Friday, August 22, 2014

How Are You Feeling?

The North Wind and the Sun were often time in disagreement with one another. This should not be surprising as it is in their very natures to disagree with one another. One day cordial chatting ended, as it often does, in argument. This day, the topic of the argument centered around who was the stronger. Below them, a hapless and unaware fellow passed by. The North wind suggested that they engage in a little sport. Whoever could remove the man’s coat would clearly be the stronger. The North Wind, as he was wont to do, went first. He blew at the poor fellow with all his strength. But rather than removing the coat, he only succeeded in forcing his subject to pull it tighter about him. The Sun smiled, as he was wont to do, and began to heat up, slowly but surely warming the world around him. In time, the fellow grew too warm for such a heavy garment and removed his coat.

This is a story from Aesop’s Fables. More recently, it was the basis of Kim Dae Jung’s policy towards North Korea. Kim Dae Jung was the president of South Korea from 1998 to 2003. His “Sunshine Policy” respected the right of North Korea to be it’s own country and would not tolerate hostility on either side. It required South Korea to act as the Elder Brother to North Korea and provide humanitarian aid, trade, and other resources. He firmly believed that this kind persuasion would work better than force. This policy earned him the Nobel Peace Prize in 2000.

Even more recently, this story became the theme for the first annual English-Peace camp at the DongDuCheon Sharing House. Last week, thirty elementary and middle school students gathered for a week of peace camp. 
Excited for Camp to Start
 I was a wreck before the camp started. Running around getting things together, I love summer camp, so I wanted it to be perfect. Besides that, I was so nervous to work on such a difficult topic as peace with such young kids. Seven year olds and things on the schedule like “keynote speech” and “non-violence dialogue” was a simply horrifying. But, I realized that the kids in DongDuCheon have a particular and special need for this kind of conversation. First, DongDuCheon is one of the northernmost cities in South Korea. They are fairly close to the DMZ and from a young age, the division of the peninsula is a very real presence to them. Second, because of DonDuCheon’s strategic position, there had been a huge joint U.S./Korea military holding there for decades. Frankly speaking, in their lifetimes, the children have witnessed more violence from the U.S. military there than from North Korea. The town had been plagued with a history of prostitution, drug and alcohol abuse, and violence towards civilians, as well as a crippling economic dependence that ruined a number of people when part of the U.S. military stationed there was relocated. Basically, these kids have seen a lot and have clearly expressed feelings of fear in their own communities. 
Shaking out all the wiggles before my talk.
Swimming hole in the mountains of DungDuCheon. Fr. Kim talks about the value of natural resources.

So, how to tackle this issue? And what’s more, we are supposed to be practicing English and experiencing the joy of being in community at the same time. So, we decided to focus the camp around a simple question. How are you feeling? In Korea, English is taught in all the school and all students  are taught the same formulaic answerasess. Anyone living in Korea has heard this about a million times.

Person 1: Hi.
Person 2: Hi. How are you?
Person 1: I’m fine thank you and you?
Person 2: I’m fine thank you and you?

This is so prevalent that there is a long running joke about a Korean woman who goes to the US and is in a terrible car crash. The Medics run up to her and ask her how she is and she responds, “I’m fine thank you and you?”

Furthermore, in a talk I have with Fr. Kim, the Korean priest in charge of the Sharing House, he explained that in Korean culture, people are really discouraged from expressing emotions. His goal was to make the children comfortable with the feelings they had.

So, How are you feeling?

Proof we had fun and didn't just study.
We decided that it was a really great question because it is s question that is equally valid when asked to another and when asked to yourself. And yet, how often do we ask ourselves this? How often do we sincerely assess the way we feel? Human beings are both rational and emotional and yet many of us spend a great deal more time with reason. And, it is all the more often that we ask this question to others and we don’t really care to know the answer. As a waitress in high school and college I was guilty of asking this question a million times a day without even the slightest amount of interest in the answer. Yet, when I get a truthful answer, I am always glad that I stopped and asked.
We held hands and walked in a circle to look at everyone's art projects.

Getting in touch with our own pains and listening sincerely to those of other is the first step towards peace. Peace on a large scale must come from individuals that are committed to finding peace in their spirits.

Everyday started with meditation.
And so with this in mind, we learned words for all kinds of emotions in Korean and English, we played games, had practice dialogue, and performed skits. 

The last night of camp, we went night hunting in the area around the Sharing house to find balloons. Each camper got one and wrote down a hurt, a person’s name, something they wanted to forgive, or be forgiven of. We went out to the street together and released our balloons watching whatever was on our minds and in our hearts disappear into the warm dark August sky. One student was left in the street. I walked over and asked him what he was feeling. He looked and me, look at the sky and answered, “I don’t know.” Then we hugged. Of all the answers we practiced, nothing beat hearing the truth, plainly spoken.