everything, all the time.

now posting at everythingallthetimeblog.wordpress.com

still tweeting @thecourseikeep

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“be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle” -plato

ok, so it’s not the most original quotation, but it’s something i consider often, and it reminds me to be compassionate regardless of how tired or stressed i’m feeling.

today, i realized that this quotation can also help me be more understanding when someone is unkind to me. while working on an insignificant group project in class, one of the group members spoke to me with a disrespectful tone. i had had no previous interaction with the student, and i wasn’t aware of having done anything to offend her. i didn’t understand why she would speak to me with such venom (and judging from the look on another classmate’s face, i wasn’t the only one who was bewildered). as the day went on, i kept wondering what had happened that led her to speak to me so disdainfully, but i couldn’t come up with anything. when i told my mom what had happened, she sagely suggested that perhaps the girl had something else going on in her life that caused her to speak to me in that way, and the behavior really had nothing to do with me. there’s certainly no excuse for unkindness, but it does help to remove some of the sting when you put things into perspective.

so, while i will continue to strive to be kind, i will also remember to be forgiving, for everyone i meet is fighting a hard battle (and may not be thoughtful enough to suck it up and be nice).

are we masochists?

i thought i was the only pessimistic peacemonger in the world, but apparently there are at least a couple of others. i discovered this a few days ago at a panel discussion held by the institute for multi-track diplomacy, when several participants asked questions that i thought were surprisingly pessimistic. i find it fascinating that we can continue to work for change even when we believe that true change is impossible. are we masochists? or are we just lying to ourselves? is it possible to be a hopeful pessimist? an idealistic realist?

i suppose i shouldn’t be terribly surprised to find myself in this predicament – i’m frequently caught between two extremes. i’m attracted to anarchy and to communism, to stability and to spontaneity. i’m extremely rational and highly emotional. at times i’m overly confident, at others i’m acutely self-conscious.

perhaps i should take heed of the buddhist philosophy i so adore, and simply find the balance in it all. i guess i can’t save the world, but if i sit idly by and do nothing, it sure won’t get any better on its own. maybe the reason we work towards peace isn’t because we believe that one day there will be an end to violence, but because we must do our part to maintain some sort of equilibrium between “good” and “evil.” whatever that means.

nothing happens here that doesn’t happen there

don’t get me wrong – my recent visit to cambodia was an incredible experience. i’m even thinking of going back (don’t worry, mom, i’ll finish school first) to teach at this incredible school for the arts i visited in battambang. but the whole time i was abroad, i kept thinking about things that were going on back home in the u.s.

see, i’ve been really into these ted talks lately, and a few weeks ago i stumbled upon this:

while i did feel a tremendous connection with cambodia and the struggles of her people, i couldn’t stop thinking about how we have many of the same struggles in my country. many of my classmates marveled at how few americans are aware of the genocide in cambodia, but i’m shocked by how few of us are aware of what happened (and is still happening) in our own country. sure, we’re taught about “manifest destiny” and “reservations,” but i’ve never heard anyone use the g-word in regard to the united states’ treatment of native americans, and i don’t see any reason why it shouldn’t apply.

we all have our skeletons. i’m not trying to vilify the united states – i love my country. i love the principles upon which she was founded, i love the ideals laid out in our constitution. i love that this nation has welcomed those who had no place else to go, including my own family. but i’m afraid that the america i’m in love with is just a dream, an idea far from her disappointing reality.

so i feel that it is not only my calling but my duty to somehow begin to set things right. i don’t know exactly how i’m going to go about this, but i know that i need to try. not just for myself, not just for the cause of human rights, but for the love of america, i need to do something to make this place what i feel in my heart it ought to be.

(the title for this post comes from the song “the weight of lies,” by the avett brothers.)

just keep walking

one of the many incredible people i encountered on my recent trip to cambodia was bob maat, a former jesuit priest who came to cambodia to volunteer at a refugee camp in 1979. bob got “stuck” (as he calls it) in cambodia, and has now lived there for over 30 years. he is very involved with dhammayietra (peace walk), an amazing journey undertaken every year to inspire peace in the country.

bob walks everywhere. his motto is “just keep walking.” when life gets hard, when it feels unbearable, just keep walking. as bob said to me, “what else are you going to do?” this has helped me to deal with my own difficulties with the uncertainty of life, and also serves as a simple explanation for the ability of the cambodian people to carry on with their lives after years of genocide, civil war, and instability. as i mentioned in my recent post on resilience, i’m endlessly impressed with the ability of cambodians to not only keep on walking, but doing so with a smile on their faces.

it’s all about appreciating what you’ve got, no matter what you’re lacking.

children in a village outside of battambang, cambodia

a one-legged man on a bicycle

as we drove from phnom penh out to rural koh kong province the other day, i spotted a one-legged man riding a bicycle. i thought to myself, “that man can do more with one leg than i do with two!” (embarrassing confession for those who aren’t aware: i don’t know how to ride a bicycle. plenty have offered to teach me; no one has yet to succeed.) i’m starting to realize what a great metaphor that is for what i’m learning here in cambodia.

we visited a slum area where people live in houses the size of my bedroom, where filthy water fills the spaces i hesitate to call “roads;” an area populated by displaced persons forced out of their homes in the city in order to make room for a new convention center. yet, all around, people are laughing and smiling, while americans back home are sitting in the comfort of their air-conditioned homes, watching their flat-screen televisions, thinking about all of the things they wish they had.

this post isn’t about criticizing westerners, but rather about how impressed i am with these people who have nothing, yet appreciate their lives. while i am grateful for the many luxuries that capitalism affords us, there is something to be said for a society in which people are grateful for what they have rather than greedy for more. it seems that the values instilled in us through capitalism leave us ever wanting for more, and no matter how much wealth we amass, we will never be satisfied.

the question is: if a man can ride a bicycle with only one leg, how much can i do with two?

on resilience

today we met with the youth resource development program (yrdp), where we received an introduction to cambodian history and culture. one of our group leaders is a woman who survived the khmer rouge regime (in fact, she has lived to see seven different government regimes in cambodia during her lifetime). she was very matter-of-fact in describing her experiences, and it was absolutely inspiring to see how she was able to take it in stride and go on with her life even after years of unimaginable suffering.

view of cells at tuol sleng

this afternoon we visited tuol sleng, the national museum dedicated to the history of the khmer rouge. the museum is housed in s21, a former high school that was converted by the khmer rouge into a detention center where prisoners were tortured. the museum is incredibly graphic – cells hold their original beds and shackles, and pictures hang on the walls of the bodies that were found there. the stains on the floors match up with the pools of blood under the victims in the photos – it’s difficult for my mind to accept the reality of it.

cell at tuol sleng, complete with blood stain

at first, i couldn’t get over my horror that human beings are capable of such cruelty. what is even more disturbing is the knowledge that we all have the capacity to commit these unthinkable atrocities – the people participating in this abuse are not inherently sick, evil people, but were able to do these things because they were dehumanized by war and indoctrination. one particularly moving part of the museum holds photographs of several khmer rouge soldiers in their youth next to more recent photos of them, with quotations from each on why they joined and how they felt about it. most were regretful, some were not. many said they had joined simply in order to survive.

outside one of the buildings at tuol sleng

 

yet, despite this extremely brutal and shockingly recent occurrence, life here in cambodia goes on. hearing people speak about their experiences, i am inspired by the indomitability of the human spirit. as in many other situations, religion helps to explain the unexplainable – many employ the buddhist philosophy of balance and karma to provide insight into the situation. two themes within buddhism appear particularly applicable here: the concept of balance, whereby we understand that contrast is both unavoidable and necessary (without sorrow, there can be no joy; without death, there can be no life); and the concept of karma, which in this situation means that those who suffer in this life will rejoice in the next. something that has also struck me (and in which i have taken a particular interest during the past year or so) is the concept of what i’ll call “oneness,” or the idea that the universe is a single entity or whole. last year, i saw writer/philosopher jay michaelson speak and he used the analogy of a wave in the ocean to express this idea – a wave is not an independent entity but merely a part of the ocean; when the wave hits the shore it changes form, but does not cease to exist. i find this very appealing, as it makes me feel connected with the world. i also appreciate that this concept is prevalent in both judaism (the religion with which i was raised) and buddhism (the philosophy that i feel i identify with most at this stage in my life).

ok, i think that’s enough heavy stuff for now…