Tickling~ A New Strategy for Conflict Resolution

Spending the day with a 20 month old is an eye-opener.

I know, news-flash there, but I’m in my mid 30s and have yet to reproduce. Nor do I spend much time around those lovely little vehicles of innocence. I love kids, I just don’t bump into too many hanging out in coffee shops and wandering the world.

The world, through the eyes of an almost 2 year old.

While on a recent assignment in South Carolina, I spent the night with one of my oldest and dearest friends. His daughter is approaching the crux of those lovely terrible twos. She’s testing out her voice and seeing just how far she can push her luck in obtaining her desired outcome. She’s determined and resilient- and stubborn- like her father.

We were standing in the kitchen, having just finished an adult dinner of brie and crackers while the little one finished her toddler staple of chicken nuggets and corn. She’d just sucked down the last of her milk and wandered back into the kitchen where the remnants of our dinner were resting on the counter. She stretched her tiny arms to the edge of the counter and began her chant. Milk! Milk! Milk!

And she was debating on whether or not her demands should be supported by a full- lunged wail or a simple pouting cry to her father while she reached aimlessly onto the counter top looking for the milk she had just finished.

She chose the ear-piercing wail and filled her lungs in order to implement her agenda, when her father reached down and tickled her.

Tickled until her lungs, ready to wail, released the most delightful little giggle that tosses you backwards to a time when all you had to worry about was milk, your blanket and the hope that someone’s nose was tuned into the fact that your lunch just passed through your little body with a vengeance.

She giggled away and released her death-grip on the counter and shuffled after her dad into the den to watch a combination of Yo-Gabba Gabba and Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations.

And I had to stop and think- what if all conflicts could be resolved with tickling. How simple would the world be if at the pinnacle moment of conflict driven retaliation or instigation, we were tickled and dissolved into laughter.

No- visions of Mubarak and Gaddafi being attacked by giant tickle machines before calling for mass annihilation of their people in an attempt to retain power- or enforce a western imperial agenda- is not a possible method of conflict resolution.

I get that. I’m not naive.

But what if humor were a means of conflict resolution. What if we glanced the humanity of another- one considered a mortal enemy or an impediment to the evolution of our nation- through the laughter and comedy that is inherent in all human beings?

What if the worst of the worst- and the largest stooges of the oligarchy- could be “re-programmed” to see the humor in another? What if the most impersonal among our leadership could learn to see a person’s laughter, their joy, their humanity?

Might they not be so inclined to see this person and his community as a commodity? Might they be convinced to look upon an “enemy” as a human, rather than a barrier to a natural resource to possess, exploit and consume?

What if we required Jon Stewart to attend all UN Security Council deliberations and act as the humorous mediator? What if we sent Dennis Leary along as the presidential attache for all diplomatic state dinners? What if we sent Lewis Black along with the Secretary of State to mediate the Israeli/Palestinian peace talks? What if Bill Maher became the moderator for each presidential debate?

Might the leaders of the world not wage war if they were looking at one another with a faint smile on their face? Might the men who issue the orders to destroy a village blocking access to an oil pipeline stop and reconsider if laughter were still echoing through their hearts?

Might the world be a little more secure if we were all just tickled at the moment our anger arose- and then vanished?

Authors Note: Happy Birthday, dear Jamy! Hard to believe our friendship spans three decades- are we that old? Love you and wishing you the best on your next journey in life! Ciao Bella!

Can Hope Maintain Peace?

This essay was written while conducting a documentary project on the Tibetan Exile community in India, funded by grants from UNC. I was studying photojournalism as well as Peace, War and Defense at the time and this essay reflects many of the questions I based my projects upon- and am still seeking answers to. While the topic is specific to the Tibetan population and their struggles over the past 60 years, the overall themes of pacifism, modern war-fare, modernity and cultural preservation apply to many of the issues we currently face as a society. A point, which in light of recent world events, I think we should all revisit and truly ponder as a collective.

A Tibetan monk takes a minute to watch the action on the streets of McLeod Ganj. Image by me, 2006.

Is it possible for the Tibetan people to initiate and maintain the last peaceful struggle to achieve autonomy?  And if such a goal is unattainable through non-violence, then is peace throughout the rest of the world merely an unattainable objective?  Is mankind, as a whole, unable to accept the spiritual implications and requirements of non-violence?

Can man simply not accept that peace is achievable through diplomacy and that profiting off of the deaths of others is not a viable solution to the evolution of mankind?  Or does war and peace truly boil down to the pursuit of commodities and natural resources coupled with the profiting from military mobilization?  Is war hidden behind the shroud of freedom and democracy for everyone whilst the true motivation for invasion is the commandeering of monetary gain and positions of power?

Historically, states have not bothered to hide the fact that they were invading to commandeer the resources of another.  Imperialism.  Today, states invade the sovereignty of another in order to retain the natural commodities desired by the aggressor and the intention is hidden beneath liberation and protection from dictatorships and autocratic regimes.  This is acceptable to the general public. One can easily digest the notion of spreading the desirable conditions of human existence- opportunity, freedom, and the pursuit of further inalienable rights- but the travesty lies in the easy acceptance of veiled truths. Such truths are, at times, hidden by various avenues of media; a deceit that kills innocents and destroys the cultural strands woven over centuries of time.

Children at the Tibetan Children's Village take a break for snacks. These children are orphans, some with families left behind in China. The Tibetan Exile government provides a familial and educational environment from these children as they are separated, sometimes permanently, from their families left behind in China. Photo by me, 2006.

Are we unable see the tragedy that our own consumption and desires for material wealth bring to other societies?
Or is that consumption merely the end product, or means of modernization and can that consumption help build poorer nations into a status of development that becomes self-sustaining?  If that is the case, then are we as a society ready to embrace and accept the means of modernization and development by the spreading of consumption of cheap material goods?  And when this type of “sustenance” reaches a capacity breaking point (for truly, there is only so much physical space in this earth for cheap Chinese goods) and when the resources needed for such production come at the cost of human lives and cultural heritages- as in the case of the Chinese using Tibetan natural resources to create cheap material exports- will society accept that violence and war will be used to attain the power and control over such resources for this eventual material outcome?

A young Tibetan teaches western tourists how to cook traditional Tibetan meals in McLeod Ganj, India. Image by me, 2006

Do alternatives exist to this type of modernization and if so, what are they?  How do we spread a sustainability option not reliant upon such cycles of production and consumption?  And how do we call the international community to embrace and implement such alternative means of sustainability in the world economy, particularly when the governments pursuing the a fore mentioned opportunities of obtaining natural resources sit on the very councils of the international body that determines the justifications and conditions under which conflict and war may be waged?

A Tibetan monk spins his prayer wheel during an interview at a Tibetan Refugee Reception Center. Tibetans who flee China on foot eventually make their way to this final reception center before they assimilate into the local community.

When does non-violence become as detrimental to a society as violence?  Is the slow deterioration of a population who’ve existed for thousands of years an acceptable by-product of pacifism or would the direct and indirect harm to non-combatants in a violent conflict situation be an acceptable outcome of a people’s struggle to regain freedom?  If so, what constitutes the boundaries of acceptable collateral damage—and can cultural identity and heritage be considered under the definition of collateral damage, or does that merely apply to human lives and the ability to pursue the basic rights of life, such as breathing, shelter and eating?

Is cultural identity quantified in the definitions that justify violent action and the situations for which war may be pursued?  Or is it merely a secondary element to the harming of non-combatants?  Yet, what if that cultural identity is the element which defines the non-combatant, that keeps the population of civilians alive, or is that merely overstating the relevance of cultural identity to a population of people, particularly in the era of modernization and globalization?

Is it better to whither slowly or expedite the demise in attempting to save what might no longer exists?

The comments are open on this one- let the debate begin!

His Holiness, the Dalai Lama. I had a press pass to photograph this event and mangaged to create not a single decent image. Epic photo failure!

A Tibetan protest on the streets of McLeod Ganj, India.

Images of Tibetan prisoners in China. We interviewed several recent refugees from China and their stories of brutallity were heart-breaking and gruesome.

More images from the protest.

This image hangs as a reminder of the sacrifice and means of protest of individual Tibetans in the office of the Reception Center.

The Fear of Love and a Shattered Narrative

What happens when we’ve been using an outdated narrative to shelter ourselves from the major decisions or actions in life? Do our narratives provide a distraction- a false sense of security that keeps us warmly nestled in the arms of a delusion?

Watching people at a music festival in NC, photo by me.

For the past several years, I’ve held a personal narrative close to my heart- a narrative based on a person I met randomly twice in my life. Our second chance meeting- 15 years later and unbeknownst to me for I forgot our first meeting so many years ago- stirred up such intense emotions that I was left questioning so many things in my life. The Universe doesn’t just cross two paths in this manner twice in a lifetime. It must mean something! Right?

This man brought to the surface many emotions I had tucked away in the pursuit of a more meaningful and deliberate life. I chose intellect and adventure over romance 6 years ago and have never looked back. I knew the time had come to love again- for I had truly learned to love myself over these past 6 years and have come into my own.

And even though the red flags were flying- I tore down my barriers and allowed my love and passion to spill forth. Yet, this man was either too scared or unwilling to accept such intensity. So he walked away.

And though I put this personal narrative aside, I never truly released it. I allowed it to repeatedly resurface over the past several years. I even stoked the hornets nest every so often and this man replied in kind. I seemed to stir the nest when I was feeling slightly lonely or just avoiding a major decision in life. I figured that I’d just wait and see if something interesting arose with this man and then just roll from there.

Foolish- yes. Healthy- not so much. Productive- no.

This winter, I truly tore down the walls and placed myself before the narrative and said this time- I’m going to risk the pain and the torment of such intense emotions and walk that edge of romance again. And this man helped lead me towards that edge- in a few tantalizing phone calls and correspondence. He led me right to the edge- and though I didn’t fully trust the outcome- I was willing to see what lurked beyond that edge.

So I reveled in my narrative. I knew deep down that this behavior was not healthy nor did this man truly deserve the narrative I had created- but I didn’t care. I just went there. Over the past month, the narrative has grown thin, weak and twisty. The narrative is now something that turns my stomach, it makes me cringe and I want to berate myself and abuse myself for allowing the narrative to exist in my mind for so long. But I don’t, and I’m writing this for the world to see in the hopes of fleshing out what this behavior actually means.

And today, I shattered that narrative. This man turned away from me– again. From all that I am and all that I have to offer. Today, this man showed his utter inability or incomprehension of embracing something so wonderful as what I have to offer.

And today I embraced the emerging true narrative that I always knew existed with this man. The other narrative- the real one- the dark and twisty one. It always existed. It grew right along side the shiny, polished narrative I created for my own masochistic pleasure. And every so often- each time this man turned away from me- I would look at the real narrative- the one that I was unwilling to truly embrace- and justify why this could not be the case.

For I see the good in the people I let into my life- I see the beauty. Once I get to know a person and let them into my world- however slightly- I will always give them the benefit of the doubt. I want to believe the good in people. I see the potential and the love that each person has and I want to believe that people will always act on that love- no matter what their own narrative may be.

And I believed it in this man, until the bitter end. Bear in mind, I did not have a relationship with this man. We acknowledged the chemistry and passion that existed between us and spent several evenings over several years together, but no true intimacy ever evolved. He was never ready to accept what stood before him. He spoke of change and embracing greater truths, but his actions spoke of his fears and his weaknesses. His actions, even today- at the bitter end, spoke the truth that his words could not. And the intensity of our chemistry kept me hooked- I wanted to know what this chemistry meant. I wanted to bath myself in the dynamic range of emotions that such passion and chemistry could provide.

The narrative that I did not want to face actually reflected the type of lifestyle that I speak of at length on this blog. This man, like so many other lost souls I’ve met over the years, stands at a point in life where so many are today. On one side, he sees a different path for himself. A path that reflects his true self, a path that leaves him feeling fulfilled and joyful at the end of the day. I know, because he told me as much on the first day we truly hung out. He was standing at the crossroads of his life, longing for another direction. Ready to take action and seize a better, more truthful existence for himself.

And in that moment, I built the narrative of finding a man that harbored the chemistry and the passion and was making radical changes in his life to embrace a new self. That’s the narrative I built. We would journey off into the unknown adventure together and he could see a whole other side of life that he never knew existed. That was an exhilarating prospect.

And today I stood and shattered that false narrative once and for all.

For I truly hope he does embrace such a narrative in life- but I doubt he has the strength or the knowledge to do so. Even amidst my anger in this moment- I truly do hope he embraces the positive outcome that a narrative of radical change can provide.

Even though deep down I knew that I was clinging to the wrong narrative, I still held it close in the dark evenings when loneliness sets in. It happens- I’m a single, 35 year old woman with a ton of love and beauty to give and at times the fact that I have yet to meet the man that recognizes and embraces this gift makes me feel utterly alone in the world.

But, there is another narrative emerging. Well, it emerged many years ago, but, as you can tell, I enjoyed frolicking with the other narrative. The narrative of finding that man who has already done the difficult work of finding himself and his path in the world. This man has passion, he has intensity and he has made a deliberate choice in the way he lives his life. This man has love, he has depth, he has brilliance and he has balance. This man recognizes beauty when it stands before him- because he recognizes the beauty within and all around him. He sees the opportunity that an unconventional woman can provide and it doesn’t make him flinch. This man will stand next to his own fears and his own sorrow and never shrink away from the pain or the chance to evolve from the despair. This man stands before society and revolts against its devastation and destruction. This man will fight for the chance at a better life, for himself and his community. This man will stand on his convictions and place his life on the line to ensure that the world recognizes its fallacies and he will fight to bring about a revolution- a revolution of thought, of action and of love.

This man, this narrative that I’ve tucked away and am bringing back to the surface, he exists. I know he’s out there and I will wait until our paths cross. I’ve always known that the false narrative I chased for the past several years could never live up to this all-encompassing narrative of the man who completes me. And I’ve been a little scared to embrace the better narrative- afraid that it might not exist and I’ll be left alone.

Maybe I’ve been the one who is scared and stuck in an old paradigm. Maybe I am the one at fault for not being true to myself in waiting for the man who reflects my ideal narrative to emerge. Maybe in clinging to the safe and false narrative, I’ve been denying myself the ability to pursue my own life to its fullest- by harboring the thoughts of what-ifs and maybe-so. Maybe clinging to the old narrative was a way of insulating myself from truly risking it all to find the one man that really embodies and mirrors all that I am- and all that I hope to become.

Maybe this little phoenix has just shattered her last false narrative that reflects a past life she has outgrown and evolved past and is now ready to rise from her ashes and set the world a-blaze.

Game on, dear friends!

The comments are off, but the conversation is on- hit The Twitter!! @crystaldstreet tell me if you’ve been harboring false narratives or what you’ve done to shatter them!

How Death Can Force Us to Face Our Truths

When mortality makes a presence in our lives- be it from someone close to us or through someone we merely shared a few moments with- it brings forth some profound truths we may be ignoring.

A Maosit rebel takes a moment to pose for the camera in a remote village in the mountains of Nepal. Image by Crystal Street 2006

When faced with mortality at a young age- some tend to embrace a fearless “in the moment” perspective on life. We realize that the brevity of life is real and that “tomorrow is guaranteed to no one”. Such a truth weighs on every major decision and guides us through our daily lives.

We are comforted by the fact that if tomorrow never came, we’d have no regrets. Nothing was left undone, no joy was left to chance, no love was left untested and no moment was wasted in vein.

Or at least that’s the core truth that death can give us. It can bring these little beliefs to light and remind us that we should harbor them as beacons as we travel through this world- and eventually into the next.

And sometimes the death of a distant acquaintance can have a startling effect. It hits us deeper then the death of a distant relative, even though the time spent with this acquaintance was merely a few hours and a brief conversation and the distant relative has a blood connection to us. When someone leads a life dedicated to an unwavering truth- and then dies in pursuit of this truth- it makes us pause and reflect. If this person, creating such intense art in places others could never dare to visit, died pursuing his truth- why am I still dragging my feet on following my own truth?

When a person is killed pursuing something bigger than themselves- and leaves behind a massive legacy that supports his truth- something in us shifts. We stop. We take notice. We listen. And we look within to see how far off we are from pursuing our own truth- at any cost.

And we know the world is a little less beautiful because this person has left us.

I’m speaking here of the death of photojournalist Chris Hondros, who was killed this week along with documentary film maker and photojournalist Tim Hetherington. I met Chris one evening many years ago through a function at UNC and several of us shared beers and a few games of darts later that evening. He presented his award-winning work that evening to a group of photojournalists and I was moved by the depth of such work. He spoke of the how and the why behind his work. I don’t remember the conversations that evening- we photographers tend to just chat about gear, swap assignment stories or just play bar games- but I remember enjoying the night.

Even though I didn’t know him, such powerful and intense work leaves you with an impression of the person. I could pick up the paper, see his photo of some war-torn country and think “that’s an amazing-and heart breaking image, Chris”. I feel connected to the creator of the work, even if there is no real personal connection.

And that’s how a powerful artist- who holds his truth close to his heart- moves people. That’s why a photojournalist can place his or her life on the line and stand for something larger then themselves. Their art speaks for them. Their passion is seen in their images. No language is necessary and no words could do the pain and sorrow justice. Chris, and the photojournalists who do this work, take you into the intense moments of humanity.

Photojournalists place a human face on the abstract concepts of war and conflict so we can not sit in our comfortable homes and think that bombing other people is justified.

They risk everything to show you what they feel is wrong with our world. They risk everything to show you what they feel is right in our world.

Photojournalists risk everything to show you the truths of humanity.

I’ve compartmentalized my life in the past several years. I’ve embraced commercial multimedia production to try and fund documentary projects- and have had minimal success. I’ve built an amazing platform on this blog that started as a travel journal and has evolved into a social commentary of what I find when I travel through the world. I’ve become a writer. And lately, I’ve felt a pull back to my roots. I’m feeling the photojournalist emerging and wanting to journey back into the world and document my truth. Though my training is in photojournalism and I have an amazing community of fellow photojournalists (we’re a small community, but passionate) I’ve always considered myself a documentary photographer. And, by definition, I am.

But I’ve always separated the work that pays the bills from my true passion work- my photography. And Chris’ death is causing me to look inward with some intense scrutiny. And the lack of alignment in these two departments seems to be my biggest hurtle and has formed a mental wall between pursuing my passion and supporting myself.

I do believe the time has come to embrace my truth completely. The time has come to pull the documentary photographer out of the shadows and place her in the light. She’s been a little timid- filled with fear and what ifs- but the time has come to truly put her to work- with structure, support, focus and Flow.

Now is the time to step to the Edge where all the fear and discomfort dwell and ride the Flow towards something larger than myself.

For, as I learned at a young age, the brevity of life is real. And as I was reminded of this week, our truths are what define us and our legacy reflects the impact we have on the lives we touch as glide through the world.

Democracy Now produced a wonderful segment on the two fallen photojournalists this week. Take a moment to watch this video and learn more about their work, their legacy and the beauty that was silenced this week. The video below is from GritTV and is a wonderful interview with Tim’s roommate, another amazing photojournalist, and truly speaks to the thought process and awareness necessary to do the type of work they embrace.

More GRITtv

Someone, Somewhere Thinks Your Journey is Beautiful

As we travel through our lives, we sometimes come to a massive fork in our path. Sometimes the path splits do to forces beyond our control. Other times, we take a dramatic turn because we want to.

Because we need to.

Taking in the sunset at The Park in Cairo, Egypt. Photo by me.

We take the drastic turn because we fear where our safe, predictable path may take us. Sometimes we hit the brakes, yank the steering wheel to one side and hold on tight as the wheels tip into the air and fight to touch the ground again.

In those moments, we feel alive! Our hearts race, our vision is clear and our being is at peace- in the midst of the chaos. Deep down, that inner voice, that inner-child, knows we’ve made the right decision. We feel it, in the depths of our being, that connection to a source larger than us. We understand that this radical shift will take us closer to that source- yet we can’t articulate what we’ll find on our journey.

And if someone is looking in from the outside, they may see our radical shift as just that. Radical. Without grounds, without purpose- radical for the sake of being radical.

Our friends and loved ones may not understand our inability to justify ourselves in a way they can comprehend. They may doubt our choices. They may judge our decisions. They may question our sanity.

At this point, we are speaking a foreign language. Our loved ones simply do not have the frame of reference to understand us. We’re speaking gibberish and it scares them.

Hopefully, if we’re lucky, they will understand that this need for change, this need to evolve, this need to touch something greater than ourselves is just who we are. It’s the path we’ve chosen- the journey we must undertake. If we are lucky, our loved ones will step back and just accept that we must travel this path, with all its vines and vistas, and they will not try to understand the how or the why. They will just accept what is.

If we’re unlucky, our loved ones will judge, they will protest and they will try to crush our plans and dreams. (I’m not speaking from personal experience here- I’m speaking from observations. My family may object or question at times, but they understand and accept- eventually) What breaks my heart is to meet a person who was in the process of yanking the steering wheel off-course yet kept on the safe track because someone questioned his dreams. Someone shot down the possibilities that he was about to embody. Someone shattered the path we was about to travel because of jealousy, fear or ignorance.

And he let them.

Do we have to justify our radical shifts? Do we have good retorts when someone mocks our decisions?

I had coffee with a friend recently and mentioned that I was going carless once I left the beach and he laughed. He said, “It’s like that phase, in the 80s, when everyone thought it was cool to be gay.” I just kinda looked at him. I didn’t know what to say. We were walking away and he said it with a laugh and that’s just the way my friend is, he’s a good guy and open minded (remember, I’m in South Carolina right now). I just shook my head and rolled my eyes at him. The comment stuck in my head though, I didn’t have a good response. My reasoning is beyond his comprehension. And I don’t know if it’s worth having the conversation.

I feel as though I have two worlds sometimes. I have my “virtual world” where I connect with real people who are on the same page as me- in thoughts, actions and lifestyle- and I have my “real world” where I interact with people from all walks of life, and only a handful of them actually understand me. When I mention things like, “gas at $5 a gallon soon, can’t wait to ditch my vehicle and walk everywhere” or “yea, I’m gonna go off-grid soon because I think we’re in for a rude awakening as a society and I want to be self-sustaining” people look at me like I’m on crack.

It would actually be less shocking if I took out a crack pipe and lit up in front of them.

I get it, I’m on the East Coast and people don’t think this way. Most people in the East (most- not all) think that the lights will always be on and the gas their SUV guzzles comes from a magic fairy in the sky. (Or the don’t mind bombing the hell out of some other country to keep their car running) Rarely do they stop to consider that the whole circus might come crashing down. Or that their consumption habits might want to be curtailed if they’d like their grandchildren a chance at a livable future.

I’m hoping in the coming year or so to merge my virtual and my real lives. And I’m doing this by making radical lifestyle shifts and surrounding myself with people who don’t think I should be committed for purging most of my belongings and walking to the market.

And hopefully, you also have the core people close to you who will allow you to take a radical turn and embrace you as your journey unfolds. Hopefully you’ve found your balance and touched that inner space with the loving support of people who get you. While they may not be traveling the same path, or even understand why you are walking that way, they will embrace that this journey is your life.

And if not, find the community that will help you turn that steering wheel. They exist. Somewhere, a community exists that understands your motivations and the journey you have chosen. They understand because they made the same choices- for the same reasons.

Somewhere, someone is waiting to connect with your journey. Somewhere, that person is waiting to celebrate all that you are and all that you will become. Somewhere, there is a person who doesn’t think your radical journey is insane.

Someone, somewhere thinks your journey is beautiful.