Saturday, January 29, 2011

The random perfection of Turkey

When asked why I love Turkey, I could take hours to respond, and often do. There is so much to say. But Natalie Sayin of Turkish Travel Blog says volumes in a single post, asking several bloggers, myself included, to submit our favorite photo of this 'addictive' country. Visit her blog, and see for yourself:

Thanks, Natalie!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

We the people

It’s a barely forged New Year. One in which I vowed to blog less about me, and more about the crafts, the history and the cultural aspects of our work. I’ve even newly defined my vocation as a craftivist, in my designer + writer + treasure hunter chosen life. But that term, a combination of craft and activism, includes my political side. Since the shooting in Tucson on January 9th, my focus has been riveted by coverage and commentary in our rapidly moving Media 2.0 world. I’ve marveled at the sheer wave of evaluation, some of it brilliant, some haunting.

It’s a watershed moment for communication, to relearn how we process the aftermath of tragedy.

I wish I could say I was surprised that yet another crazed guy with an easily purchased gun went after one of our nation’s leaders, but as a child, I remember when Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were assassinated. In Los Angeles, I lived around the corner from where the Manson Gang had murdered a couple; more than two decades later, I shuddered to think of them each time I walked by. What I was doing when I heard of John Lennon’s death is still vivid in my mind. While foremost in my memory because of the sensationalism that surrounded the deaths of these cultural icons, not so famous people are killed in the streets of this country daily.

Whenever I come back to the US after months in Turkey, I’m overwhelmed with how polarized the US has become, while Turkey seems to be slowly more open to discussing differences and conflict. Yet young men gun down leaders in that country as well; there is always talk of conspiracy, of larger groups behind a lone shooter. As a child of the Vietnam War, I can't recall a unified time, an era when atrocities did not happen. The truth to the lyrics to Lennon’s Imagine becomes increasingly clear as I grow older; MLK’s entreaty for his children to be judged “by the content of their character” becomes all the more poignant.

The death of a nine-year-old girl with an interest in politics and an unnerving connection to September 11, 2001 is a wakeup call to our culture. Given the day she was born, she'd be more aware of history than most children her age. Is her death more tragic because she was born that particular day? Of course not. But out of 365, what are the odds that this child, “a Face of Hope”, would have been born on that exact day of national sorrow? There are no coincidences. The Universe cannot possibly scream any louder at us to stop this madness of hatred and vitriol. Osama bin Laden could not have planned our demise more diabolically: we are proving capable of destroying ourselves from the inside.

Barry Blitt for the NYT

So, will we? This past week has been a rollercoaster of emotion. Anger at thinly veiled calls to action: people with influence who place target marks on a map of the US, tweeting followers that ‘reloading’ is how to solve a problem, then claiming not to be advocating violence. Words are tools, just like guns are. Yes, their effect may not be quite so immediate or deadly. But the “sticks and stones…” taunts of childhood have become the schoolyard of our political discourse. We as a nation have to grow up.

Phrases in common usage now – “pulling the trigger” when making a decision, “locked and loaded” when ready to do something – reflect a culture in which violent talk is taken for granted. Nothing which alludes to violence should ever be used so nonchalantly. True, Sarah never pulled the trigger; neither did Charlie Manson. The cult of personality so easily fosters fringe elements. In our worship of celebrity, we give far too much focus to the margins – to the outrageous, the sensational, the obscenely wealthy – to whatever gets the most ratings, the most ‘hits’. Even that term has a violent tinge.

‘Most’ Americans are not aligned with these margins, any more than ‘most’ Muslims are terrorists. Many can’t distinguish between Fascist Mein Kampf of the far right and The Communist Manifesto of the far left. When we’ve been raised as consumers, not citizens, little wonder it’s so easy to confuse. What’s missing from our polarized society is education, compassion and the pursuit of common ground. But maybe that’s where social media can help. The internet may foster a freedom to speak to virtual strangers in ways that heal, "to sharpen our instincts for empathy".

You may say I’m a dreamer, but a brief convo I had with a friend of a friend on Facebook brought the power of such a forum home to me, in the hope that two people with opposing views can have a civil exchange of ideas, even now. She, a gun owner, was adamant that the Tucson shooter was “acting of his own free will”. I countered that “if we all acted of our own free will” we’d have anarchy, not democracy. Her “Free will is the capacity of rational people to choose a course of action from various alternatives” to my “But he was not rational. Something is fundamentally wrong when it was easier for a person with mental health issues to legally buy a gun than to be treated for obvious psychiatric problems.”

Then I took the risk of getting personal. Yes, I know that FB gives too many details of our lives away, but I saw that she lived near Tucson. When I asked, she revealed that she’d been within two miles of the shooting that morning, that she was a recently arrived military wife from a very different part of the country. Aha – how could I not have empathy for someone far from home, so close to a scary situation?

Perhaps President Obama’s somber appeal to the ‘better angels of our nature’ did lift the majority of us to consider this tragedy from a higher perspective, as did a president from an earlier divisive time. “…how we treat one another is entirely up to us."

“But at a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized - at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who think differently than we do - it's important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds.” It's unfortunate reality that our empathetic encounter may not change our perspectives for long. We look for a “…speedy “closure,” followed by a return to business as usual, followed by national amnesia.”

When Muslims in Egypt are protecting Coptic Christians from attacks, saying “We either live together, or we die together,” and Tunisians have overthrown a dictator to put themselves on the rocky road to democracy, we Americans need to step back from the brink and consider the enormity of what we have to lose.

Yes, I do think more carefully about what I post about Turkish issues on public forums than I do about American ones. I’d like to have the freedom of responsible dialogue regarding both my countries without the fear of being threatened or worse. We must "align our values with our actions", if we are to deserve this great experiment called democracy, to honor our ability to speak freely and not use it to bash each other. “Government is not the enemy. It is our reflection a wise commenter by the name of Martin Nyberg said somewhere in that deluge of words I read this week.

We are a long way from forming that more perfect union, but We the People have to keep talking..."in a way that heals, not a way that wounds.”

A HYBRID AMBASSADORS blog-ring project.

You met our multinational Dialogue 2010 cultural innovators last spring in a roundtable discussion of hybrid life at expat+HAREM and followed their reactions to a polarizing book promotion. In this round they offer their thoughts on the recent shooting incident in Tucson, Arizona.

Add your voice to the conversation. Join the discussion on Twitter using #HybridAmbassadors.

More thoughts on this subject from my fellow hybrid ambassadors:

Tara Lutman Agacayak's Enough
Elmira Bayraslı's The Irresponsible Country
Sezin Koehler's The Culture of Violence
Catherine Yigit’s United in Fear