December 15, 2016

Compassion Going Forward

Another year. I will have spent all but 13 days of this year in Thailand. It's not a bad place to spend a year or two. I've been here for a year and a half and I still can't say much more than what is absolutely necessary for my daily life. I still can't read, not even close. Somehow, though, I get by. Happily?

My question mark is there because while I'm blissfully taking my cat on walks through hills of Northern Thailand, other parts of the globe see so much suffering. I'm worried about the state of the world.

A few days ago, I posted a news story about bombings in Istanbul carried out by a separatist group. They killed 40 random people who were near a football stadium. That in itself is bad, but it is too often that I'm posting "a heavy heart for my dear friends in Turkey" or something similar. I think they've had more than five highly-publicized bombings just this year. That doesn't count the smaller ones in less well-known regions.

Discontent for the current regime in Turkey by some groups has fostered an extreme distrust within the government for any opposition, real or perceived. Following the July coup attempt, academics and teachers in Turkey have been under scrutiny if they have any semblance of association with an exiled Islamist preacher. Many of them have found themselves permanently kicked out of academia, or even under arrest, detained, or deported.

Today, I've been down a wormhole on #Aleppo on Twitter. There are lots of videos of kids with holes in their heads, missing body parts, and what remains of them is bloodied and covered in rubble. It's not a movie. It is real life for Syrians. Aside from bombs, people are starving to death and unable to get medical supplies to treat the sick and wounded. People in East Aleppo are now filming videos with the real belief that this video will probably be the last one, that is, they will be dead before they can film something else. They don't want to be forgotten, to have died for nothing. Fathers beg for safety for their children, not themselves. They despair at the world's inattention to their calls for help.

A seven-year-old tweeted what she thought would be her last tweet. Seven. She and her mother share an account and they document life in a besieged city. They believe they will die at any moment.

I think it's hard for people outside of Syria to understand the daily devastation because it seems so unreal that a government could do that to its own people. I know it's hard for me to comprehend. Imagine if people had been tweeting from concentration camps in Nazi Germany? Perhaps people say we didn't know that was happening at the time. Modern journalism takes that excuse away from us. We KNOW that Syria is being destroyed, but we either blissfully ignore it or we watch with morbid fascination as a country destroys its heritage and its own people.

I saw another video with footage from a security camera in a Germany subway. It shows a couple of white German guys kicking a hijab-wearing Muslim woman in the back as she is going down the stairs away from them. The kick sends her flying forward, face first into the concrete floor. The men walk away as if nothing has happened. The woman lays at the bottom of the stairs for several agonizing seconds until passers-by rush to her side. Her arm was broken, and I bet she will never feel safe walking alone again. That kind of blatantly racist violence is beyond me. A woman, walking alone, minding her own business--they kick her in the back so that she falls down the stairs? Really? In what universe is that even remotely an okay thing to do to anyone?

What am I missing?

Why are people so intolerant of each other? Why isn't there more discussion and compromise? Why is violence so often the reaction?

I feel like people need to sit down and listen to each other. Slow down and pay attention to what's happening, and not be so caught up in their own lives. People need to be together and talk, not bury their heads in the sand.

Despite the current craziness in Turkey, one aspect of life there that I'll never forget is tea time. Any time you want to have a real conversation, you slow down long enough to drink tea in tiny glass cups without handles. You sit together and sip slowly. You talk about your families first. Then you talk about what's on your mind. More tea, more talking. Maybe a few bites of baklava. More tea, more talking.

I don't believe we solve the world's problems by kicking people in the back, and we certainly don't solve problems by destroying each other's homes and families. My Grandma used to have a book called "Everything I Really Needed to Know, I learned in Kindergarten." Of course, the Syrian conflict and endemic racism are infinitely complex issues, but even a kindergartener would understand that what they see in these videos is wrong, hurtful, and scary. What's more, any teacher will tell you that crushing the voice of descent does nothing to solve a problem. In a conflict, you need to understand why people are not satisfied with the current situation and create a plan to move forward together.

I believe everyone needs to take time to have tea with those they are in conflict with. Taking time to understand one another with compassion and an open mind is the most important step to compromise.

If we can have compassion going forward, I believe we can create a world we all want to live in.

Being compassionate can look many ways. One way to show your commitment to a better world right now is to make a $10 donation to a charity (or $100 or $1000 if you can afford it). It's harmless to you, but your kindness helps these organizations do their work. This year, I've donated to Save the Children and the ASPCA (for all the fur-babies). Longer-term, think about supporting teachers in any way you can. Teachers are crucial to building a compassionate and open-minded society; but they often face low salaries, limited resources, or government policies that put artificial constraints on our classroom. If you've got the time, volunteer for an organization that supports people who are different from yourself. You'll help the community and I know you'll learn something about yourself and you world.