Sunday, January 2, 2011

Lessons Learned

Here’s a little secret about me: I always keep my New Year’s Resolutions.
Here’s the secret about the secret: the trick is to only make resolutions that are so general that you can’t help BUT keep them. For example, my resolution for 2009 was “Trust”. And for 2010 it was “Learn”. Of course, I have a bunch of subheadings about what exactly I need to trust and what exactly I want to learn that year. But as 2011 has just smiled its pretty face, I pulled out my 2010 New Years Resolution Learn List, and have also been spending some quality time reflecting on what exactly I’ve learned in the past 15 months in Morocco. Here are some of the highlights:

  1. I learned Arabic and French better than ever before.
  2. I learned how to surf
  3. I learned that all accomplishment and success means nothing if you don’t have community to share your triumphs and trials. The world loves accomplishment. You may be handed accolades on a silver platter. But none of this matters if you don’t have love and community. None of this matters if you aren’t actually learning from experience. Friends and family are essential to a healthy and joyful existence, as are vocations and avocations that tug at your heart and bless the world. However, I am not my work. I am not defined by what I accomplish, or what is bullet-pointed on my resume.  “To go fast, walk alone. To go far, walk together.” –Rwandan Proverb.
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  5. Wisdom has 7 pillars: 1. Humility 2. Mournfulness: a broken heart over evil that exists in the world. 3. Meekness: being wise as a serpent yet harmless as a dove. 4. Obedience: seeking to do right. 5. Mercy. 6. Purity: being free from corruption. 7. Peace: being a peacemaker.
  6. Make friends with your neighbors. It’s the best thing you can do for your personal safety.
  7. Conflict resolution begins with humility. First, examine my own role in the conflict, and see what I am willing to sacrifice in order to reconcile. Don’t run away from conflict; face into it.
  8. “The ultimate weapon in conflict: deliberate, focused love.” – Ken Sande
  9. It doesn’t matter the work I do, it doesn’t matter what I do or don’t have, it doesn’t matter my uncertainties, it doesn’t matter where I am, it doesn’t matter my circumstances…the only thing that matters is my attitude towards my circumstances.
  10. I already have everything I need to live the life I’ve imagined.
  11. My dream job: world peace through dinner parties.
  12. I learned how to write grants, research skills, public speaking, how to write better, and how to ask tough and sensitive questions gracefully
  13. "Prayer embraces the world", to paraphrase Henri Nouwen. Prayer is not just asking for things, it is an attitude of the heart.
  14. The last half of this year I’ve been going through the lessons & practices of solitude in my daily meditation. To be refreshed in the face of life’s difficulties, we must go from a place of loneliness to a place of solitude; a silence which reorders our life. This means not cutting ourselves off from the world, but rather standing upon a refreshing, intentional platform from which all our actions are directed.
  15. I learned about heartbreak and resilience. And forgiveness.
  16. Patience. Almost nothing moves at the pace of American Pragmatism. Learn to enjoy the waiting.  “Happy is the man who can enjoy the scenery on a detour.”
  17. Do not shave your legs before swimming in the Dead Sea. Trust me on this.
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  19. The most essential element of a healthy relationship is clear, honest, consistent communication.
  20. I learned more than I could have imagined about torture. Torture continues to be a State practice in over 70 countries. It is a serious issue because it destroys the psyche of entire communities and has after-effects stretching for generations. The United States is a party to the UN Convention Against Torture, however the 2006 Military Commissions Act allows us to detain “enemy combatants” indefinitely and gave policy makers impunity for certain war crimes like torture. This has been used broadly since the “War on Terror” began, both on and off of American soil. Shame on us. Shame on others who hold innocent prisoners because of their own pride, ego, and fears. Shame on anyone who uses torture to assert their authority over another human being. I have learned that torture is an active, serious issue, particularly for Americans, and I need to do something about it. (What?
  21. When it comes to doing research: knock on doors unannounced. Keep knocking.  
  22. Dates, olives, and rosé make the most elegant welcome party for weary travelers. Lay those bits out and they will know that their arrival is truly special.
  23. Be present. Be present. Be mindful of the present moment. What is truly worth concentrating on? What should I be letting go? “The issue is not where you are, but how you live wherever you are.” –Henri Nouwen
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  25. Always begin speeches with an anecdote, and add one in the middle too, right when people are starting to zone out.
  26. And perhaps my biggest single accomplishment of 2010: learning how to drive stick shift.
Happy New Year

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