Our Missing Hearts

Many of us were to attend the TESOL Türkiye conference in Bartın, but sudden protests throughout the country made things very uncertain for us and our safety. We all were strongly cautioned and stayed home. It was disappointing. Not only were we going to meet our new boss face-to-face, but be reunited with colleagues that have become dear friends. Also I had a student from last school year, who moved her family up to Bartın. I was supposed to have dinner with them. They were crushed.

I immediately reached out to my students and told them that we had class on Thursday because I was not traveling to Bartın. I went home and cried. The flood of social media pictures of bombed-out buildings and injured children or people carrying bodies in sheets and putting them into ice cream trucks. It made my head spin. I wanted to protest too. I was frustrated and angry at a 70 year old conflict that my country always gets wrapped up in.

On Thursday morning I went to school and took some time to give them something to think about.

I rhetorically asked them if it was easier to have empathy for people who looked and sounded like them? I asked them if it was easier to have empathy on people who have similar beliefs? Of course, they all nodded. I, then asked them .. what was the bloodiest conflict last year in 2022?

They all answered predictably, “Russian and Ukraine.”

No .. I said. It was in Ethiopia .. a civil war between tribal factions that caused enormous suffering. In their second year in Ukraine it still doesn’t compare.

The world is up in arms over the Palestinian-Israeli crisis .. again. It matters. I’m not dismissing it. Many here in Türkiye resonate with the Palestinian struggle with European meddling and imperial justifications for oppression in this region, AND they share a common religion in Islam with Palestinians. But what I find interesting is how little they know about the Rohingyas or the Uighur, two Muslim indigenous and stateless groups that have born enormous suffering over the last several years. The Uighur are in fact of Turkic origin as well, yet .. their plight does not raise the meter on protests outside Chinese embassies etc., despite the silent eradication of their culture and millions being “reeducated” in internment camps and prisons.

As Americans.  We have deep flaws, running deeply .. all the way back to when we made chattel slavery of Africans status quo. Not until the 1960’s could we put it into law to protect their rights and freedoms as Americans. Our Islamaphobia has been dressed up in the pathetic costumes of tyrants in Tehran and other places .. pretenders of their own religion, while corruptly stealing from their own people. Our political fight with them has prevented more moderate leaders to lead their country. Our revenge of Pearl Harbor involved the killing of 110,000 Japanese people. Innocent, by any stretch a complete and utter war crime by any standard held by the Geneva Convention or the UN or International Court today. Our revenge of Osama Bin Laden cost us trillions of dollars and enormous casualties as we drove out whom? The Taliban. Why? Because they were responsible for 911? Nope .. those were Saudi insurgents training in camps in Afghanistan and the Philippines that were often our allies fighting the Russian invasion of Afghanistan in the 80’s. When we look at Afghanistan today, we blame them for faltering, for allowing the Taliban to rule again. Yet, what institutions were built to replace them? Institutions that have taken decades, if not centuries to form, we really think are going to be installed at our convenience. The legacy we left them was a legacy of violence, and women with education options.

What I like to describe and what I described in a book I wrote and haven’t published yet called “Balance” .. is two sides of a horse shoe .. identical in nature but permanently facing each other. We see this on the extremities of any movement. Socialist and communist manifesto’s used to perpetuate power in exactly the same way that right wing Mein Kempf manifesto’s perpetuate power. The details don’t matter. It involves controlling the hearts and minds of people .. shaping lies into reality of the boogey man whether it is the Jews in Germany or the Palestinians in the West bank.

The irony drips on .. I was in Washington DC recently. I mentioned it in an earlier episode. The holocaust museum was nearby our hotel and I would pass it each morning I took a walk around the monuments. I got to see the MLK monument as well for the first time. My heart grew quiet walking through the WWII monument as well, thinking of the immense destruction we are capable of .. genocide in multiple places in the world at once. Internment camps of ONLY the Japanese. The massive slaughter of Jews and slavs and others not fitting this human construct created of the Arian race. A walk past the montages of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s most famous sayings, screaming at us today to stop the violence against a people group.

Like 1948 .. We have Arab powers surrounding Israel watching a Jewish state possibly expel the Palestinians and raise the level of subjugation and hardship. The situation in Gaza is dire. It really feels like we haven’t learned anything.

I said nothing about that to my students. The protests are understandable. Economic times here in Türkiye have been rough for people here and its always convenient to point fingers at the largest moving objects in orbit. Our US embassies around the world represent them and thus are targeted. I get it. Growing up in Thailand, we would have terrorist days. Kinda like snow days, but with terrorists.  In southern Thailand there would occasionally be threats of bombings or kidnappings and so we’d be advised in the north to stay home from school. Interestingly, in the last 50 years in Thailand there has been two mass shootings from deranged uniformed personnel, and several coup d’état’s. Nothing from Muslims in the south.

I proceeded to tell my students, after enlightening them about Ethiopia and Sudan, that our plans in Bartın had been canceled because at times Americans become targets of people’s frustrations with world events. They all nodded and understood. Silence.

I stood there in the classroom and told them, “Right now .. I feel very safe .. Why .. why do I feel like that here??”

One of my prep school students from last year .. her nickname is ‘Breeze’ shouts out,  “Because we love you!”

Teary-eyed and fighting emotions, I continued .. “That’s right. We know each other. We have a relationship. Many of you here know that I care. I’ve shared meals, personal stories, joys and heartaches. I’ve met many of your families and friends in your hometowns. But we aren’t the same. I’m an Irish-American and a Christian and I’m safe because we have overlooked our differences to enrich each other’s lives with a bond, that will never go away. Ever.”

It sounds simple, but its not. It’s quite natural to be suspicious of others. It’s a survival instinct that is often important. Healthy boundaries protect us from harm. Familiarity gives way to channels of trust and efficiency. It’s part of society, but on the other side of the coin our selfishness and desire for power betrays the dignity of those that are seen to threaten us. Instead of just normal awkwardness and healthy conflict, we have violent conflict and unnecessary competition that leaves many desolate.

Love and relationship is the only way to bring sides together. If we are able to bridge the gap, many things happen. What if you occasionally share a meal with or take turns babysitting for your Palestinian or Iranian neighbors in Cleveland, Ohio? Chances are high you will feel very differently about the current geo-political events. It doesn’t always make a difference. The landlord in Plainfield, Illinois who just stabbed a Palestinian child to death and seriously injuring her mother failed miserably to make the shift, partly because of his indoctrination from the media no doubt. Also, if you have been to Israel and have seen the diversity and melting pot the country actually is and made friends there, you may feel very differently about current geo-political events.

Jesus in the Christian Gospels chastised the Jewish establishment of the time. He said, “Even pagans love their own children .. I say .. Love your enemies.”

“Love your neighbor as yourself.”

“Whose our neighbor?” they asked. The hated Samarians then. Today. Palestinians.

I took a bit of comfort in seeing one of the largest Jewish demonstrations in New York history the other day with big signs saying:

“Our Blood is the same color. Stop Genocide.”

In the New York Times a full page says “Jews say. Cease Fire Now”

I took a dive into Celeste Ng’s book Our Missing Hearts . I sat and sobbed at the end of that book. It was great timing though. Her book weaves the struggle many people of color have had in our country for various reasons by painting a potential dystopian world in the US based on current and past historical events. She focuses mainly on Asians from the far east .. but her message speaks loud and clear on behalf of everyone all over the world, of the common humanity we share, especially the parent-child relationship.

Having come from one culture and grew up in another as a third culture kid (TCK), many of us have had to bridge cultures out of survival. I have a podcast about such topic, exploring our lives. It has been amazing and a lot of work. Feel free to listen to it here.

Being a TCK doesn’t mean we don’t fall into the same traps others do with bias or racism .. selfishness and power dynamics are always fear-based options that are bitter low-hanging fruit. But it does leave us with relationships often times all over the world that should help us show more compassion to the suffering we see far away from the place we call home. It is those relationships in my life that I talk about in my upcoming book, Building Bridges: Can We Love & Relate in a Polarized World? Again, feel free to sign up for its early release and read the first chapter.

It takes risk to build relationships outside of our comfort zone. As Fellows, we have to minimally do this to function and fulfill our primary and secondary responsibilities. I have found a cache of riches untold by taking the risk and building bonds with my students and other teachers around me. It can get awkward at times, and has risks as well; but many people in my time here in Türkiye have been super gracious and hospitable and it creates the lasting effects of peace and understanding .. two things the world so badly needs right now.