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  • Nairobi Terrorism and the Hierarchy of Trauma

    3:32 pm on September 30, 2013 | 0 comments Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Conflict, , Kenya, , personal,

    Talk­ing about evil is hard. It involves at least two para­doxes. Here’s the first. On the one hand, to denounce evil is an eth­i­cal act. It is to affirm our deep­est val­ues and to com­mit our­selves to pre­vent­ing acts that dehu­man­ize oth­ers. On the other hand, to denounce evil can be an uneth­i­cal act. It is a way of demo­niz­ing; it is, pre­cisely, to dehu­man­ize another. Here’s the sec­ond para­dox: On the one hand, we need to the con­cept of evil to philo­soph­i­cally and eth­i­cally dis­tin­guish acts that shock our con­sciences, acts that are not ade­quately encom­passed by words like bad, wicked, or wrong. The con­cept of evil clar­i­fies. On the other hand, the con­cept of evil con­fuses, pre­vents think­ing. We imag­ine evil is other than human, beyond under­stand­ing, almost mys­ti­cal. This lets us off the hook, lets us deny our own capac­ity for evil, and stops us from ana­lyz­ing the very human, very com­mon causes of it.

    - James Dawes: The Guts of Atrocity

    I have never quite known what to react in the wake of tragedy. Say­ing too much almost feels too opin­ion­ated, and say­ing too lit­tle almost feels to insin­cere. I remem­ber my first encounter five years ago with a per­sonal tragedy and death was uncon­trol­lable laugh­ter. Appar­ently my ‘cop­ing’ mech­a­nism then, was to try to see the humor­ous side of the story. Highly inap­pro­pri­ate. But now, over the past week, I am find­ing no humor that can help me cope as I watch Kenya bal­ance a grow­ing sad­ness of a nation, the anger of their cit­i­zens and the anguish of loved ones as ter­ror­ists stormed an upscale mall in Nairobi claim­ing over 60 lives.

    As emails, phone calls, texts and social media updates came pour­ing in, the irony is not lost on me on how tragedies hap­pen every­day around the world and yet, why is it that this one just seems so much more real. As my emo­tions slide between the con­tin­uum of “why” and “shock”, a strange ver­sion of this Hier­ar­chy of Trauma began to emerge. As I scroll through the news for updates on Nairobi on that day, and through­out the week, it dawned on me that hun­dreds of peo­ple die and are affected by con­flicts around the world. In Pak­istan, 81 peo­ple per­ished in a church sui­cide bomb­ing. In Nige­ria, over 500 per­ished in ter­ror­ist related vio­lence in the north of the coun­try, and the on-going Syria cri­sis has claimed tens of thou­sands of lives. Coun­tries and com­mu­ni­ties that I can’t even com­pre­hend who and where — are suf­fer­ing. Yet, why my heart aches the most for my Nairobi home and only for a fleet­ing moment of empa­thy for the news in Pakistan.

    And sud­denly it struck me, trauma and grief isn’t a com­pe­ti­tion or a hier­ar­chy. We each grieve for dif­fer­ent losses, in our own way and in time. There is no trauma that is supe­rior to, lesser, greater, less shock­ing, bet­ter cov­ered, or any other com­par­a­tive phrase, than the suf­fer­ing of any indi­vid­ual or com­mu­nity. All we can do, is know that even if your expe­ri­ence does not have a chap­ter in other sto­ries of con­flict and trauma, it still a part of our story as human­ity as a whole.

    Think­ing of you.

    ***

    Selected pieces that pro­vide dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives on the Nairobi incident:

    1) Gen­eros­ity of cit­i­zens in dona­tions for the victims

    2) NY Times on the Value of Suffering 

    3) A Trib­ute to a Friend: Ravi

    4) Aung San Suu Kyi: the Free­dom from Fear

    5) A beau­ti­ful piece in The Nation on forgiveness

    6) Nan­jala Nyabola in Al-Jazeera on Keep­ing the Nairobi inci­dent in perspective 

    7) An inter­view with author, James Dawes on his new book: Evil Men - a col­lec­tion of dia­logues with war crim­i­nals from the Sec­ond Sino-Japanese War (1937–1945)

     
  • How are We Standing with the Poor?

    3:05 pm on February 18, 2013 | 3 comments Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , personal

    The more some­one iden­ti­fies with a pro­fes­sion or an “accom­plish­ment” such as an award, the less human he will be (in the clas­si­cal sense). In virtue ethics, the only “excel­lence” worth attain­ing is that of “being human”, with all what it entails (honor, courage, ser­vice, sat­is­fac­tion of pub­lic & pri­vate duties, will­ing­ness to face death, etc.); “achieve­ments” are reduc­tions and alien­ations for lower forms of life.

    IN ANCIENT ROME this was a priv­i­lege reserved for the patri­cian class. They were able to engage in pro­fes­sional activ­i­ties with­out directly iden­ti­fy­ing with them: to write books, lead armies, farm land, or trans­act with­out being a writer, gen­eral, farmer, or mer­chant, but “a man (*vir* rather than *homo*) who” writes, com­mands, farms or trans­acts, as a side activity.

    TODAY, as human­ity got much, much richer, one would have thought that every­one would have access to the priv­i­lege. Instead, I only find it in min­i­mum wage earn­ers who just “make a liv­ing” and feel forced to sep­a­rate their iden­tity from their pro­fes­sion. The higher up in the social lad­der, the more peo­ple derive their iden­tity from their pro­fes­sion and “achieve­ments”. — Nas­sim Taleb

    When I was with Acu­men Fund, we would ask our­selves: How are we stand­ing with the poor? And quite frankly, I wasn’t sure if I even really knew what that meant. For the longest time, I thought it meant putting myself into another person’s per­spec­tive, try­ing to see the world through their eyes and “speak up” for those who didn’t have a voice. And then I came across this post­ing by Nas­sim Taleb, who sep­a­rates out iden­tity and accom­plish­ment and really got me reeval­u­at­ing my def­i­n­i­tion. It also made me real­ize how hard it was, as the higher up the social lad­der you are, the harder it is to dis­tin­guish between iden­tity and accom­plish­ment, the harder it is to relate.

    Stand­ing with the poor is about look­ing beyond pro­fes­sion. Beyond awards and accom­plish­ments. Beyond first impres­sions. Stand­ing with the poor is a reminder to one­self to sep­a­rate the way you look at your­self and oth­ers around you; between their accom­plish­ments and iden­tity. Stand­ing with the poor is about under­stand­ing self-worth, regard­less of what situation/career/social sta­tus you are in.

    And at the end of the day, it all comes back to valu­ing human dignity.

     
  • Goodbye Vancouver, See you later New York, Hello Nairobi!

    3:58 pm on September 23, 2012 | 2 comments Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , personal

    2012 has been my year of being in between sto­ries.  A process that involves embrac­ing uncer­tainty to explore pos­si­bil­ity, con­stant iter­a­tion in future plans, pack­ing and repack­ing my belong­ings into two lug­gages, mov­ing between con­ti­nents and try­ing to make some sense out the dis­ori­en­tat­ing dance of the famil­iar and unfamiliar.

    In the begin­ning of the year, I left my job with the inten­tion of begin­ning a new adven­ture. It wasn’t an easy deci­sion. It was espe­cially hard as I had grown to deeply respect my com­pany and had men­tors at the firm that I still trea­sure to this day. But there was this nag­ging lit­tle voice inside of me that pushed to me to leap. To be bold and pur­sue my inter­ests: one that thrives in the inter­sec­tion of impact invest­ing, design think­ing and change.

    Once in a while it really hits peo­ple that they don’t have to expe­ri­ence the world in the way they have been told to.” –Alan Keightley

    There is a myth of con­sis­tency in life sto­ries. Peo­ple tend to expect a famil­iar story, a jour­ney that they have heard before and unsur­pris­ingly, we impose this ‘famil­iar story’ on our­selves. We fail to leap because we believe that our capac­ity to dream is in accor­dance to our inher­ited prej­u­dice of what we have been told/come to expect. When faced with uncer­tainty, peo­ple tend to intu­itively, move to find a solu­tion quickly. They tend to rush down a path, usu­ally towards famil­iar­ity, at the expense of the insight and engage­ment that uncer­tainty can bring. It is in these sit­u­a­tions that I am slowly real­iz­ing that our courage and faith must be addressed to the dreams we have been afraid to dream, either because they are too dif­fi­cult, or because it has been too breath­tak­ing to even com­pre­hend how they could pos­si­bly exist within our cur­rent constraints.

    My jour­ney for 2012, has brought me out of Van­cou­ver, to New York, to Malaysia and now to Nairobi, Kenya where I am work­ing every­day to not only “will­ing to chal­lenge the sta­tus quo, but under­stand the world as it is and have the audac­ity and moral courage to build the world that could be” — Jacque­line Novogratz.

    The work of embrac­ing uncer­tainty requires the dis­ci­pline and wis­dom to make trade-offs, the best way we can. It is about know­ing when to pick up your belong­ings and leave. When to fight and when to con­cede. When to lis­ten and when to lead. When to be gen­er­ous and when to be hum­ble. When to hold your breath and when to breathe through it. When to be adven­tur­ous and when to be grounded.

    It is these trade-offs, that forces a shift from uncer­tainty to pos­si­bil­ity, from real­ity to abstract and back again: one of the most fun­da­men­tal processes by which we unlock our imag­i­na­tions and open our hearts to new insights. To under­stand our sto­ries is to embrace uncertainty.

    With that, I bid you farewell Van­cou­ver, see you later New York and jambo Nairobi!

     
  • Matters of National Pride: When All is Said and Done

    8:10 am on August 5, 2012 | 6 comments Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , personal

    I have long since desired to write about this topic to some degree, but it was only after a series of recent con­ver­sa­tions and fol­low­ing the Olympics Games that called forth an unex­pected wave of patri­o­tism towards my country.

    I grew up as a Malaysian, through and through. Born and raised in Sarawak, edu­cated in Malaysia’s pub­lic school sys­tem and seen first hand my country’s polit­i­cal and racial stance. The older I became, the more I came to under­stand the indoc­tri­na­tion of nation­al­ism that the coun­try has imposed on its cit­i­zens, the more I con­cluded that we were made to love! From stand­ing in the equa­to­r­ial heat dur­ing assem­bly salut­ing our “Jalur Gemi­lang”, singing the dif­fer­ent anthems: Negaraku and Sarawak, Ibu Per­ti­wiku on a daily basis to mem­o­riz­ing Malaysia’s geog­ra­phy and his­tory every­day in our pub­lic school sys­tem. The older I grew, the more I ques­tioned the under­ly­ing racial intol­er­ance in our coun­try, the more I heard my fel­low com­pa­tri­ots scheme to “study over­seas and stay there”, that if you could obtain a PR from a first world coun­try, “go for it and don’t look back”, the more I saw a brain drain in my country’s top minds as they throw their hands up in frus­tra­tion at Malaysia’s eco­nomic and polit­i­cal situation.

    Appar­ently, being made to love some­thing is a flawed strat­egy, and right­fully so. As my gen­er­a­tion grew up, our under­stand­ing of the world expanded and we look back and crit­i­cize the flaws in our own coun­try. We tell peo­ple, “I love Malaysian food, but to go back and be dis­crim­i­nated based on the colour of my skin and last name? Why should I sub­ject myself to such treat­ment?” spo­ken some­times out of dis­ap­point­ment, some­times out of dis­dain. When I saw Dambisa Moyo speak at my uni­ver­sity on Dead Aid and devel­op­ment, some­one from the audi­ence asked her whether she would ever go back to Zam­bia to help her coun­try. She retorted that peo­ple often for­get that every human being at the end of the day craves equal­ity, dig­nity and access to basic needs. If Zam­bia could pro­vide those needs for their cit­i­zens, Zam­bians would go back in a heart­beat. I looked around and saw my friends: South African, Iran­ian, Pak­istani, Chi­nese, all nod­ding silently next to me. Appar­ently, I was not the only one who felt this way.

    Now, work­ing and learn­ing in the social enterprise/development space, I come across many indi­vid­u­als who are pas­sion­ate about chang­ing the lives of oth­ers in devel­op­ing coun­tries. Some take a more econ­o­mist stand­point of help­ing where peo­ple need it the most, other are dri­ven by a cer­tain cause/skillset — be it health, finance or human rights. I see oth­ers have a deep drive to help coun­tries that they never even grew up in, and some­times have never even set foot in that con­ti­nent, let alone coun­try. I ask myself: Why? Then, I look at Malaysia and won­der: What good is it that we are made to love a coun­try when our hearts are filled with complaints/disdain for it? I look around again and I see my friends: who have gone back to Peru to cre­ate change in her home­town, who have dreams to advance South African films in the world and who are wait­ing for an oppor­tu­nity to return to Kenya. Appar­ently, I was miss­ing out on con­nect­ing with my birth­place and identity.

    I can finally say that work­ing in the social enterprise/development space, have meant per­son­ally for me, of under­stand­ing Malaysia bet­ter. For its decay­ing polit­i­cal and admin­is­tra­tive struc­ture, for the incred­i­ble courage of Bersih pro­tes­tors, and for new eco­nomic pro­grams that are aimed to improve the coun­try. More impor­tantly, I think I have finally under­stood what it means to love uncon­di­tion­ally, even if I was made to in the first place. To love any­ways despite all of Malaysia’s flaws, because love keeps no count of wrong. It is this choice — To love, not for a tol­er­ance of cor­rup­tion, crime or racism but to love unfail­ingly, stub­bornly, for a beauty of a nation is not in the laws or the rul­ing party at that time, but in the dig­nity and essence of every cit­i­zen who have con­tributed in one way or another to shape our early views of the world.

    So to all my fel­low com­pa­tri­ots and those who have yet to make the choice to love for your own coun­try, when all is said and done, here is my chal­lenge to you:

    If not us, then who? If not now, then when? — Acu­men Fund

     

    Thanks to Kristina, Nan­jala, Cyn­thia and Robert for inspir­ing this post.

     
  • Three Thoughts On Being a Global Citizen

    8:54 pm on July 8, 2012 | 0 comments Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , personal,

    *Orig­i­nally pub­lished on ThreeThoughtsOn.com

     

    When I was eight years old liv­ing in Bor­neo, Malaysia, I used to declare that I would some­day live over­seas. I would hoard sto­ry­books about peo­ple hav­ing tea time in Eng­land or bush­fire tales in Kenya and devour these sto­ries late into the night. Now, I write to you from a hid­den gem in New York City, where this is my eighth move in the last six years, lived in South East Asia, Mid­dle East, North Amer­ica, done devel­op­men­tal projects in Africa and trav­elled to over 25 countries.

    Being a global cit­i­zen, I’ve spent the last few years try­ing to under­stand what this means: being stumped every time some­one asks me where home is, feel­ing strangely at home at air­ports and have yet to obtain a valid form of iden­ti­fi­ca­tion that I can proudly flash at bounc­ers with­out explain­ing my life’s story. Only recently, I have begun to fash­ion, per­haps lov­ingly, per­haps reluc­tantly, per­haps nos­tal­gi­cally, a def­i­n­i­tion of ‘global cit­i­zen’ that is uniquely my own on Home, Iden­tity, and Culture.

    Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” -­ Robert Frost

    Most peo­ple piously fol­low a tra­di­tional def­i­n­i­tion and asso­ci­a­tion of home: fam­ily and child­hood. I’ve known for a long time that this isn’t so. And some­times home isn’t where the heart it. Home is where peo­ple under­stand you, where you build your love and dreams. Home is where you grow want­ing to leave, and even­tu­ally yearn­ing to go back. Every day is a jour­ney for me, and this jour­ney is home.

    If you wake up at a dif­fer­ent time, in a dif­fer­ent place, could you wake up as a dif­fer­ent per­son?” -­ Chuck Palahniuk

    In this strug­gle to strike bal­ance, know­ing when to stay true to my Chinese-­‐Malaysian roots, when to adopt a new path, I con­stantly ask myself the fun­da­men­tal ques­tions of who I was, who I am and who I am becom­ing. I believe that we build our iden­tity by the deci­sions we make, by the prin­ci­ples we stand up for and unex­plored choices we have in front of us. When I moved from Oman to Canada, the dif­fer­ence in cul­ture was alarm­ing; from the free­dom in speech to ideas of fun. All I could do is con­stantly emu­late the val­ues I hold true to myself, while begin­ning a ten­ta­tive foray into a new cul­ture. In my recent move to New York, I find myself return­ing to those same val­ues: life­long learn­ing, authen­tic con­nec­tions and gen­eros­ity, and I know that this is at the core of who I am no mat­ter what coun­try I am in.

    The key to suc­cess is for you to make a habit through­out your life of doing the things you fear.” -­ Vin­cent Van Gogh

    When I moved to Van­cou­ver six years ago, I arrived at the inter­na­tional ter­mi­nal with two lug­gages, knew no one in the coun­try and had a huge ball of fear in my chest. I was fear­ful of let­ting go of my old life. I feared that I would not make friends. I feared fail­ing. Now, hav­ing moved mul­ti­ple times, I’m here to tell you to fear out­ra­geously, fail coura­geously and cre­ate con­nec­tions uncon­di­tion­ally. I con­stantly ask myself: What is the worst that can happen?

    So as time bum­bles along, does an indi­vid­ual become more risk averse, cling­ing on firmly to what is famil­iar, or do you seek to expand the world as you know it? As my cur­rent jour­ney unfolds, I am drunk with the pur­suit of learn­ing, immers­ing myself in old inter­ests and reaf­firm­ing fears that I form healthy opin­ions on.

    So world, here I come! I guess the next thing to do is finally get my [insert coun­try I’m cur­rently liv­ing in] driver’s license.

    Your res­i­dent global citizen,

    Joce­lyn
    Chi­nese sourced. Malaysian made and cul­ti­vated (Miri, Bor­neo!). Omani improved. Exported to Canada. And now, dis­trib­uted in the United States (New York).

     
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