Stories to challenge, Stories to understand – answer to Blog challenge: write a manifesto

An older brother shares his childhood memories with his sister, helping her understand her past.

An older brother shares his childhood memories with his sister, helping her understand her past.

Juliet works hard to make her handicapped son Mapalo more independent. “Not long ago, she says, she was trying to teach him to feed himself with a spoon. Mapalo put his hands behind his back. Juliet got angry, shouted at him that she wasn’t going to feed him all his life. She was so upset she even slapped him. She shudders as she tells me this. “Oh Marianne,” she says, her face crumbling. She realized then that he had wanted water, and she had misunderstood him. “It’s hard to know what he wants.” “ (Excerpt from “Laughter in the Shadows – stories of courage from 11 Zambian women”)

This is one story of imposing our understanding of the world on another, and falling far short. Why do people do what they do? Why do we do what we do? This blog is an attempt to explore these questions with stories. Stories about farmers, Europeans, the elderly, the people around us. Stories about the Zambians and their country which I had the privilege of getting to know while working and consulting with small scale farmers. Stories to foster understanding between people.

I grew up in the sixties and seventies as an immigrant child of conservative Swiss pioneer farmers in northwestern Canada. I know firsthand that deep seated world views and traditions resist change. What motivates my African friends’ actions? What motivates mine? What makes mothers force their own daughters into female circumcision? What enables one child to rise above poverty or abuse to greatness and another to succumb to misery? How much does culture and family origins form a person’s world view? Would I be different if I’d been raised in a doctor’s household, or in a family on welfare?

My time in Zambia and the struggles of physically and mentally challenged family members especially has challenged my own thinking. Life can be worth living for a Grandmother in a wheelchair, without speech. People on social programs are there because they don’t have the outer or inner resources to manage in the working world. The African small farmer isn’t trying to be stubborn or lazy when he/she doesn’t adopt the new cultivation practises that would enable better food production and better soil management. It often has to do with family and health problems, with deep seated traditions. It takes time, often much time, and trust to begin to understand.

I believe strongly that by learning to understand each other, where the other comes from, we can greatly contribute to a more harmonious environment. To understand means to listen to each other’s story. Can the Canadian farmer who grows GMO crops listen to a European consumer who refuses to purchase them? Can the reserved Swiss listen to their dramatic loud Baltic neighbour? The rich with a doctorate to the poor uneducated? The seemly whole to the seemingly handicapped? The young to the old? And vice versa?

As a free-lance agriculture journalist and author of two books, “Greetings from Zambia – letters home from an overseas Volunteer” and “Laughter in the Shadows – stories of courage from 11 Zambian women”, I tell stories. My hope is that we can begin to lose our fear of ‘the other’. We can begin to make the world around us a better place.

I’d like this blog to be a place to share stories. Do you have a story to share? Please, I’d love to hear it.

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2 Responses to Stories to challenge, Stories to understand – answer to Blog challenge: write a manifesto

  1. Margrit says:

    I think you tickle an extremely powerful concept with this blog — taking the time to even try to understand the “why” of another’s behavior is a powerful tool for reconciliation, racial and cultural understanding, etc etc. I read a very long, detailed and well-researched article last week about the reason so many people in the US are following Trump — it is based on their great fear of change of the status quo… the reason so many people are drawn to “authoritarian” type of leadership. This does not give me much hope for the future of America — but it sure did a lot to help me at least understand what to me was utterly incomprehensible. Now I just wish there was a simple way to get these fear-based people to become open minded.

  2. marerobster says:

    I realize myself though, that I’m not as open-minded as I’d like to be either…

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