“We from birth are wired to connect”

I recently watched this YouTube video of a TED talk given at Villanova University where Timothy Horner unpacks his idea that genocide stems from the human’s desire to create loving relationships. First, he proves with scientific studies by using infants that this need is in fact a human tendency. He claims we are “wired from birth to connect”. Easy enough. Then he makes an argument that fear is the emotion that ignites genocide. He said we fear most things that threaten our security and this is also proven scientifically because “fear memories” are stored in a different part of our brain than other memories so they are more easily accessed to keep us safe. When we feel like our safety is threatened and the people we are genetically programmed to create long lasting relationships with are in danger this fear turns into anger and we fight. This same bond that creates our life long loving relationships, when paired with fear, is the catalyst to mass murders and thousands dead.

The video does hit an upswing. When you are aware of this fear, the ability to stop it in it’s tracks increases. When feeling extreme anger, asking “what am I afraid of?” then pinpoints the root of the fear that manifests as anger when threats to those we care about are not defeated. Knowing genocide requires that we know ourselves. By studying the human reaction to fear and enduring threats, we can then better control it.

This does not solve our current problem though. In order to stop the injustice going on in our american neighborhoods or in South Sudan, we need to go back to the beginning of this speech. Reminding ourselves that we are programmed from birth to want to connect with others is essential. We need to stop seeing an “us” and “them” and desire to connect with others even if we perceive them to be different than us.


Black and Blue or White and Gold?

Black and blue or white and gold? The debate of the Tumblr phenomenon known as the “demon dress” flooded social media last week. My timeline on Twitter was almost exclusive to people reacting to the color of the dress with outrage and confusion.

A DRESS. How did a seemingly ugly dress create such a huge dialogue across all platforms of social media? We live in a world where about 805 million people do not have enough food to live a healthy lifestyle. We live in a place where women and children are sexually assaulted every single day, but yet we choose to focus our attention on a dress.

I am not afraid to admit that I entertained this silly dress debate for far too long. But soon after I stopped arguing for team #whiteandgold, I realized if we could collectively spend as much time and effort arguing or even talking about things that matter (hint: not a dress), changing the world wouldn’t be such an impossible task.

Genocide. IT MATTERS. IT’S HAPPENING. So lets talk about it. Lets tweet about it and share stories on Facebook to raise awareness. Seven weeks into this course and a few short days away from the trip of a lifetime, I realize I can’t stop and I won’t stop talking about this (sorry followers). I know far too much to ignore the fact that innocent people are being persecuted on a daily basis. This is not mean’t to be some long-winded rant about millennials like me, who warrant too much attention to unimportant things. But rather a small attempt to encourage others to create a dialogue about things that matter.


A Never Ending Story

This week I wanted to reflect on the different discussions I have had with various friends, family, and acquaintances about the content of the class and how already the experiences I have had are challenging my way of thinking and influencing the conversations I have with people. Prior to this class my knowledge of most genocides and refugee camps was a surface level affair. Even now I know that I have still barely scratched the surface of the large pool of knowledge surrounding genocide and advocacy.

One thing I have noticed though that lifted my spirits is how much my passion for this topic has helped spark the interests of other people in my life. I am the kind of person that when I find a topic I am passionate about, it will take a lot of effort to get me to stop talking. My best friend in particular still needs to remind me to slow down and breathe sometimes. But recently she commented to me about how fascinating it is to watch me talk about this class and the ideas we talk about because for once, I have actually slowed down enough that she can get a word in. Which is something I am glad to hear because I have had some amazing conversations about genocide and refugees with her. I call her almost every Wednesday night after our class and we just catch up and talk about the new content I was just exposed to. I really enjoy it because I have found that by reflecting on the material with someone outside of our class bubble because I can see how much the information is sticking with me and I can pass the knowledge on to my friend. At first the conversations were not as fluid because it was mostly me explaining as much of the background information as I could so she could begin to understand similarly to how we began this class. But now we are having conversations that are so exciting to me because I feel like this new topic is one that we won’t just stop talking about. She has told me that she tells her family and friends about our conversations and it just makes me happy to see that people actually care when they take the time to understand.

There are many elements to this class that are hard to take in. I have felt, guilty, horrified, sad, pessimistic, hopeful, confused, and countless other emotions, in what seems to be a never-ending cycle of good and bad. And despite all the bad, and despite the fact that change takes time, talking to my friend, receiving articles from my dad about topics I’ve mentioned to him that he researched in his free time, learning from people like Rebecca, Suzie, and Paul leaves me with a sense of hope that helps combat the bad. I like to think I’m not naïve about this hope, I know that it will probably get shaken up at times but hearing from Suzie last week that we must share the stories we hear in such a powerful way by such an inspiring person definitely increases my hope that we can make a difference by sharing the stories we will hear. I am so excited for the adventure we will be setting out on this Saturday and I feel more confident going into this trip knowing that while me knowledge is nowhere near complete, I have the understanding and capability to learn from the people we will meet and do our part by sharing the stories they will privilege us to hear.


Fear is a Four Letter Death Statement

This week I opened my planner and I saw two things. First I saw, a quote from Gandhi. Second, I saw that I would be leaving for the journey of a lifetime. The quote could not be more fitting for this experience.

“ The enemy is fear. We think it is hate; but it is fear.” – Mahatma Gandhi.

Based on our experience so far this semester and that we have learned about perpetrators of genocide, I think the root causes of genocide is fear. I believe that the perpetrators have fear of difference and this why genocide continues.

With that said, yesterday I was at work and I made an ISIS comment. I said “ You look like a member of ISIS when you have that mask on”. I said it in the most insincere way; my intentions were not to hurt anyone’s feelings, or to joke about a terrorist group. My intentions were to say that my co-worker looked scary and unfamiliar. Being the person I am, I had to put a label on this fear. One of my other co-worker reacted to my statement in a very visible way. She let out an audible gasp, then covered her mouth and stated “ Oh my gosh, that is not okay!” It was that reaction that made me realize what I said might not have been the best choice of words and made me reflect on what I said. While I was reflecting I realized two things. One, you might think what you are saying is not offensive or not stated with bad intent but others around you might feel threatened or even oppressed by what you are saying. Although your intentions are good it is the end result that matters. Two, if we have such a powerful reaction to these groups we give them the power and dominance they want. Just like Gandhi said, fear is the enemy.

Two weekends ago I attended the Active Citizens Conference on behalf of James Madison University. One of the keynote speakers, Clint Smith, used slam poetry to discuss the ideas of using your voice. He stated that is important to understand the oppression of others. His first poem he talked about the importance of using your voice for others and when we remain silence we are continuing to oppress others. When there is an issue in front of us it is important to look at the beyond the issue and find the causes rather than blame the victim. He also talked about the ideas of being honest. In United States history, there have been a lot of things that have been far from perfect however we are taught as children that our history as a nation is ideal. In order to learn from history we need to be honest, this can help stop oppression. We need to remember who wrote history, who we are serving and be critical of what we are learning.

Listening to Clint gave me a few things to take on this trip, first is honesty. I need to be honest about what we are doing and who we are serving and where our country has come from. Second is, to use my voice. I will always speak for those who do not have a voice or who are too afraid to share their ideas. Third, I will educate and be educated. I will no longer go through life waiting for others to educate me. Instead I will look at each opportunity as a chance for change.

– Sam

It’s Almost Time

It’s crazy to me to think about how little I knew about Africa just seven weeks ago. Ever since this class began, I feel like I’ve been hyperaware to what gets said about the various conflicts occurring in Africa in the media. Even though there is so much more information I can learn, the amount of knowledge I have gained from our readings and class discussions is unfathomable. While I have learned most of my knowledge about these conflicts from reading, I am most impacted by talking to people and connecting with them.

Last class we had two visitors from Harrisonburg who are from Democratic Republic of Congo, Suzie and Paul. Suzie and Paul were kind enough to take time out of their day to share their stories with our class. For me, interacting with people takes away the distance between the topic and the situation. It is easy to read an article about conflicts in Africa and then push it aside, but when you are able to learn through interacting with people, who have witnessed the conflict, it leaves significantly more impact.

I feel like meeting Suzie and Paul a teaser of what is to come. This Saturday we leave for Phoenix and I could not be more excited! Even though my knowledge base is not complete, I am ready to connect with the content I have spent weeks learning. For the past several weeks we have spent hours grasping at the knowledge of the conflicts in Africa and now we are able to use that knowledge for service. We are at the point in the semester where we can finally connect the learning to service; Phoenix is where a majority our service learning will take place. I have no idea how listening and learning in Phoenix will affect me but I am so excited to continue my growth as a person and to share the stories that will be shared with me in Phoenix.


April showers bring May flowers

How many of us could tell you that October is Breast Cancer Awareness month? Or how many people could tell you that February is American Heart Month? How many people could tell you that April is Genocide and Awareness Prevention Month? I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that is not typically common stop_genocideknowledge for most of the general public. This month is representative of genocide awareness and advocacy, but it would be shocking to see how little people recognize this time of the year as a prevention and awareness month.

“Most people don’t know much about genocide. The word didn’t even exist until it was coined in the 1940s”

This quote comes from an MPR news article about the formation of Genocide Awareness month. April appears to be a severe month for acts of Genocide and destruction. April has become the signifying month of many events that have triggered the acts of inhumane cruelty that have been set off and perpetuated over the past few decades. In April, 1994, the Rwandan president’s plane crashed which triggered the beginning of Genocide against hundreds of thousands. In April, 2003, the Darfur region of Sudan was attacked. Even more historical implications include the Ottoman government’s persecution of the Armenian population in April, 1915. These acts of violence have been historically influential in the perpetuation and influence of genocide.

Because genocide has been identified as needing some sort of public declaration of recognition, individual US states have begun initiatives to use April as an awareness month. In 2011, Minnesota took the initiative to designate April as a Genocide and Awareness Prevention Month. Since, New Hampshire, Texas, and California have also passed similar legislation about spreading awareness for Genocide in the month of April. Genocide is evidently making it’s way into some policies, but it is an issue that deserves the spotlight of national recognition.

Yet one of the biggest barriers to this national awareness is exactly that, the lack of awareness. How ironic is it that an month dedicated to awareness needs awareness? My point in mentioning this is that it is incredibly valuable to have an entire month dedicated to understanding and acknowledging the vicious acts of crime and violence that have been perpetrated on innocent humans. Not only is it cathartic and comforting for refugees to be able to dedicate a month to the hardships that they have come from, but awareness months have also brought extreme movements and fundraising for causes that are detrimental to human health and well-being. For example, Breast Cancer Awareness month raises millions each year for research and advocacy. Why is it that Genocide does not receive this type of attention? The simple answer to the previous question is the quote listed below, also found from the same MPR news article.

“Most people feel that preventing genocide is far beyond anything they can do as ordinary individuals. Yet it is exactly ordinary individuals who have the power to prevent genocide.”

The population does not believe that we can solve the problem. It appears to be something “too big” for us to attack. Well, that right there exemplifies the lack of awareness that perpetuates the problem. For those who are aware of the issue, you understand that it is actually the individual who makes the difference in this tragedy. Spreading awareness is like a chain or domino effect. Your awareness influences others to raise awareness and eventually, we are all aware, knowledgeable, and ready to take action. It is the awareness that gives hope for this global issue.

So why not give April some fame? Not for the rainy showers that bring May flowers or the diamond birthstone, but for awareness for a catastrophe that needs a voice.

- Anna

Ready to gain some more perspective

Last Wednesday we had a couple, Suzie and Paul, come in and talk to our class about their country, The Democratic Republic of Congo, also referred to as DRC. I thought them coming in and speaking with us was awesome. Being able to actually hear what is going on in a country from someone who has either lived through it or has family in the country carries much more weight than reading about what is happening in the country. Talking to people is always more personal and it helps build a relationship or a connection to what is going on overseas. Talking to people helps me with the readings because I can think about the person I had a conversation with while I read and have more of a reaction to the reading. I have found that toward a lot of issues I have become desensitized because I don’t know what to do or I just ignore it and not try to learn more. When a person is standing right in front of me I can’t help but understand and care more to do something about whatever they are informing me on. We asked for advice about how to move forward with the situations in DRC and other locations that have similar conflicts and it was a simple answer: talk about it by spreading the stories. How easy is that? Talking. Sharing a story with a friend or family member. Talk about it enough and the story will spread and eventually get to the right places to create change. Change is already happening by not keeping it quite and speaking up.

The trip to Phoenix is right around the corner and I am most excited to listen to what other people have to say and learn how I can spread their stories. I think I like listening to other people because their story has some happiness for me because I see them in a safe place and away from everything that isn’t great. Now that I say that though it sounds bad because it’s like I’m searching for a silver lining or how I can make it positive but being forced to leave your home isn’t something positive. I don’t know what exactly I’m looking for but I know I’m ready to listen and take in anything and everything people want to share with me about resettling.