|Can we connect through our common struggles?|
by douglas reeser on march 17, 2013
"Do not simply respect others, but offer them a common struggle, since our most pressing problems today are problems we have in common."
I keep seeing this quote posted around the internet, and from what I can tell it's by Slavoj Žižek from his 2012 book, The Year of Dreaming Dangerously. In this short and concise statement, Žižek offers a call to action to those working towards positive change in the world. It offers hope that by identifying what we have in common with others, we establish a point upon which to build dialogue. We have a concise plan through which to work: Identify commonality; Engage in dialogue; Initiate action; Witness change.
This theme of commonality has been following my lately. I concluded my last article about why I work in Belize with a comment on global connectedness and common interests:
Global interconnectedness has helped in the realization that our lives and actions reach beyond where we live, that problems faced in Belize are really problems faced by all of us. We can no longer go about our daily lives ignorant of our effects on others. Just as our actions reach all corners of the globe, our home is no longer a concept confined to a specific locale. Our home is the earth, and we’re all in this together.
I then began noticing the above quote from Žižek pop up on my twitter feed, on facebook, and even on random blogs. I was resonating with this message of commonality and connections, and wondering how my work fit into all of this.
As these thoughts and questions were going through my mind, I had another experience that is helping make sense of things here. I am a runner, and I use my runs as a time to clear my mind, work through ideas, and develop thoughts on projects and other work that I'm engaged with. I run a regular route, and wave and smile at people that I see regularly. On my last run, an older man working in his yard who I had often waved to decided to call me over for the first time in 5 years of running by his house. I saw him a couple dozen times over the years, but we had never spoken a word. He decided to change that.
"Hey! I haven't seen you in a while. Where have you been?" he yelled over.
I walked back towards him, and breathing heavily, I replied, "Well, I've been back for a few months now, but I just spent about a year and a half in Belize."
A look of surprise and interest came across his face. "Was it as great as they say it is?" he asked, sharing the familiar refrain that many have, that I must have been on an extended vacation, lazing on the beaches after exciting eco-adventures on the sea and in the jungles.
I assured him that Belize is a beautiful country, both its land and its people, and then further engaged him by explaining my research on health. I told him about the Maya and Garifuna healers that I worked with, who know hundreds of bush plants and continue to use holistic traditional healing practices. This part of my story, in particular, seemed to captivate his attention.
"You mean there are still people living like that?!" he excitedly asked. "I had no idea! That makes me so happy, to know that those things still exist somewhere out there. Our system is so messed up. Our health system. Our environment. I don't think we know what we're doing. We're really screwing things up here."
We talked for a few minutes more, agreeing that we are certainly facing some challenges today, and that we don't seem to be making things easier on ourselves, that things are just continuing to get worse. I explained that one of the biggest threats to healers in Belize is the loss of plant habitats, and that currently, the quest for oil in southern Belize is contributing to the erosion of forest. I wondered aloud, "These are frustrating times, and I'm never sure what we're supposed to do about it."
"Speak. Talk to others. Even if it's just on the side of the street like this. Tell people what you know. Share yourself with people. That's what you need to do," he said, and turned away to get back to his yard work.
I bid him a good day, and continued on my run, amazed at the connections that are possible in this world. In a random discussion on the side of the road in the middle of a run, I was able to connect an older gentleman in Florida to the resilience of Belizean traditional medical systems, and on to global issues like health care, oil drilling, and environmental damage. We are faced with challenges unlike any other in our history. These are global challenges that are faced by everyone around the planet, yet we are in the unique position to connect with people from across this globe like never before. These connections and the possibilities they contain are only powerful if we use them. The combination of our virtual connections with those connections we encounter in the flesh are where our true strength lies. Speak. Share. Connect. In our common struggles we can find unity. In our unity we can find our way forward.