lunes, 14 de noviembre de 2011

Forgiving Beirut

I think nothing in life is a coincidence.

Remember my last blog post? When I was wondering why I was so angry in Beirut?

Well, it turns out I was at this magnificent conference this weekend. The conference was about healing past traumas, individual and collective. And I got some insights into my experience, as part of a collective experience in Lebanon.

I am someone who works on conflict prevention, but on a governmental/institutional level. I had never being exposed to the psychology of war and trauma. I must say that I had to put my brain in check at some points, as us "peace warriors" tend to "know" a lot of things about conflict, and have a lot of labels and fancy words to describe it. This conference was not really about the know, but on a deeper, more subtle level.

I think what really moved me about this conference was that it talked about what war does to people. About why people go to war. About how wars get transmitted from one generation to the other. About how people feel and think after they have been exposed to a war.

I was in the room with a mostly Lebanese audience. And as we all saw speakers, some of whom had been victims of war's atrocities themselves, share their experiences, I sensed deep sadness and sorrow in the room.

There were times when people were silent, there were times when people spoke and had to stop because they couldn't go on anymore. There were times when people were angry and frustrated. There was sometimes resignation and skepticism.

But mostly, there was a gentle determination to remain in the room, to listen and to learn.

One of the things I learnt was that 7 out of 10 people in the country were we live have seen a war event (loss of a loved one, loss of property, murder, bombs, etc.) at least once in their life. I also learnt that 10 out of 60 Lebanese have a mental health condition and only 1 seeks professional help.
I also learned that the more war atrocities one has seen in one's life, the more propensity one has to experience some behavioral condition in life (no matter when the events happened).

My Lebanese friends rarely speak about the war. And why would they? Isn't it a normal reaction, just wanting to move on?

But yet, it is so important to talk...

I witnessed this weekend people from Rwanda, Lebanon and Ireland forgiving the people who killed their loved ones. And not only in the surface, with a little smile, for self-gain or out of disdain. I mean a true sense of forgiveness, where the humanity of the other is embraced, and acknowledged. Where a genuine compassion is possible and gives the opportunity for self healing. I saw how the gift of forgiveness liberates our perpetrators, and honors our deep power to love one another.

I learned in this conference is that we all have our own internal wars. Some of them are due to external factors, and some of them are not. And the easy and common way is to respond with anger, to blame, to hold a grudge and to seek revenge.

I must say that today for the first time I can say I understand Lebanon a little better. On a deeper level. I witnessed the hurt, the fear and the sorrow. The need for revenge and redemption. And I also witnessed that beautiful resilience of the Lebanese. I heard the soft whisper of those who want to be free from the past. Who are willing the work for a bright future in a country that embraces all differences.

I feel full of hope for this country that is so dark and so bright at the same time. I am in awe at the power of people who want to emerge from the ashes of despair and hatred. I saw the deep longing for love and brotherhood. There are no coincidences as I said. I understood this weekend why I had to come here.

lunes, 7 de noviembre de 2011

Aggresive Beirut

I was recently in conversation with some "expat" women over dinner on the topic of aggression. Some asserted that moving to Beirut had made them more aggressive. My usual self would have replied that one becomes aggressive by choice, not be circumstance, but in this occasion, I didn't have such a clear-cut answer. 

Have I become more aggressive since I moved to Beirut?

I am a firm believer that one chooses one's way of being in the face of circumstance, and not the other way around. But somehow in Beirut, I have noticed that little by little circumstances have started to take over the best in me. Since the realization of my latent aggressive self, I have become more aware (self conscious?) of my behavior. And I am surprised at how little it takes now to get me absolutely and completely enraged. Why the hell am I so mad? 

Let’s take a step back. What is aggression anyways? 

Wikipedia tells us: "Aggressive behavior is a behavior which is intended to increase the social dominance of the organism relative to the dominance position of other organisms"

As humans, we are social beings. And as social beings, we influence, love, hate, help, support or dominate one another.  It is just natural. That is what we do. Why is Beirut showing me this side of myself?

There have been events in Beirut where I have felt the need to fight. I have been pushed, yelled at, looked at disrespectfully. There have been occasions when I have felt unsafe. I have heard talks about gunfire, car bombs, and massacres in neighboring countries. But I was usually able to calm myself down. I was usually able to take a deep breath. Not in Beirut. The guns of my mind come out very quickly here.

Is it the constant noise and car honking, is it the reckless driving? Is it the lack of rules, people cutting in line, the ladies followed by their maids, carrying their bags? Is it the mistrust between people of different religions, the unkindness that people show to one another? Is it all the street animals, the children begging in the street? The men staring at me as I walk in the street? Is it the oversexualization of women, the botox and the plastic surgeries?

I have no answers. I am in a weird, inexact and highly subjective realm, the realm of feelings. And I just can’t help these feelings. They are there, like dormant snakes, ready to bite if someone steps on them.

Do I need to grow a thicker skin in Beirut, in order to survive? Does the world need more people with thicker skin? In Beirut, I find it difficult to have an open heart. Sometimes the reality is very raw. And it has nothing to do with violence. It is just an overall feeling of hopelessness (in government, in the future, in things working) and mistrust of the other. It is asphyxiating. 

Can I put the positive spin to this? I sure can. Beirut is beautiful, Beirut is full of life. Beirut is full. Beirut is like being fed a very sweet baklava with a huge wooden spoon, even when you are full already. Some times, it can be delicious, but some others it just too much to get in one bite.