Viewing the world through different lenses

conflictclassbybrucestambaugh

The Conflict Analysis class of the Summer Peacebuilding Institute at Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, VA.

By Bruce Stambaugh

We have it pretty nice here in the Greater Holmes County, Ohio area. I have known that ever since I moved to the area just after the historic July 1969 flood.

Ask locals, and they’ll tell you that it’s the best place in the world to live. I wouldn’t begin to argue otherwise.

That doesn’t mean, however, that this is the only place to call home. Clearly, if it were, the countryside wouldn’t be the same. Pastoral settings would give way to a jagged urban scape and all the trappings that accompany it.

For those who never venture afar from our comparatively protected environs, there is a danger with our self-satisfaction. Seeing the world with only our particular glasses can give us a distorted viewpoint on other cultures, socially, politically, economically and any other way you want to look at life.

At times it can be good to change lenses. That means we sometimes have to get well out of our comfort zone to do so. We have to let go of what we know, and learn anew.

foggyviewbybrucestambaugh

Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley offers incredible views, like the morning mist rising out of the valleys.

Recently I took an intensive graduate school course at the Summer Peacebuilding Institute at Eastern Mennonite University in Virginia’s lovely Shenandoah Valley. It’s a place as pretty as home, only old age mountains backdrop rolling, fertile foothills.

Of the 16 participants in the class, I was one of only three North American students. The others came from places like Azerbaijan, Thailand, Iraq, Kurdistan, Belgium, Ghana, Nigeria, Syria and Haiti. I would have struggled to find some of these countries on a globe.

The students ranged from young adults to grandparents like me. Their given names were Amstrong, Yvon, Nurana, Carlos, Rana, Aunt, Ray, James, Oscar, Henry, Nameer, Ernest, Amina, Khant and Salar. They were pastors, government leaders, workers for non-governmental aid agencies, interpreters and teachers.

Though our cultures, races and geographic origins varied greatly, we were there to learn about the various ways to analyze and understand conflict. Given the current situations in the countries represented, much useful information was certain to be shared back home.

smallgroupdiscussionbybrucestambaugh

Much of the class time was spent in small group discussions and activities.

In the classroom, we sat in groups of three or four, each day a different configuration, each day new and fascinating stories intertwined with the professor’s lessons. Their personal stories, shared privately, were compelling, if not fearsome.

A pastor from Haiti called his wife every night and spoke to her from midnight until nearly dawn just to ensure his family’s safety. The consequences of war had destroyed the home of a young woman from Syria. Yet reconciliation, not retribution, was the aim of these devoted, considerate, inquisitive community leaders striving to promote peace.

dynamicwomenbybrucestambaugh

The dynamic women of the Conflict Analysis class of the Summer Peacebuilding Institute.

Instead of focusing on how bad it was in their country or blaming other governments, these men and women were glad for the opportunity to learn how to dissect and resolve conflict. They would take what they had learned and apply it as best they could. Their goal was to improve the world around them, even if it was one person at a time. Where there was despair, they saw hope.

When the Haitian pastor asked me if my home was safe, I hesitated before answering. I looked deep into his dark, wondering eyes, and simply said, “Yes, I live in a very safe place.”

“You are very fortunate,” he replied softly. I was humbled.

All of us who live in our lush, agrarian area are fortunate. Occasionally it takes looking through other life lenses to fully appreciate our own home view.

springtimeinamishcountrybybrucestambaugh

A typical springtime view in Holmes Co., Ohio.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2013

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