Monday, January 21, 2008

"Promoting Peace" not "Fighting Terrorism"

I've been listening to the presidential candidates, and reading small press newsletters. One of my favorite small press newsletters is Shelf-Awareness. Recently I enjoyed an article about Greg Mortenson's Three Cups of Tea, a book a friend gave me last year. Tea reminded me again of the radiant inspirational power of love compared to our so-familiar hard-hitting mind's way of "paddling the gorge," which I thought of again when I read this article. Note in particular Mortenson's push to have the book's subtitle changed. Thanks for the reminders! With all due respect to historians, I ain't gonna study war no more! That's my feeling, my thought, my fatigue of the slow if not fast death that war creates. I had to think through this again. Truly Thinking can keep us from simply jumping onto the raft of feeling good about what we are thinking and not being open to change. What is "truly thinking?" In Joy of Health, Kathy Oddenino defines "intelligence" as "thinking with feeling." Watching, listening to the Democratic debates, I feel the electric currents of the candidates flowing, and I feel my own energy flux as I am engaged. It's so easy to get caught up in the energy of debate, reaction, without really thinking with the energy of love that inspires and moves with the exciting energy of change. If these sound like just words, it's because we are not yet in touch with the energy of the Ethical values of our spirit energy that gives life to us as moving matter.

Neoneocon's blog site post on "I ain't gonna study war no more" helped me think through this further. This blog site by a former dancer, and a therapist, chronicles the education of a mind coming to know itself, pushing on. She prompts me to think again about the necessity of our "knowing where we came from." She points out what education used to mean to us, in our history.

According to a Wiki entry she quotes (our modern reference to everything), "classical education" is not only an education in the classics of Greece and Rome, it’s an education according to a system set up in ancient times by the Greeks and Romans, with an emphasis on history itself as the key to nearly everything ..."

"History is the unifying conceptual framework, because history is the study of everything that has occurred before the present. A skillful teacher also uses the historical context to show how each stage of development naturally poses questions and then how advances answer them, helping to understand human motives and activity in each field.

The entire issue of classical history and military history dovetails—strangely enough—with one of the major concerns of therapists as well, and that is the understanding of human nature and its lessons for future action. It’s a topic that can hardly be studied in a vacuum, moral or otherwise. You might say that one of the main goals of therapy is to help the client understand the patterns of his/her own personal history and how this knowledge can inform his/her future. The same is true for learning any history; in focusing on the past we are trying to learn the best way to affect the future. "

She continues quoting Victor Davis Hanson. "We must abandon the naive faith that with enough money, education, or good intentions we can change the nature of mankind so that conflict, as if by fiat, becomes a thing of the past. In the end, the study of war reminds us that we will never be gods. We will always just be men, it tells us. Some men will always prefer war to peace; and other men, we who have learned from the past, have a moral obligation to stop them."

This brings me back to Greg Mortenson and Tea. And to what it means to me to understand my own history. What has grown repetitive to me, in a way that feels war-weary, is my thinking, when I just jump on that raft and paddle, falsely thrilled by the thrust of old, familiar ways. I'm not sure who I'm voting for in our endless prep to upcoming elections. I am paying attention to how I've lived my own "economy on steroids," for example (building up debts, before learning this power and freedom of Choice, creating as I go, skip, jump, dance, do!) The next step to me is to begin to know that we are our own ancestors! Our history as energy and matter (consciousness) is reflected into the physical behavior we've described and inscribe in every expanding-media way we can: chip, processor, satellite, speed.

We have lived plenty of war to study. Now, the true motives of life and change as energy beings. Human nature? I love to keep thinking.

By Bob Minzesheimer, USA TODAY

A surprise best seller this season is a non-fiction book, set in Pakistan and Afghanistan, that was published 21 months ago to limited notice. Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin has climbed the lists, thanks to word-of-mouth recommendations and a tireless author with an inspiring story.

Tea describes how Mortenson, an American mountaineer, found a new cause: building schools, mostly elementary and especially for girls, in 1993 during a failed attempt to climb the K2 peak on Pakistan's border.

In a Pakistani village, the former U.S. Army medic met children without paper or pencils. He promised to build them a school.

His book, written with Relin, a journalist, describes how he did that and more in the belief that "education can overcome the despot leaders, dictators and clergy who use illiteracy to control impoverished society."

The non-profit foundation ( he started in his hometown of Bozeman, Mont., has contributed to the construction of 58 schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Via e-mail on his way to Pakistan, Mortenson, 49, says he pushed to have the book's subtitle changed. In hardcover, it was One Man's Mission to Fight Terrorism … One School at a Time. In paperback, it was revised to One Man's Mission to Promote Peace.

"The public is interested in peace, just as much as fighting terrorism," he says. "So far, no politician seems to have their finger on that pulse."

In hardcover, the book rose no higher than No. 164 on USA TODAY's Best-Selling Books list, then quickly fell off. In paperback, it hit No. 73 in March and is now No. 24. Publisher Penguin reports 1.1 million copies in paperback.

His publisher credits the author's personal appeal: He has visited 123 cities to promote the book and his foundation.

"What championed the book were women's groups, book clubs and independent stores," Mortenson says.

After he visited Bodine High School in Philadelphia, teacher Cecilia Ramirez said, "I have honestly never received so much positive feedback from students."

The mission of the Central Asia Institute, which he heads, is to promote and provide community-based education and literacy programs, especially for girls, in remote mountain regions of Central Asia. And the girls, as well as the boys, are determined to learn. In a village west of Kabul called Mydanshar, teachers held class for the younger boys in rusty shipping containers. The school's older boys studied on the back of a scorched armored personnel carrier. The girls had to study outside, where the wind whipped sand in their eyes and tipped over their blackboard. They all had to contend with U.S. Army attack helicopters buzzing the school at high speed. Other schools taught three shifts every day, while the teachers rarely got paid. Mortenson asks, if we can't do something as simple as seeing that teachers get paid, "How could we ever hope to do the hard work it takes to win the war on terror?"

"It's impossible to capsulize what Greg Mortenson went through to build that first school, and the discouraging days when all he felt was failure. It's impossible to convey the richness of this story, the incredible kindnesses he encounters, the dangers he has survived (two fatwas and a kidnapping by Wazir warriors near Peshawar, to name only a few--and the roads!), the passion he has for building schools and for the people of northern Pakistan and Afghanistan. I urge you to read this book, and you will find yourself telling others about it with an earnestness that may surprise you. It's heartening that one person can make such a difference, especially during times when the world seems overwhelming in its need for just such people. Jon Krakauer has said, "If the world had fifty Greg Mortensons, there wouldn't need to be any war on terror."--Marilyn Dahl

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