Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Listening and identifying with life

Last night I had dinner with a large group of about 50 peace teachers from around the US and some from Colombia. I thought about them as I wandered back to my dorm room.
Paul Morris is a phyics professor who decided as a young man in the 1960s that he could not use his physics education for the military, even though that is where all the physics jobs were in his native Texas, so he started teaching. "I loved it until it all just became computers," he told me, "so I started studying and teaching also in philosophy."
Normally, as a product of the adversarial and identity-based culture in which I was raised, if I heard he was a physicist, I'd internally characterize him as a geeker servant of the military-technological complex. If I heard a Texas accent I'd be suspicious that he was a racist. He's not my people, he's the other. My training in creating typologies would tend to shunt him away from me, so that I could feel like at least I'm not a militarist and racist. But talking to Paul helps me overcome my identity-based ignorance. Turns out not only is he a peace person, he's very involved in human rights work and teaches social justice courses and has lived and studied in Europe, with a three-semester focus at Oxford. He's a big friendly guy, very smart yet very relaxed.
Time to learn compassion and what Jeremy Rifkin calls empathic consciousness. Our blogs, our Iphones, our tweets and texts and our ability to read foreign press without making a special trip to the library to read a 10-day-old Guardian or a three-week-old India Times is changing how we perceive others. We are at a crossroads. We can choose empathy or tribal-religious-national identity and cling to our Cartesian duality as separate from nature--or we can choose empathic consciousness and begin to protect all life.
At the table were Laura Taylor, a peace psychology doctoral student at the University of Notre Dame--a young woman with a rich history of globalizing peace and a good friend to one of my former students--and Rosa Jiménex Ahumada, who teaches at the University of Cartagena in her native Colombia. I asked Rosa what her story was. Laura translated for her as Rosa told us of working as a social worker and working with displaced people from the terrible wars in her land.
I'm amazed that anyone can travel to other places in the world, meet such wonderful people, and not long to protect them from harm. Rifkin is right--time to develop our empathic consciousness if we wish to save our one and only planet in this one and only life for each and all.

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