Changes in me from a semester in the Balkans

My understanding of community changed as a result of my experience studying peace and conflict in Croatia. While I was in Croatia I learned more about community from the people I spent time with. I spent time with people in places where there was war torn experience and where there was personal excellence. The center proved a helpful grounding place to learn about community.

            I will go through three parts of the way that my worldview on community has changed. First a value, then belief, and an assumption. In each section I will start by explaining what the change is, then I will move into explaining how that change was facilitated by my experience, and finally why that part of my experience impacted me. Let us begin.

            My value of communities maintaining communication has increased. Communities need to continue to communicate within themselves and between each other. Relationship dies when communication stops. Suspicion starts to grow. Now I have a greater value or priority for making sure that communities consist of communication.

            In Croatian I lived, studied and worked with the European center for the study of war and peace. Here I learned about the ideas of communication as necessary to maintaining relationships. Here I had teachers and role models who exemplified the way of life that included continuing to share ideas and experience between people. And the people I lived with were also looking to learn more about this idea. They hoped to experience and do the same thing.

            Making sure that communication continues in communities is a good way to gauge their health, and because of this good aspect of the community culture I experienced, I affirmed the suggested differences that the Center promoted. A community may be growing seeds of conflict or violence when it starts to get silent. Being passive aggressive is a way that can hurt people. I was passive aggressive with the refrigerator at one point, rather with the dish washer. I decided not to put other peoples’ dishes in the dish washer, and I started to get upset with others about their lack of putting their dishes in the dish washer. Instead of saying anything about it, I just got angry at the others. Had I communicated this desire (which I eventually did), I would have solved the problem more easily.

            I developed the belief that community cannot be strong without a willingness to expose difference that exists within the community. Throughout the semester I spent time with a friend in the program in the same apartment as him, as an apartment-mate, and we differed politically on some social issues, and I wanted to talk with him about this, but did not. I did not out of fear that he would no longer speak so clearly and freely as he did. A strong community has its members knowing that they can speak about their differences without fear arising.

            My religion, identity, and conflict class proved a strong aspect of my experience which contributed to my development of this belief. Dr. Gedney taught about communication and religion in the public sphere. In order to have a maximum amount of people talking in the public sphere from the governed polity, the people are going to have to be willing to offend one another in what they say. And they will need to be able to expect grace from those who hear them. And forgiveness, that way they can have some of the confidence to keep speaking what they believe is best for the constituency, even when it runs counter, even offending other parts of the polity.

            I found the idea of a community which speaks in spite of disagreements anticipated alluring because of the promise it has for creating world peace. I try opposing this proposition that people speak their mind even in light of knowing they’ll hurt another’s sensibilities by saying that disagreement will tear a community apart. Given that a community may benefit from agreeing as well, and that so long as agreement exists as well and the community can know that at the moment they can act together on what they agree upon then they can move on past the disagreements, and even encounter them face to face. Because the proposition has the ability to deal with this critique the belief gets through to me and morphs my understanding of community.

            My assumption that a community which regularly brings up disagreement hurts itself has changed. Growing up I lived in an environment where any disagreement lead to the severance of relationship. And distance would arise between disagreeing parties in the fallout of arguments. So I learned to understand disagreement as something which tears community apart. However, in the Balkans I experienced settings where disagreement existed and yet the parties continued to communicate and live well together, even in light of the tensions that the disparities may have created.

            In Srebrenica I met a curator who governs with others who have a history being part of the genocide 20 years ago and yet deny that it was a genocide. This museum curator is involved in town government, and Serbs who were part of the genocide years ago have moved back into town. During the genocide he was young, so he was spared and sent away with his mother. However, his father was killed because he was a Bosniak Muslim civilian understood as a threat to the Serbian destiny. He spoke calmly and patiently about the situation, yet he seemed to have an underlying disturbance within him. He relied on God to keep enduring. He simply kept going. He shows me that community even that disagrees on something so strongly can even continue to meet face to face and live together.

            I had development in multiple parts of the part of my worldview concerning community. I came to have a greater value for community which maintains communication, and therefore relationship within itself and with other communities. My assumption that disagreement hurts community was uprooted and replaced with the belief that a community that can make disagreement regular and continue to maintain communication is a thriving community. And all these qualities I find significant because they are factors necessary to become mastered by societies in order to move towards peace and away from violence and war.