Conflict studies is exactly what it sounds like–you study all the ways we don’t get along, from war, to crime, to domestic violence, to bigotry, to bullying, to divorce, to… you name it. As a species, we’re unique in nature for the scale upon which we kill our own kind, kill our mates, sacrifice our best and brightest to wars, and so on. From an evolutionary standpoint, this is not the smartest way to go on, so I thought I might learn a little more about the alternatives.
I enjoyed my classes. One professor had pursued his PhD in South Africa as apartheid was dismantled, another worked with Basque separatists to avoid civil war in Spain. Another professor helped Columbians come up with sustainable alternatives to growing the coca plant, another developed peacebuilding strategies with the Department of Defense. These were saintly, interesting people, most of them full of hope and humor.
But one class in particular made me furious. This required course was called, “Disciplines for Sustaining the Peacemaker.”
They lost me at the word, “Disciplines.” To me, discipline is about force, about coercion and punishment. Of course, what was meant was “how to keep your balance when you’re dealing with upsetting stuff,” but the approach was for the professor to assign us required practices–journaling, yoga (the sun salute, no less, which I do loathe), meditation, readings, exercise–which we were to attend to in the interests of self-care.
The idea was that by observing these practices, we’d somehow find the ones that would make us more resilient, wiser, sturdier, and better at our peacemaking. The reality was, by the end of the semester, the entire class of nice, well intended, tadpole peacemakers from all over the world was united in their willingness to beat the living peedywattles out of the professor and his grand ideas about spiritual and emotional fortification.
I got what I was supposed to get out of the class in that I ended up with a better understanding of how to look after myself. A large part of what sustains me is solitude. Unstructured time is also really necessary to my well being, preferably seven days a week of it, but I can limp along with four or five in the interests of getting my kid through college. I need humor, I need romance novels, I need companion animals and big, healthy trees. I like to journal, but I need my cats, I need those aromatic, hot, sweet cups of tea, and scented candles are important too.
These necessities were nowhere on the professor’s list (yoga, meditation, congregation, education), most of which either left me cold or made me cringe. I’m glad that prof has his list, but it was far more important that I learned my own.
In what area of life are you a nonconformist, a different drummer, the one who has to do it her way or not at all? How did you figure your way out?
To one commenter, I’ll send “The Connoisseur” from Wine Country Gift Baskets.