Being change

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Dialogue with Muslims at Salam Compound in Culiat, Quezon City, Metro Manila

(First published on September 21, 2010)

     Perhaps it is true that the only constant in life is change. People, relationships among people, their circumstances, and just about everything that we can think of, do change! Some changes are for the better, while others leave us with only a deeper yearning for what we desire and hope for.

     But, change comes slowly, unfolding ever so subtly on various levels in our midst that, more often than not, we hardly even notice it happening.

     For those expecting swift and discernible outcomes, patience tends to wear out easily and the easiest way of coping with frustration is to complain, criticize, blame, protest against, renounce, or even remove those whom they perceive to be obstacles to change, or are faulty instruments of it. Few are wont to see themselves as part of the big picture of change unfolding, or being involved in the process and therefore partly responsible and accountable for its outcomes.

     For those expecting little or nothing, everything or nothing may come as a surprise, and life goes on, as always, perhaps either happily or helplessly, whatever their disposition and circumstances may be.

     But, for those who have committed to be instruments of change (no matter what their culture or beliefs may be), there is the challenge of “active waiting” to face, and the aspiration of “being the change” that they “wish to see” to live up to and realize.

     My interfaith peacebuilding work these past twelve years has been inspired by the desire to respond to the need to bring about change for the better in the relationships among people of diverse cultures and beliefs. The compelling words of Mahatma Gandhi–Be the change that you wish to see in the world!–fueled my endeavors with the conviction that I, too, can be part of the movement for a better world.

     However, in my endeavors, I have experienced a tendency, even among esteemed colleagues committed to change, to focus largely on peacemaking as a means to an end rather than also as an end in itself, on the goal rather than on the process. Though we speak of wanting to bring about peace, justice and healing in our midst, our ways of being–of thinking, feeling, and acting—towards one another remain wanting of change.

     We expend much of our time and energies trying to level the playing field searching for similarities among us that, in the process, we fail to listen to, respect and appreciate those whose views or ways of being differ from our own. It is ironic that, in our desire for peace to happen, we deal with those whom we perceive to be obstacles to it in ways that belie the very principles and essence of peace. It is easier to demonize, exclude, and even remove them from our organizations, institutions, communities, etc., rather than to recognize and respect their position, interests, values and needs and make room for our differences to enrich our relationships and move our shared endeavors forward.

     Indeed, listening to each other with the heart rightly and creating safe spaces for our differences to be heard, respected, and even appreciated takes too much time and energy. True heart listening involves the disarmament of the heart that is possible only when we make ourselves vulnerable to the “other” in the spirit of humility, openness, and willingness to allow the other to “live in me.” Even for many of us who are not new to peacemaking, this is a noble ideal requiring painstaking and tedious inner work to realize. More often than not, this way of being is forsaken in relationship-building.

     But, what then is the point? Why engage in dialogue and peacemaking if our efforts cannot bring about change for the better in people’s relationships despite their differences? Why call ourselves peacemakers if our ways of being cannot help bring about peace, unity and harmony in our midst?

     Being a “peacemaker” is an ideal that many aspire for but fail to live up to. Those of us committed to peacemaking as a way of bringing about social change will find that there is a need to cultivate at least three essential capacities within ourselves that must be realized in our relationships with others. These are: the capacity to see with the heart rightly, the capacity to seek for answers to questions that liberate the human spirit from the bondage of fear, and the capacity to be with others (even our “enemies”) in the endeavor of bringing about the change that we wish to see. Simply put, we need clarity of visiondepth of conviction, andintegrity of co-creative action.

     In interfaith dialogue and relationship-building, clarity of vision in the light of faith allows us to see through the darkness of our fears and anxieties and find our way to that sacred place within us—that common ground–where we can truly meet the “other” in the spirit of oneness despite our differences, and where our silences can speak and our hearts can truly listen. This is where moral imagination is awakened and transformative action is inspired.

     Moral imagination, as defined by John Paul Lederach (renowned lecturer and trainer on Conflict Transformation and Peacebuilding) is “the capacity to imagine something while rooted in the challenges of the real world yet capable of giving birth to that which does not yet exist.”  Seeing with the heart rightly is essential to the moral imagination, as is the ability to create something new–new ways of attaining and realizing our highest collective human potentials for good—while being rooted in the difficult realities of our physical world.

     Clarity of vision inspires conviction, fuels passion, and gives a sense of direction to our actions. What we see with our hearts rightly gives rise to questions within us that compel us to seek for answers. And answers may come sooner or later with the awakening of those whose minds are open and hearts are listening, and whose actions are in harmony with the divine scheme of things that are ever unfolding.

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