The purpose of this blog posting is to provoke questions and deeper thinking about what we say and what we do. The points I bring up in this writing seeks to promote a deeper thinking about one's levels of participation in the Peace and Dignity Journeys' run, not to judge or ask a person to justify their participation.
As I wait for videos of my interviews to be analyzed I am surfing the web. I do my regular look in to see what comes up when I type in "Peace and Dignity Journeys". Multiple sites invite me to view their experience of the run. Looking at the photos I am moved by the images…a grandmother being held by others as she walks, a close-up of a man in prayer with a wide grin-eyes closed, chin facing towards the sky, a group of women in traditional dress walking strong and holding the prayers of others swinging from the main prayer staff. The soulful voice and heart-beating drum music chosen by one site only adds to the intensity of the images passing before me. It makes me wonder about the concepts of romanticization, suffering, sacrifice, and commitment.
Suffering. Sacrifice. Commitment. What do these things mean? What is the role they play in someones life? What does it mean when they come up during the run in private/internal or in public/external settings? Are these things a demonstration of a virtuous life? What is the relationship between suffering, sacrifice, commitment and the run? Why do folks engage in the Peace and Dignity Journeys run?
Technically, suffering is defined as an experience that is physically or psychologically distressing. One of my teachers talked about suffering as a mental state – a condition that one can choose to change. This is true not only for a person who is suffering but also for the person who observes suffering outside of themselves in the lives of others.
In my experience I realize that I often create much of my own anguish by the way I have been taught and have unconsciously adopted to see, and thus, experience the world. I have also experienced being fulfilled and liberated in the most dire of situations when I have taken a step back from my automatic responses and have re-interpreted the situation, for that moment anyway, experiencing a full range of what it means to be fully alive. This is not always pretty and is sometimes downright ugly—but a full life includes all of that. For me it is not the suffering that makes me feel alive—it is my attempt to liberate myself from that which holds me down in an anguished state of being, thinking, feeling, speaking, and inter-relating. I have slowly come to realize that my ability to acknowledge the complexities of imposed suffering from the outside world must begin with myself.
Example: One time I was having a conversation with a youth organizer who I highly respect her work. She was telling me a story about how she took some young people to Tijuana in Mexico to walk around and see what life was like on the border. As they were walking she noticed some of the youth becoming distraught and worrisome about the young children approaching them to buy gum. My friend asked them what was going on and they said that they were sad that these children had to suffer so much, that their lives were unhappy and that they wished they could take the kids home with them...
OK, I realize there is a lot to unpack here but I will focus on what my friend replied...
She first asked these visiting youth what made them think these kids were suffering, unhappy, or would even want to go home with them? She then engaged them in a conversation about the distinctions between suffering, empathy, patronization/mothering, and true intentions about serving and advocacy versus making oneself feel better or worse by what actions they could or could not take in a situation like this. For me this is a great example of questioning one's interpretation of suffering and creating honesty with oneself about what may look like or feel like "right action".
When I think about the idea of suffering as it relates to people who are engaged in social change work or social change experiences, like the Peace and Dignity Journeys spiritual run, I wonder why I am so fixated on digging deeper into the role suffering plays in such an experience. I return again and again to the notion that the end must reflect the means for authentic transformation. During the run, can "peace" and "dignity" exists along side suffering, not to mention sacrifice and commitment? I believe it can. I believe that there is something called grace-full suffering.
My experience with Peace and Dignity Journeys leaves me wondering about the attention given to the larger idea of "walking the talk" - in this case, building integrity between the principles of Peace and Dignity and the practice of them. In many ways I see the Peace and Dignity Journeys as a container for an experience that can allow people to strengthen their coherency between the principles of Peace and Dignity and how they are practiced/lived out/realized. Like any integrity building experience I think it takes an enormous amount of personal truth and effort from individuals to stay aware of how one is making that happen; not to mention how that personal effort is purposefully and expected to be lived out within the Peace and Dignity community of runners and supporters.
Sacrifice is the notion of giving up of something valuable or important for somebody or something else considered more valuable or importance. If the actions perceived as a sacrifice are actually fulfilling one's own desires (conscious or unconscious) then is it actually a sacrifice?
For example, if a person gives up ice cream (the sacrifice) because of the principle that since others can not afford to eat ice cream, but in actuality the same person does not even really like ice cream, is the sacrifice of not eating ice cream truly a sacrifice? Or is it instead a "nice" way to look like he/she supports something good and noble?
If a person's spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical well being is sacrificed to participate in the Peace and Dignity run are the Principles of the Peace and Dignity Journeys being realized? Meaning, can the run ever be of more value and important then the mental, physical, and spiritual wellness of an individual or of a family? Of course, only each person involved with the run can be answer that question for themselves.
For me there are vital questions relating to the concepts of suffering and its role in the run. The questions fall into the categories of sacrifice of what, sacrifice for what, sacrifice of whom, and sacrifice for what purpose(s). More easily stated:
- What or who is being sacrificed?
- Is the experience of the run more important than the thing being sacrificed?
- Who will benefit as a result of the sacrifice? How will they benefit? Who that the sacrifice is beneficial or meaningful?
- What purpose does the sacrificial experience have for the thing or person being sacrificed and for the person doing the sacrificing?
Commitment is the act of carrying out a responsibility. Granted authentic commitments are made with the full knowledge and belief that the person doing the committing actually has the capacity and/or resources to respond to what they are committing. In relationship to the Peace and Dignity Journeys, I wonder what commitments need to be honored first to demonstrate that a person is living the Principles of Peace and Dignity before they make a commitment to support the run in whatever capacity? Similarly to the notion of sacrifice are the questions of commitment to what, to whom, and for what purpose:
- What is being committed to?
- Who is doing the committing?
- Who will benefit from the commitment?
- What will be gained from the commitment?
- Who determines if the benefit from the commitment is valuable?
- What purpose does this commitment serve?
- Who does this commitment serve?
Commitment to the Peace and Dignity Journeys can happen in many ways. I wonder sometimes how that full range of participation is communicated and authenticated. Meaning some people interpret that running and/or being with the core runners for weeks on end is the fullest way of showing one's commitment to Peace and Dignity; but if those actions conflicts with the principles of Peace and Dignity then is it actually a false or unwise commitment? Of course, this depends on who you are, your circumstance, your other worldly and familial responsibilities, the well being of yourself and those that you care for, and your ability to be honest about why you are actually involved with the run.
My thoughts on this will no doubt be controversial, but hey, they are just my thoughts, my assessments developed from my own life-experience. As I have written many times before the concept of romanticization has shaped the way social change leaders live their life, carry out the work, and create expectations for certain attitudes, behaviors, and commitments from others and themselves. My wonderings are around how romanticization of social change experiences influences the experience itself.
In the case of Peace and Dignity Journeys, the images and sounds I mentioned in the opening paragraph of this reflection present a major paradox for me. Meaning the photos and music do indeed truly reflect a beauty and strength that is alive and well in the run—together they are an accurate reflection of the spirit of the run.
What is not visible and what is less often publicly discussed are the negative impacts of the levels of involvement and stress placed on individuals, families, and whole communities (this is where a conversation on sacrifice could provide insight) who are engaged in the role. Nor do these images and sound address the issues of power, authority, and recognition (this is where a conversation on suffering could provide insight) that arise during the run. Promoting a romanticized view of sacrifice and suffering harms the integrity of the run if they are not offered up for discussion and right action.
Basically, I believe that the beauty of the run can not exists authentically unless the shadows of the run are brought out into the light to be directly, consistently, and rigorously addressed to reflect the Principles of the Peace and Dignity Journeys.
Liberation's Relationship to Internalized Oppression
The ability for any experience to address individual and collective liberation and internalized oppression is an enormous and sacred act. It would be too much to go into it in this reflection, but I believe, delving deeper into our individual and collective cultural understanding and historical discourse of suffering and sacrifice would be a way to address the inherent energy of victimization (a.k.a. internalized oppression) that often accompanies attempts towards liberation. Of course, it is in the freeing of oneself from a victimization frame where liberation is experienced.