Conversations That Matter

A couple of weeks ago, I attended a workshop with this title upon the invitation of my non-yoga guru. Vulnerable Gullible Trusting that I am, I readily said yes without asking questions. It’s JUST a workshop anyway, so what could go wrong? Actually, nothing. But what I did not expect was something that could go right and it did.

It was actually a three-day peace forum, attended by Filipinos from different parts of the country—from the Cordillera in the North down to Basilan in the South—to talk about peace and development. Since I am an academician, I was thinking at the start of the forum if similar group processes could be applied in research. Towards the end, I had become just a simple Filipino wanting my countrymen to experience peace in whatever form possible and willing to collaborate with the others who equally desire to make that peace palpable. That we opened the forum with prayers from a Christian man, and indigenous and Muslim women sent a very strong message that peace knows no religion, no gender, no age, no culture…that we are one and we are in this pursuit together.

Real stories of struggles for peace—it makes a lot of difference when you hear them live and from the battle-scarred people who have been fighting for peace for generations. A tribal woman from Mindanao shared how she has been living in the midst of armed conflict since she was 7; now middle-aged, she is now working for peace, hoping that her children would have a life different from hers. Another NGO worker recalled how she tries to bridge the military, her dad having served as lawyer to the soldiers involved in criminal cases, and the rebel groups with whom she has to deal as part of an NGO. Yet another woman in Basilan recounted how it is to be ostracized in the only land she ever knew all her life, only because her parents were migrants from the Visayas region. There were other stories of various forms of violence, but what struck me the most was that of a Catholic woman who, out of her faith in God, joined an organization to fight for social justice and remained loyal to it for decades, only to lose her husband and son-in-law to purging.

Someone asked me if I were disturbed after those three days of conversations. I said no; I felt inspired and broken in a good way—with broken mental models, broken preconceived notions, broken set of assumptions. Uncannily, I got to meet with a few development workers who were not part of the forum in different occasions and talked about their dreams, goals…their stories. Apparently, the conversations that matter may (and they did) continue even after the workshop. I did not know why but I felt that someday, somehow these fabrics of connections would be woven into a beautiful tapestry of peace and development.

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