The deeper I go into this line of work I’m in, the more I realize the need to constantly examine what it is I truly believe in. There are many voices that speak up and all of them are equally correct, the challenge is to listen to the one that speaks closest to the truth in my heart.
A few days ago, after a 12-hour bus ride back home, I stole time to think about nothing. Sometimes the mind needs to be stilled. The fast pace of decision-making and reaction often compels me to speed up my absorption of information. Countless hours I now recall having wasted worrying about the amount of things I don’t yet know and could if I only kept still enough to read–but even then, the lists I draw up overwhelm me. Everything that interests me deeply offers an embarrassment of riches in the form of text that’s all yearning to be processed somewhere in the dark recesses of my mind.
Yesterday, though, in the attempt to return to the beginner’s mind, I flipped channels and paused to watch Whale Wars. In it I saw passionate individuals driving a van into the heart of the Faroese Islands during a festival known as the Grind. During this event, the people of the islands set out to sea capturing and killing pilot whales to retrieve meat for their survival. In the course of time, this practice has formed what is now their culture and though there are multiple ways of surviving apart from hunting whale, it’s become something symbolic for them. Naturally, this is questioned by members of the Sea Shepherd who have made it their mission to prevent humans from killing whales.
This may not be the best example of its kind but before dozing off last night, I recall understanding (profoundly!) a very simple truth: People act according to what they value and though values change over time, they aren’t always immediately right or wrong. Again, perhaps Whale Wars is really not the best example because if I had used Rwanda instead as an issue to ponder, I would have said with absolute certainty that the massacre of Tutsi’s by the Hutu majority was just wrong, TOTALLY wrong. [Excuse my digression but this is still something I’m trying to grasp.]
But yes, interests and values. We all have these as human beings and the more deeply I work with communities–both in the grassroots and middle-management, even top-leader groups–the more clear it is to me that a judgment of right and wrong is not the first recourse…at least I should teach myself this.
If I’ve learned anything from history it’s that our judgments have compelled us to act in certain ways that have often excluded and marginalized more people as opposed to liberating them.
When I was younger, I knew I had a lot of angst–some I’ve carried over into my adulthood–and I used to think angst alone and a sense of right and wrong were enough to realize certain fundamental things about being…but now I’m not so sure.
My anger has kept the fire in my belly burning but experience has tempered my desire to cast blame and I’m now beginning to see a different side of justice that my younger self would never have contemplated–something I still struggle with today and am often blind to understanding. It’s the possibility of reconciliation knowing fully what the crimes have been but understanding that moving forward requires not forgetfulness but embracing persons in their totality as human beings.
I often think of what dignity truly means and how, as we restore this to the poorest among us, there should also be room to view those that hurt us as greater than the crimes they commit.
It’s so difficult–especially because often, our biggest problems are ethical ones that hang on the balance of social justice. It’s usually the case that we know the perpetrators of poverty and the wardens of corruption–but as I look them in the eye, I feel my own blood-stained hands and ponder the depth of my own complicity. How much of these collective sins are my own? What don’t I say that allows things to go on as they are, that sows hatred instead of goodness?
If there’s anything worth praying for this Lenten season, it’s probably this. I hope to examine Christ’s passion and anticipate Easter, desiring only that I might come to the faintest understanding of what it truly means to be fully alive and present to fellow men and women whom I encounter—the hope also is that I preserve the essence of the encounter that I might discern better and judge less.