A Return to EgyptSome Thoughts about Democracy

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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

A Return to Egypt

Some Thoughts about Democracy

I sat in my peaceful kitchen this morning, reading the newspaper as I always do. As I sipped my coffee, my gaze was caught by an article announcing that the State Department is now advising Americans not to travel to Egypt for any reason. My heart sank a bit lower than it already was; it has been difficult to watch the news footage from around the world this past week as Muslims protest an "American" video insulting them and their faith, but it has been especially painful to watch Egyptians scaling the walls of the American embassy in Cairo and burning the American flag. 

Six months ago, almost exactly, I was in Cairo. And I fell in love with the Egyptian people I met, and with a land rich in history, a complex culture, a deep faith, and optimism for the future. I saw many amazing things but by far the best part of that experience was meeting Egyptian parents and colleagues, learning to be friends and to work side by side with people who see the world differently than I do, and recognizing that when we are able to listen, offer mutual respect and dignity, and work towards genuine solutions, we can create something meaningful.

Over the past week, I have had long conversations, by email and by Skype, with my friends in Cairo, who are as pained by these events as I am. And I am realizing yet again that while the ideas we believe in--mutual respect and dignity, deep listening, encouragement, focusing on solutions rather than punishments--sound so enticing, in practice they can be extremely challenging. In some of the research literature, Positive Discipline and similar programs are called "democratic" parenting--and democracy is often hard. Egypt is new at it, so one would expect growing pains: but we in American have been a democracy for 200 years and we still struggle.

The truth is that for most of history, human relationships and governments have been organized vertically. There have been people at the "top" (kings, rulers, men, light-skinned people, parents, teachers) and people at the "bottom" (peons, servants, women, dark-skinned people, children). And we all are familiar, even comfortable, with the tools people use to maintain this system, things like punishment, threats, taking away privileges, restricting access to education, money, and the like. Now, all over the world, people clamor for democracy, for dignity and respect, for equality and a voice. But what are the tools for these new "horizontal" relationships? As it turns out, these tools may seem less effective, at least at first, and we are less comfortable and familiar with them. And it is difficult to listen respectfully to someone who is shouting insults and denigrating the things you most value--even though he may have the "right" to do so. 

The parents I work with often discover that punishment seems "easier" and more instinctive than finding solutions, that rewards seem more effective than teaching skills and offering encouragement. Making this paradigm shift is challenging and often, exquisitely uncomfortable. It is no different for nations. It is easy to respect and listen to those who agree with us, or who do as we ask. It is far harder to work towards real understanding and compromise, to honor the rights of others to disagree with what we hold dearest. 

Fear, ignorance, and anger are a deadly combination, no matter where you find them. But I have reason to hope. This year I have traveled to Egypt and to Colombia. In both countries I found people who are working diligently to learn and share Positive Discipline because they believe that the path to peace--the way to end the culture of violence and fear--is by teaching young children and parents. I have met remarkable people, many of whom have no reason other than passion and a desire for justice and peace, who are doing this difficult work, one step at a time. And I have colleagues who work tirelessly in France, Chile, Peru, Mexico, China, and yes, here in the United States, to accomplish the same task. 

Someone once said, "Your work is not to drag the world kicking and screaming into a new awareness. Your job is to simply do your work--sacredly, secretly, and silently--and those with 'eyes to see and ears to hear' will respond." I have to believe that this is so, and I hope that one day I can again walk the streets of Cairo, listen to the music of the call to prayer, and talk with my friends in peace. God willing, and INSHAALLAH.

| Posted by cheryl | Wednesday, September 19, 2012|


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