My colleagues at the Mindanao Peacebuilding Institute suggest there are at least three views of things that are metaphoric for seeking solutions to violent conflict. The view from a helicopter, Land Rover and walking. Viewing problems from a helicopter presents a flattened and panoramic field of vision where only major features of the terrain are visible. A helicopter leaps to the ‘destination’ without the inconvenience and snarls of vehicular or pedestrian traffic.
The view from the Land Rover is a more nuanced, giving a ground level understanding of the bumps and twists in the road. The temptation is to drive at high speeds through villages to get to a destination some distance ahead. From behind the tinted glass, the rider gets a detached perspective never having to come face to face with real people. That is unless the vehicle stops and the rider alights.
It’s only in walking that one grasps, viscerally, the difficulty of traversing the road. Through the five senses the heat of the sun, the smells and sounds of the journey becomes intimately familiar to the walker. Might the solutions that emerge from struggling on the journey together, walking shoulder to shoulder, be the most sustainable even though they are the ‘slowest’? What will it take to get us out of our helicopters and Land Rovers and get a bit of road dust on our feet?
I’ve heard the national election cycle in the Philippines called the ‘silly season.’ I am traveling outside the US just at the time when one of our political parties is having its convention and the TVs in the airports I transit through are abuzz with pundits and talking heads and balloons on the convention hall floor. I saw a TV headline that summarized one political party sentiment stating that “the other presidential candidate is the enemy.” WOW! That’s not silly…that is the deadly serious rhetoric of civil war.
Human Security, my new best phrase, has a fairly simple definition. The UN defines it as freedom from want, freedom from fear and a life lived with dignity. The current political climate seems to be moving us away from all three. Shouldn’t our democracy provide us a greater sense of security? When people become our enemy instead of racism, greed, poverty and apathy toward civic participation we are in deep trouble as a nation. What happened to appeals for the greater common good, enhanced and robust communities and optimism?
As I head off to teach a short course on human security and peacebuilding at the University of Hargeisa, I am conscious of the enormous amount of work that needs to be done in the US on true, people-centered security. Perhaps a starting place is to expand our collective consciousness and practice gratitude for all that goes right even during the silly season.
I type this on a 14 hour flight somewhere over the North Pacific flying between Washington D.C. and a connection stopover in Tokyo. It is on these long haul legs that I enter the ‘nether zone’ where I am neither here nor there and all I have is my tiny seat and my thoughts. Well, I also have unlimited violence served up on a 5 inch screen as continuously as I want to expose myself to it. By the time I get on my last 6 hour leg to Bangkok my mind is numb from fatigue and so that is definitely not creative time.
I am grateful for battery technology that gives me computing power for a large portion of the flight. This is the time when I tend to design much of the next training or find the creativity to write the next blog series.
I am amazed at the psychology built into airplanes. 350 people packed into a tiny space for hours. More than once I have gone a whole transoceanic flight without talking to the person sitting beside me. Being an introvert that is not difficult but I do sometimes feel guilty about such aloofness. In peacemaking, connection is a key human need yet I allow silence to prevail.
For the third time now in six months I am taking the hop across the Atlantic and south to Nairobi. This time its back to Southern Sudan. MCC has ask me to give some more support for the Sudan office based in Juba.
So, one third of the way through the 40 hour trip, I sit at a coffee shop sipping my very expensive Segafredo Zanetti coffee. The characteristic red cups fit in well with the functional Amsterdam airport. Bright yellow signs direct the jet lagged traveler toward their new gate while young security men and women patrol the halls with their Uzi sub-machine guns slung from their hips.
The violence in Europe and North America is so contained, controlled and ordered. We are continually reminded of the ‘threat’ level. We have strict rules about what we can and can’t do. Jokes, liquids in large quantities and even our shoes are all suspect. Violence itself, the killer of our bodies, has a brother named fear which also strangles the life out of our being.