Monday, 12 January 2009

ignorance and enlightenment

well, it's finally happened. my 10 year old (ok, she'll be 11 in just over 3 months) is now taller than me. the older daughter is already a half a foot taller. it's so not fair. as a teenager, i waited desperately for the day that i'd be taller than my mum. that day has yet to arrive. and now it looks like i'll have two girls that tower over me. rats.

we sat and watched "hello dolly" tonight. it's a film i first watched when i was 5 years old, and i'm sure i've seen it a couple of times since, but many years ago. somehow it has a magical quality in my head, that my memories as a five-year-old just won't give up. it's a different matter watching it with children growing up in another era - things do date, the pace is slow & the music not what they'd prefer. still, they enjoyed the dancing, the comedy, the sets, the costumes, the colours. and we were giggling so much at the corniness of it all, but then that's part of the fun.

i've been thinking over why i jump into situations like the meeting with mr s, after che said he's "long since given up the "trying to change people's ways". buddhist principles helped. some people just are what they are. ignorance is a **far** easier road than enlightenment."

what on earth drives me into these kinds of situations that are apparently hopeless? there are a couple of stories i could share with you from the life of Muhammad, but then you'd think i was preaching at you and you probably wouldn't be that interested. so instead, i thought i'd share this more comtemporary little story i found three years ago, while researching a speech for massey's (albany) spirituality week:

Some of the first efforts to sponsor reconciliation in Northern Ireland through religious engagement and dialogue occurred in the mid-1970. One such effort took place in December 1974, when the IRA met a group of Protestants — mostly clergymen — for discussions. The talks did not bring any immediate fruits, but they planted seeds for a process that was to become reality 20 years later. Reconciliation takes a long time.

Most significantly for the peace process, a strong friendship arose and deepened from the early 1980s onwards between Rev. Ken Newell, a moderator at the Fitzroy Presbytarian Church, and Fr. Gerry Reynolds of Clonard Monastery, a Roman Catholic community in west Belfast. The friendship led to the formation of the Fitzroy Clonard Group, a fellowship which has allowed Catholics and Protestants to experience their shared faith together while candidly but respectfully exploring areas of religious differences. It has also had an important impact on political reconciliation.

This reconciliation between the two denominations began with a theological dialogue. Reverend Newell recalls:
We began meeting together, getting to know and understand one another better, to study the Bible in relation to Northern Ireland and to pray and worship as a group. By emphasizing what we had in common, a community has developed which values the support and help we can give to one another as fellow Christians and which I hope has been an example to others of a better way of living together rather that the division and sectarianism many experience.

The Clonard-Fitzroy Fellowship began with Bible study, which made everyone feel comfortable with each other. Then, the Fellowship responded to the larger political scene together, and Gerry Reynolds and Ken Newell were unafraid to discuss and pursue any political concerns. Indeed, Reynolds and Newell went even further, engaging in secret discussions with the leaders of both IRA and Loyalist paramilitary organizations. These meetings, organized by Fr. Alec Reid, a colleague of Fr. Reynolds at Clonard Monastery, had to be secret because the bombing campaign of the IRA was continuing, and the doctrine from the British Government was that there could be no talks with terrorists unless there was first a ceasefire. In this context, Newell, Reynolds and Reid took great risks in that they would have lost credibility in their own communities if their discussions had been found out.

it's a story that inspires me, and there are others i've read of collaborations between israelis and palestinians which show that despite all the ugliness in the world, there are those that have the courage to try to create something beautiful. and sometimes they succeed.

but it's not the success that is important, it's the effort. muslims believe that it's our job to make the effort, but that the end result is up to a Greater Power. and it's not by our successes that we will be judged but by our intentions and our struggles in the face of adversity. that is the true meaning of jihad - to carry on the struggle, even when in your own heart, you feel that it is hopeless and worthless. to speak the word of truth, even though you think no-one is listening. to continue making the effort, in the hope that one day you will succeed. and even if you don't, you'll have the satisfaction of knowing that you did the best you could with what you were given.

a conversation at work today brought home to me the fact that it's not people like mr s who are the greatest danger to the world. i have to give credit where credit is due: when we talked face-to-face, he was always courteous and never raised his voice nor used abusive language. he did show me respect and hospitality, and had a willingness to engage with me and to let me into his home. that is something. in fact, that is a lot.

the more dangerous people are those like my colleague who said she just didn't want to know the details about what was happening in the occupied territories. it was all too dreadful, and she preferred ignorance. oh, that's a far greater crime. to refuse to know, to carry on with your own life impervious to the sufferings of others because it makes you uncomfortable, to give up to feelings of helplessness, to raise up your hands and say "nothing we do here will make a difference anyway" as if this somehow absolves you of all responsibility. that is the attitude that really allows all the ugliness to carry on happening.


Anonymous said...

A more informed restatement might be: why learn painful truths about things that you cannot do anything about? Is it not better to remain ignorant and focus instead on the things you can affect? the risk of being overwhelmed and giving up rises as you learn more, while your effectiveness drops (I gotta ask The Visible Hand about this).

For instance, you don't seem to be posting much about your efforts to help in Somalia, Congo, Kiribati, Christmas Island, Guantanamo, Argentina... just to focus on geography rather than universal problems like racism and domestic violence. There's a lot of pain and suffering in the world, more than any one person can even learn about (I presume Islam is also vulnerable to the argument from evil?) Not that I'm suggesting you should do everything, on the contrary, I'm saying everyone has to choose their battles and so do you. I support your choices, even.

I do more eco and bike stuff, I did a bit of refugee stuff around the Baxter protests but actually dealing with people in the camps was too hard for me. Too much pain, too much dealing with heavy authoritarianism. I don't like either and burnt out quite quickly. For a while I was "the guy with the digital camera" but now everyone has one... and indymedia has died off a bit as other internet sources get stronger.

Interesting that you're still thinking about Mr S. Not that I have any helpful tips, I'm quite bad at that sort of discussion.

Family: I just had four short Vietnamese/ Australia women staying here... my partner's mother and two of her sisters. Her mother is definitely the shortest of the lot, and the height increases with younger sisters probably for nutritional reasons (her mother was a refugee, twin older sisters conceived in a camp). One interesting thing was that being around people speaking Vietnamese helped me learn much faster than just trying to learn odd words and phrases from Phuong. Immersion does actually work (in other shocking news, gravity continues to pull downwards).


stargazer said...

you're right of course, and thanx for bringing me down to earth and off my high horse!

in islam, we have this notion of working within your sphere of influence ie focusing on things you can change locally and around you.

however, that doesn't mean you remain ignorant of everything that's going on around the world. knowledge helps to inform our choices, and who knows, you might want to change your causes once you find out more. i accept though, that it's not possible to know everything about everything. i know i feel particularly ignorant about a lot of things.

guess i'd just better chill out a bit...

stargazer said...

oh, and it sounds like you've done some really great stuff.

Anonymous said...

Oh pooh! I had a longer response but hit back by mistake and lost it. Um,

Yeah, the joy of talking to people about stuff that matters and getting disinterest. I'm happy as long as they actually do something, almost anything (deep browns annoy me, and racists especially zionists). But in general, activeists are interesting.

My anarchist politics lead me to an approach that works for me: putting ideas out there, doing what I do and hoping to lead by example. It works but is hard to explain or justify to hierarchically minded people. Especially bought media and p*lice (who I deal with from time to time, often wrt Critical Mass - is Sydney one that I was involved with for a while).

peace and love

Anonymous said...

I asked Matt at The Visible Hand in Economics about this and he's prompted one of his co-bloggers to write a post for you :)