites, at least in Canada and the United States. I could probably quote the whole thing, but I think this last paragraph is vital, not just for trafficking, but for international aid work as well. 

That’s the problem with putting ourselves in people’s shoes. On the one hand, imagining how others might feel or what they might think is how we learn empathy, and that’s a good thing. But sometimes people are talking about experiences that we have never had, and so all we can imagine is the response that we think we would have. In so doing, there’s the danger of totally missing the response that they, the person who actually lived the experience, had.  In other words, the danger is that we treat our hypothetical response as more legitimate, insightful, or authoritative than their actual response. This is a terrible thing to do to someone! This is the kind of thing on which people who work in the field of sexual violence prevention actually get a hefty dose of training: Figure out what your own visceral clutches are. Know what you’re going to respond to, and anticipate how you’re going to deal with your own crap. So when you listen to somebody else, your experience [with their story] doesn’t suck up all the air in the room and become the center of attention, because your response to their story may be very different from their response to it. And their response is what matters.

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I like this interview with Ingrid Betancourt because she sounds honest and willing to be vulnerable, which is of course easier from Oxford where she is studying than it is in Colombia. I don’t think “solving” the Colombian conflict is as simple as reconciliation, in that people will get along, without avoiding structural problems, but I do think that it will take the willingness to be vulnerable and to examine biases and histories. Her response to Uribe, who actually rescued her from her captivity by the FARC is telling. But is she assuming too much about Uribe by putting herself in his shoes? You decide:

And I think I have been able to go through a process of reflection on what happened to me during those years of abduction and that reflection has given me the insights on how important it is to just move on. I think Álvaro Uribe doesn’t have that insight yet. I think he is still suffering a great deal as a victim. His father was killed by the FARC, and I think it’s something for him that’s still an open wound. There’s a third difference, which is I have been able to understand the fragility of humans that we all share. I think that’s something Uribe doesn’t want to see. For him, the FARC is a threat and there’s no other option than to confront the FARC. I don’t see that. I see that the FARC could still be a threat, of course, but it could also be an organization that could work in a positive way in the transformation of the country if it really does have a transition from warfare to political action.

One of the best things that happened this week was when I shared the possibility to support MCC’s response to the Ecuador earthquake with my colleagues in Justapaz and people got really excited. South-south solidarity is beautiful and my colleagues constantly remind me that answers don’t need to come from the north, but are already here, even when our office is really depressing.

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Anybody want to come over and eat pastries made with sweet dough? The lemon curd rolls are calling my name. Also, it’s Shakespeare’s birthday. So, “‘I gently propose that for the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death we stop reading Shakespeare and shift our attention to the poems of Aemilia Lanyer, one of Shakespeare’s contemporaries, a contemporary who happens to be a woman.”

Finally, to tie everything back together, let’s love the world, not just on Earth Day, but everyday. This is our home.

2 comments on “Anna’s Personal Roundup, April 23”

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