Dear SPS Faculty,
I just returned from my first international travel, since February 2020, to Colombia, where I have been conducting fieldwork for more than seven years. It was a bit of an ordeal, but worth it to reconnect with my wonderful partners on the ground.
One point I would like to highlight is that I was reminded of the longevity of their community peacebuilding efforts. There are many current initiatives addressing a variety of challenges communities face from a long history of violence, displacement and discrimination. While over a period of time progress can be tracked, it is not always apparent in the short-term. There are initiatives that are taken and while it seems as though nothing is changing, the effects are dormant and may surface later.
In some of the work we do, and a requirement in the NECR program, is to look at complex systems using dynamical systems theory (DST). When we try to make a change in a system, we need to not only consider the individual elements, but also their relationship to each other. This way we are able to figure out what to strengthen and what to weaken so that there can be constructive change. In spite of all those efforts, we may not see immediate results. They may emerge later on, and this is what we refer to as latent attractors.
We can liken it to what happens when you are adjusting the temperature of the water in your shower. At first it is cold and you want it to be hotter. You adjust the dial, but it takes time for the water to adjust so you turn the dial some more. Then it becomes too hot and you add cooler water. This back and forth can take several rounds until you get the desired temperature and even then there is no guarantee you will reach nirvana in that one shower. It may happen in subsequent showers.
This is also the case of peace building efforts. There are initiatives taken yet the results may not be apparent until much later. The youth and community leaders today recognize that they stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before them and the results they get today are also as a result of the efforts made 10, 20 or even 50 years ago.
We notice this in NECR grads as well. They have a particular experience while studying in the program. After one, three or five years later, their reflections on their learning in the program change as they apply what they learned in the field. I am also trying to learn from what I experience in the field and to bring these lessons home to the program. As we continue to refine how we do what we do, we understand that we need to do the best we can as we lay the foundation for what will be built upon for many years to come. We may not see the fruits of our labor until later, if ever, and we need to trust that when the timing is right, the learning will manifest even if we are not there to witness it. If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it . . .
Have happy holidays everyone and a happy new year!