I am a student of peace studies (- even though it should rather be called conflict studies for all the literature, seminars and lectures on war, terrorism and realist world politics). I have been long complaining about the theoretical nature of this M.A. program and how – to me – it seems to be detached from the actual experiences of the people on the ground (whom we mostly summarize in big numbers and charts).
There even was a time that I was so shocked, paralyzed, and overwhelmed by the sheer hate, badness and inhumanity of humanity that I saw no point in going on. Why? Why do people do these things? Why do they kill, torture, and are so egocentric? The need to understand people has sparked my focus to study terrorism and now conflicts. But even nearly three degrees and seven years later I seem to be further away from an answer than ever.
So for my MA thesis I decided no more terrorism and civil war or catastrophes – I will focus on reconciliation. And so I do. I work on a paper on how listening can transform relationships and opens up space for reconciliation. The compassionate listening workshops in Israel/Palestine serve as an example. (Yes, despite the disturbing and negative headlines, not all Israelis and Palestinians hate each other. There are so many wonderful and courageous people out there working for peaceful relationships.)
The interesting thing is that trying to understand and analyze how people come to reconcile, I find myself in a personal reconciling process –with myself. I have already been tried of fighting for years now – fighting against the injustice we see on TV each day, against expectations – either work-related (everything for the CV, constant evaluations) or in your private life (get started with working on “my husband-my children-my house” blueprint), and all of this led to fighting against myself and why I just wouldn’t or didn’t want to go down that road and why, for goodness sake, I just couldn’t save the world?!
I have been concentrating on how to help others that I have forgotten that I might need help as well. We all do. And no one tells us. So here is a little secret I want to share and hopefully, it will be a relief. The 20s are quite a turbulent time and of course you can enjoy and live life to the fullest. But if you don’t feel that you can live up to this perfect TV-ad style of life – don’t you worry! It is okay to feel frustrated, desperate, angry, sad and a bit lost! Everyone likes to think of himself/herself or the other as floating through life – 500 friends on Facebook, overseas travel, renting the first own flat…But what looks perfect from the outside might not actually feel that perfect. It is okay to challenge norms, to go against the mainstream and to feel lost. And it is important to know that you are not alone.
I have been reading a lot about listening to others, to understand the opposite, to understand the other’s grievances and then being able to relate. But the first step to become a compassionate listener, and maybe the most important and challenging, is to listen to yourself.