Below is the full video interview with Laura Liswood, Secretary General of the Council of Women World Leaders, on May 6, 2020 via Zoom.
Video: Senator Joe Manchin, “Public Service”
A short clip from our Zoom interview with Senator Joe Manchin on May 7th, 2020.
Video: Melanne Verveer, DC 2020
A short clip from our Zoom interview with Melanne Verveer, Executive Director of the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security, as well as the former Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, on May 5th, 2020.
Video: Susannah Wellford, “Diversity in Politics”
A short clip from our Zoom interview with Susannah Wellford, Founder and CEO of Running Start, on May 5th, 2020.
Video: Laura Liswood, “True North”
A short clip from our Zoom interview with Laura Liswood, Secretary General of the Council of Women World Leaders, on May 6th, 2020.
Craft Your Life In As Beautiful a Way As It Can Be
Interview with David Yang
Our interview with David Yang was very powerful to say the least. He is such a phenomenal storyteller and I think his stories and experiences hit everyone hard. He talked about the experiences he had as a refugee in the United States and all the lessons that he learned growing up. He spoke with such emotion and was very real with everyone.
David Yang was a very inspiring man and it was a pleasure to get to interview him. He has worked hard in life to get to where he is, and I have an enormous amount of respect for him and what he has gone through. His stories were stunning and he was very positive throughout the interview. After eight total interviews, this was probably the best way we could possibly end our online Washington, D.C. journey. David Yang, thank you so much.
Today, we interviewed David Yang, a Chinese-American refugee and Vice President at Applied Conflict Transformation in the United States Institute of Peace. He seemed to be a jolly man with much to say.
He told us about how he’s been working with his international partners online during this pandemic. They have been continuing their work on social media, and teach through calls. His spoke about how the tools for peacebuilding, what he called “adaptive peacebuilding,” had to be flexible during the pandemic.
He also spoke about his family’s past and his early life, and what led him to be a peace worker. It was very interesting to hear about his father’s flight from China to Hong Kong and then eventually the U.S. He went from being a General in pre-communist China, to a political activist in Hong Kong, to a grocery bagger in Stockton, California upon first arriving in the U.S. He said that hearing about his father’s previous work to combat China’s authoritarianism influenced his direction in life. David Yang went to UCSC and, after many twists and turns, became a peace worker.
What was most interesting to me, however, was when he talked about how fragile democracies are. He said, “Democracy at its best is still very fragile.” He went on to speak about how populism rises from social and economic inequities. He told us that one who appeals to the masses could be dangerous. I admire that he has spent his career trying to build peace and support democracy.
Today, on our last day of our virtual trip, we got to interview David Yang. When we first got the interview with him we didn’t know what to expect. Immediately, he showed us how kind and excited he was, by sending multiple communications to Ward and even a short letter to us, the students. When we got on the Zoom call with him, I could tell that he was a thoughtful and truly authentic soul.
He said so many things that caught my interest and I took lots of notes, but the moment that really struck me was his response to a question that AnMei asked. She asked if he had any perspective to share about identity. In response he said, “Craft your life in as beautiful a way as it can be.” This is a piece of advice that I hope to carry with me for the rest of my life. I think I try to focus on making everything I do perfect, and when I give up because it’s impossible, I give up completely. This quote made me realize that even if it’s not perfect, I can still try to make it as beautiful as possible.
I think that this interview was a wonderful closer to our journey. David Yang was very articulate and it was clear that he was brilliant but humble. He explained things that we had heard from other people we interviewed in new ways, that hadn’t been brought up. This allowed us to connect themes that ran through our previous interviews so it really felt like our journey was well wrapped up. Overall, the conversation really struck me, and I hope that future groups will get a chance to talk with him and hear more of his wisdom.
During our interview with David Yang, he shared some personal stories from his past about growing up as a Chinese refugee in California, and he talked about how his identity led him on his journey of figuring out what he wanted to do with his life. As a young, adopted Chinese American woman about to go out into the world, I too am trying to figure out what I want to do with my life, and over the course of this past year I’ve come to realize how my identity affects the way I view the world and myself.
I sometimes feel at crossroads though with my different cultural identities, and I asked David Yang if he had any advice for me. He immediately acknowledged that we don’t have the same backstory but we do share, not having the classical Chinese American immigrant story such as having our families coming to work the railroads or mine gold, and growing up in middle class predominantly white communities. His advice was to have courage in embarking on the journey to finding my place in the world, while also maintaining ties with the community that holds me. This really hit home for me because community is something that is important to me but I think I’ve also resented it at times, since I sometimes feel like an outsider, in the predominantly white community I live and grew up in. I’m going to take this piece of advice with me as I move forward in life, and my community grows.
I am really glad we got to talk to David Yang today and hear about his life and work. His humbleness, vulnerability, and passion for his work was really inspiring to me! And I hope that one day I too will be able to find something that is as meaningful to me.
Community Holds Us, It’s Our Forest of Positivity
Interview with Congressman Jimmy Panetta
As the world continues to be in turmoil, there is a hope that our leaders will become less partisan, coming together to benefit the country. However, that should always be the case. Partisan lines should be arbitrary, not concrete. After speaking to both Senator Manchin and Congressman Panetta, I saw a glimmer of hope that the art of bi-partisanship is not dead, as Senator Manchin would say.
Congressman Panetta, a man I have only seen in ads running on the local channels and heard his voice heard in KAZU profiles during election season, gave me insight into what is happening in my own backyard. I have been in my home for over 40 days, only leaving for short walks, social distancing dinners and a few errands, and though I am grateful that I have a home, filled with food and internet access to continue my education, it has also been isolating. Every time I step outside my home I feel somewhat detached to the surrounding community. Congressman Panetta helped to reattach me. He spoke about the importance of paying attention to our farm workers and to understanding how beautiful and unique this area truly is.
My district, my area, my community matters and so does being represented in Washington, D.C.; I do not think I ever made the connection before. I know the job description of our House Representatives, but I never really thought about a local official actually representing my home, in DC. He said that right now the United States is being governed by crisis, the opposite of that is being governed by leadership. He said that although the latter would always be ideal, being governed by crisis has further exposed inequalities and we can see what we need to do to be better prepared for the next event. The job of a congressperson, according to Congressman Panetta, is not just yelling the loudest but working the hardest. Simply put, it is about addition not subtraction. Adding voices, adding opinions and adding peoples, not subtracting those who oppose you just so you can get your way. The Central Coast is a community of opinions and voices, that deserve to be added to the conversation, and I am glad to hear that we are. It is reassuring to hear that even in this time of isolation, I am still being represented as a voice in this country.
During our interview with Congressman Panetta, I was struck by how human our elected leaders are. In today’s world, it is all too easy to turn on the TV or look online and see our leaders spouting rhetoric and putting on a show for the cameras. The constant force of these personalities can be overwhelming and paint our representatives as a single archetype. So, it was refreshing to speak with Representative Panetta who seemed to genuinely care about the questions we asked and showed us who our representatives really are.
The conversation which emerged about the real work being done in Congress was briefly pre-faced this morning in our interview with Senator Manchin who spoke about bipartisanship. Congressman Panetta showed us that while there are the showmen of leadership, there are many, many, more who are there to do the work and serve the communities they represent.
I think that it is important to remember that our representatives are regular people. That our perceived struggle of good and evil on the partisan battlefield doesn’t show a complete picture. These are people trying to make a difference and solve problems, they just don’t always agree on how to do it.
We had a great interview with Congressman Jimmy Panetta! I was personally excited because I have often seen his campaign ads on television so I knew a little bit about his involvement in the Central Coast. Through my research on Congressman Panetta I was able to understand some of the issues he has focused on. One that stood out for me was his work with farm workers. Most farm workers in the central coast are immigrants, and they often aren’t protected. As Panetta said, “They aren’t just valuable, they are vulnerable.” This is completely true and I appreciated him bringing this up. For me, it’s important that all people are valued. To me, Congressman Panetta truly focuses on issues that help the greater good in my community.
One way Congressman Panetta is helping our community is through the Farm Modernization Act, a bipartisan bill that protects the rights of farm workers. I was interested in forming my question to him around this bill. I wanted to know if the current times could be helpful to point out the importance of our agricultural workforce and help get the bill passed? He appreciated my question and spent a great deal of time on it. It is a serious issue and hearing directly from Congressman Panetta about it made me see his dedication. Listening to him gave me hope for our system of government. Because this bill was a bipartisan effort it wasn’t easy to craft. As Senator Joe Manchin said, “It’s come down to one side is right and the other is wrong. It takes bipartisanship. If you start off not agreeing, you can’t build off that.” So, for both sides to work together on the bill was huge, positive step. Congressman Panetta didn’t say it was easy, it took a lot of work and time. Even though he wasn’t sure if the bill will pass, he explained that it was a marker that they set. I think it’s important to see the positives rather than the negatives so there’s room for hope.
Congressman Jimmy Panetta seemed as appreciative of this call as we were. He really took his time to answer and make sure our questions were explained well and were understandable. He was another interviewee who had a lot of energy. When someone’s giving information with such energy it helps me engage with what they’re saying. This was one of those interviews, and I’m thankful to Congressman Panetta for his time and energy.
Today was a long day. We interviewed three people, starting bright and early at 7:15 AM this morning. I would describe it as an exhilarating and exhausting experience, and definitely worth it! We interviewed Senator Joe Manchin, and Alyse Nelson, Co-Founder and President of Vital Voices, this morning. Their interviews were back to back, so it was quite the information overload for me. I appreciated the knowledge, positive perspective, and advice they gave us on this current pandemic situation.
The third person we interviewed was our own 20th district congressional leader, Congressman Jimmy Panetta. During the interview, he talked about the importance of bipartisanship when creating and passing legislation. Speaking with him restored my faith in the common good, knowing that people are putting their differences aside to get work done and help bring relief to this crisis. I feel lucky to be represented by someone who listens to others while also doing what is best for his constituents because those are qualities that I want someone to have, who is representing me.
I liked Congressman Panetta’s easy-going nature and how relatable he was. Right at the beginning he acknowledged how draining Zoom is, and said that he wished we could be having this interview in person. “Nothing beats face to face interaction.” He explained to us how he is a people person, and his favorite part of his job is interacting with his colleagues and constituents. So, it’s been difficult for him not to get that in-person human interaction. I definitely agree with him, as I too have found Zoom to be a bit draining, and I’m also a people person. I’d choose an in-person conversation with someone any day, rather than a Zoom or FaceTime call. On the bright side, he said that working from home is allowing him to spend more quality time with his family and catch up on many of the family dinners he has missed.
At the end of the interview he emphasized the importance of taking care of ourselves and one another during this time, as we have all been impacted by the virus, whether it be physically or mentally or both. He said that’s the way we will return to some sort of normalcy. In-person human interaction will happen again one day, but for now we must rely on our communities to get us through this. From what I heard today, I think Congressman Panetta is a dedicated and outstanding congressman who takes pride in his work, and works hard for the betterment of his community.
A theme throughout the day was the importance of community. Senator Manchin and Congressman Panetta both talked about taking care of their constituents and making sure that they are provided for. Alyse Nelson talked about the strength and inspiration she gets from the community of women leaders at Vital Voices. Her advice to us during this time is to, “Surround yourself with a forest of positivity, don’t let the doom and gloom get to you.” I kind of like to think that the community at Mount Madonna School is my forest of positivity. Physically and metaphorically, now that I think about it.
Lastly the most inspirational piece of advice I heard today was, “This is a pivotal moment in all our lives but especially for your generation. It’s a reset, it’s a base for a world of endless opportunities.” This is paraphrased off of statements that both Alyse Nelson and Congressman Panetta shared with us today. This stuck out to me because with this pandemic going on, the first semester of my college experience will most likely be online, and I felt like I would be missing out on a lot of opportunities. But after talking with Alyse Nelson and Congressman Panetta, and hearing their optimistic outlooks and hopes for my generation, I’ve adopted a new perspective. I’ve got to “trust the process” like our teacher Ward always says!
I’m thankful that Congressman Panetta, as well as Alyse Nelson and Senator Manchin took time out of their busy day to talk with us!
A Global Re-set
Interview with Alyse Nelson
Today we got the special honor of interviewing Alyse Nelson, the President and CEO of Vital Voices Global Partnership, and the actual partner of Hardin Lang, whom we got to interview yesterday.
I think it is safe to say that our interview with Alyse Nelson left us all a bit speechless, and wanting to just spend all day talking with her. She was charismatic and her demeanor was friendly and welcoming, which put most of our nerves at ease.
While everything about Ms. Nelson inspired me, the thing that inspired me most was the positive way with which she could approach our current crisis. I am currently a senior, and I know that my fellow classmates and I have been navigating through all this loss and have found it very difficult to stay positive at times. Alyse Nelson has an attitude that I wish I could have when grappling with these times. She told us that instead of saying, “Oh what a disaster this is, and how sad I am to be missing out on XYZ,” we could be looking at this moment in time in a different light. She encouraged us to look at what a profound moment this is in our history and how amazing it is that we are all being brought together to help combat this virus hand in hand. We need to look at it and ask ourselves, “What are we learning from this?”
Her works helped me reflect on how this has cleared the skies, and how the animals have finally come out to play. We need to realize that everyone in the world is putting our energy towards this. She asked us, “What if we could be putting this (negative) energy towards something else?” We have the power. We have learned that we have the power. This virus is teaching us that we can unite and work towards something that is important. She told us that we could use this energy to create a, “new, different, and more equal world.”
I never looked at it this way and I absolutely loved her outlook. As strange as this may sound, she told us that she thought that we were fortunate to be experiencing a moment like this at our age. Alyse told us that positivity is contagious. Those words are so true because after this interview, I felt completely different. I felt happy and upbeat even though we spent a majority of our time talking about the virus.
I am grateful that we got to interview Alyse Nelson and I am going to try to carry the values that she taught us for a long time. I know that because of this interview, when I look back at this time, I will be able to see some of the light that came from this moment.
Today we got to interview Alyse Nelson. I was especially looking forward to this interview and my expectations were exceeded far more than I could have imagined. She spoke with such clarity and energy, and I could tell she really enjoyed thinking about and answering our questions. Each of her responses were packed with information, inspiration, and positivity.
When you are stuck on a zoom call it is easy to let your mind wander. Not once did my mind wander; she was so compelling to listen to that I only realized she had been speaking for 50 minutes when her screen froze for a little bit. She was a strong speaker and everything she said seemed well thought out and authentic. I wish that the interview had gone on longer and that I got the chance to get all my questions answered.
Alyse Nelson said so many inspiring things during the interview. In particular, her comments on the difference between empathy and sympathy really resonated with me. She framed these two things that I thought I understood and spoke about them in a way I had never thought of before. She said that sympathy is, “When you feel bad about something and it’s about your feelings and so you do something. It’s about getting rid of these sad feelings that you have and maybe doing something that you perceive to be as kind for someone else.” She went on to say that empathy is, “About putting yourself in that person’s shoes and reacting appropriately to what they are feeling, not about what you are feeling.” I loved how she spoke about these two concepts and how she talked about the power that comes from being empathetic.
While there were many more parts of the interview that I found to be inspirational, this moment made a big impact on me.
I was very nervous going into today’s interview with Alyse Nelson. Vital Voices, the organization that she heads, works, “To identify, invest in and bring visibility to extraordinary women around the world by unleashing their leadership potential to transform lives and accelerate peace and prosperity in their communities.” We had just finished an interview with Senator Joe Manchin, and we had to immediately “jump” over to our next interview. We also had to get up earlier than normal, so I was worried that I would be too burned out by the second interview to fully engage.
However, as soon as we started talking with her, it felt like I got a boost of energy. Alyse Nelson had a lot of energy, and I think this sort of transferred into us, and helped us get started. We talked with Ms. Nelson about the effect the current crisis has on her organization, and what kind of work she does with women, both during the current pandemic and in a normal global setting.
One of the most inspiring things Ms. Nelson talked about was related to the current pandemic. While I have tried to stay optimistic I am still disappointed I can’t hang out with friends except through zoom, and that I can’t participate in activities that I enjoyed doing before the pandemic. But Alyse Nelson had a different view on all this. She focused on how the entire world was “brought to its knees” by this virus, and how everyone is working hard together to put an end to all of this. The fact that she chose to see this pandemic as an opportunity for global unity, instead of as something that keeps us away from everything, is inspiring and unique, since I think that most people are not focusing on the positives. For me, it sparked a lot of hope for the future, that maybe this global unity can carry on even after the pandemic has ended, and that we can use this unity to work on other global issues, such as climate change or equality between genders. I will use what she said to be more positive during this time and I hope what she said allows others to do the same.
First of all, what a great interview with Alyse Nelson. Based on this interview I could tell she is a hard worker, dedicated to spending time on the things she believes matter. During our time together, she spoke her truth and enlightened the room with her positivity.
Positivity is something I believe is not easy to always achieve, especially during a crisis. It’s easy to get drawn into all the negatives and forget about what good could come out of all of this. I’m not one to dwell in negativity. I like to find things that are positive, especially when negativity seems to be everywhere right now.
Alyse Nelson said, “If we want to come back stronger from this we need to know what we are learning from this.” I’ve been hearing this often and I’m noticing that there isn’t enough solidarity in the world where we are uniting and helping other countries so they feel like we are in this together rather than separately fighting the same war. But, I’m also noticing a lot of support within communities helping others and I want to strive to put more of my energy into the ways I can help others during this pandemic.
Overall, I was inspired by this interview with Alyse Nelson. Her presence was so bright, she was truly a light in the room. She had so much energy and that made it easy to understand her and to be inspired by her words. There was a positive message in everything she said and I found that very hopeful, especially during a time when we are all in need of positivity!
Beyond Right and Wrong
Interview with Senator Joe Manchin
In response to a question on bi-partisanship, Senator Joe Manchin said, “Washington has become tribal.” Senator Manchin commented on how you’re forced to pick a side, red or blue, and that his only answer to that can be that he is red, white, and blue, an American citizen. It’s a hard job walking the line between Republican and Democrat and yet, for the Senator, it seems to be the only way to go about things. From what we’ve gotten to see in our short time with him, I’ve come to learn that he is not someone to be messed with. Senator Manchin has a strong set of beliefs and is steadfast in not letting others sway his decisions, even those from his own political party. He showed a great passion for helping and getting the best for the people of West Virginia. He often brought us back to his core reasoning for the way he votes on certain decisions, and the premise for that is if he cannot explain the importance or reasoning behind the policy or program to his constituency with conviction then he cannot support it.
Senator Manchin’s strength in his beliefs and his ability to ask for compromise and advice was something that greatly inspired me and caused me to question how I’ve been living my life. I may not be making the large life changing decisions that senators make on a regular basis, but I’d still like to go about my life with even half of the confidence in my decisions that Senator Joe Manchin displayed to us today.
Early this morning, half the students wary with drowsiness, the other half still in bed, we started to prepare for the day by going over questions, making sure we could pronounce certain words, and that our clothes were unwrinkled. Toward the end of this process, Senator Manchin showed up.
I found Senator Manchin to be a man with integrity, honor, and a spokesperson for his state. He was also a man who made jokes, told us stories, gave us helpful tips for the future, and answered our questions with a smile. Not knowing what to expect, I was thoroughly surprised by the positions of the senator.
Something I would say is very prominent within our nation is the belief that there is a definite right and the definite wrong answer to most issues. The nation is split in two, and there is no side that one can blame. We as humans are often closed off to opinions we deem as wrong. We have this pack mentality, where you are either with us or you are against us. Yet Senator Manchin is out there, not choosing a specific side, voting for what he believes is right. I found that truly honorable and inspiring.
Today we interviewed a Senator from West Virginia, Joe Manchin. My family has a personal connection to him, and that is how we got the interview with him this year. Right at the start of the interview, I got singled out to say hi to Senator Manchin. This allowed me to create a personal connection with him and I was able to ask the first question. I really liked interviewing Senator Manchin because of how bipartisan he is. I also liked how he defined bipartisanship. Senator Manchin spoke to us about how you need to vote for what you believe in, not for your party. He strongly believes that if you truly think the other party is correct, and their ideas are right, vote for them.
He is also a man that cares about his constituents. He shared a story with us about a time when he was at McDonald’s during his Governorship and he met a woman that worked there. She asked him, “Hey aren’t you the governor?” She then went on to tell him that she had missing teeth and could not afford to have them replaced. In response he said, “You know what, let’s get you some new teeth.” He proceeded to call up a friend that was a dentist and he sent her over to get her teeth fixed for free. I think this really shows how much Senator Manchin wants to promote the common good.
It is always a good idea to speak with people who have different opinions from you. That’s a good rule of life and downright necessary for you to grow as a person. But many people think that people with different opinions from you tend to be well, wrong. It was with these conflicting thoughts that I entered the interview with Senator Joe Manchin.
Senator Manchin is a Democrat with a voting record that throws that idea into conflict with reality. I knew that we would be disagreeing on policy before the interview started, and as we all know if I disagree with someone they must be wrong and illogical. So, you can imagine my shock when he wasn’t; every opinion he put before us, whether I agreed with it or not was grounded in sound logic.
In the interview, we touched on a lot of themes that have been recurring on the journey so far. He spoke about the importance of listening to a multitude of opinions just like Laura Liswood had said, but here he took it a step further. Senator Manchin pointed out something that has never occurred to me: other people with other opinions have those opinions for a reason and when you listen to that reason, what they think might make sense. The one thing he said that stood out the most to me was, “Talk to people not through people.” All sarcasm aside, the world needs more of this. Too often people get sucked up into their side of the argument and everything else falls by the wayside. When what you know becomes more important than the conversation, you are no longer talking to people, you are talking through them. He highlighted the importance of speaking openly and honestly, and more importantly listening and making sure that people know you are listening.
The other thing Senator Manchin exemplified in this interview was his humility. He spoke about the test of character that he uses, which is just brilliant. The test is simple. When introducing himself he will say something like, “My name is Joe Manchin.” Then if the other person responds with something like, “I am Senator blank”, he can see that this person puts their job as more important than themselves. They have no humility; they see themselves as a role before a human.
Overall, I was struck by the air with which he carried himself. To me he represents the ideal that, “It’s not a vote for the Democratic party or Republican party. It’s a vote for West Virginia.”
Our interview with Senator Joe Manchin is one that I have eagerly awaited. He is the only Senator we are interviewing this week and I was excited to hear everything he had to say. I was not disappointed. As he spoke it became clear how dedicated he is to his constituents and state. My admiration only grew as we learned that he doesn’t allow party affiliation to define his policy decisions. His respect for bipartisanship is inspiring. Personally, I find the slander that both parties throw towards each other to be one of the hardest things to witness. Senator Manchin’s commitment to people over party is a breath of fresh air from the current political polarization.
One of my favorite parts of the interview was when Senator Manchin shared how his grandmother influenced his values. As he explained it, she was an extremely compassionate woman who always looked out for others. He described a distinct memory of his childhood during Christmas when his grandmother received three coats from his cousins and him. She loved the coats but told them immediately that she would have to give two of them away as others could use them and she only needed one. Senator Manchin has been molded by the lessons he learned from grandmother: attend to the needs of others, err on the side of generosity, and do not use more than you need.
The influence of Senator Manchin’s family on his priorities was notable to me as I too have drawn a great deal of my values from my family, and in particular my grandfather. First a Republican and then a Democrat, my grandfather always voted in a non-partisan way for what he saw as best for his community and country. As a major figure in my life growing up, he taught me the importance of helping others and listening to others’ opinions even if I don’t agree. In regard to the current party divide in the U.S., Senator Manchin said, “We as a society can come together, we must come together.” As a result of my own values and motivational leaders such as Senator Manchin, I remain hopeful that our country can become less divisive and more open to the exchange of ideas.
Being Upstream of the Problem
Interview with Hardin Lang
Right now, the world is in crisis. It seems like every time I open the news, something else has gone wrong. At the moment, I am trying to educate myself as much as I can, be an informed citizen and be conscious of the world around me. Today, we spoke with Hardin Lang. Not only was he able to bring light to many situations that I did not have complete understanding of, but he also made me look at policy with a new perspective. Hardin Lang doesn’t want us, those in the biggest countries, to forget about the world’s most vulnerable. He says that it is not a question of if, it is a question of when. And when COVID-19 reaches Syria, Bangladesh, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Somalia, it will be what was seen in New York City on steroids. Simply shutting borders isn’t stopping the disease; we are at the stage where that will not stop epidemic. What is needed is a global response, the virus doesn’t know borders.
Beyond COVID-19, Hardin Lang’s life work and passion for it is unparalleled. I was struck by his ability to see the whole picture, or as he calls it, “being upstream of the problem.” There is an exhilaration that comes from fighting the problem head on, but sometimes real change must be made from the top down. And, it is not about being the savior, it is about changing the situation so that people have more choice. I hope that I can learn from his passion and mirror it in my life, seeing the bigger picture, seeing where I can truly make the most change.
On Wednesday, the 3rd day of our virtual trip, we had two interviews, one with Laura Liswood and the other with Hardin Lang. After a thought provoking interview/dialogue with Liswood, we had the interview with Lang. In that interview, we dove right into questions. Right off the bat his intellectual and thoughtful responses gave us a new perspective on issues we had heard addressed in other interviews. One point that particularly struck me was a story he told about interviewing soldiers in Guatemala who had destroyed a village filled with innocent people because their families were threatened if they did not. At the end of his story he asked the question, “What would I do if a gun was held to my head?” He made the point that we need to understand the circumstances before we cast judgement. This question reminded me of something Laura Liswood said about morality. She said, “You don’t know your morals until they’ve been tested.” You don’t know how you will react in a situation until you have really lived through that situation. I found this idea to be true. We can all say we will follow our moral compass, but when the time comes to truly test those moral ideas it takes a lot of courage to decide if they are truly worth sticking to.
Today the Junior and Senior class had the opportunity to interview Hardin Lang. He is currently the Vice President for Programs and Policy at Refugees International. He has also worked on many U.N. Peacekeeping and humanitarian field missions.
What struck me the most during our interview was the level of humility Hardin Lang had when speaking about the work he does and what it means to him to help those that need assistance. He said that often when we talk about helping countries or individuals who require it the most, there is a savior complex. Individuals and even governments feel the need to be the hero and often want everyone else to recognize their work. At one point towards the end of the interview, while talking about his work in assisting other countries, Hardin Lang said that those in similar positions to help should understand the “concept of accompaniment” when it comes to their role and responsibilities. “They should be there simply to guide and aid rather than rule and control,” he stated. Their job should be to help those who once needed assistance be able to operate without such assistance.
I very much appreciated what Hardin Lang had to say. I feel these sorts of ideas are often overlooked in the line of public and global service, but they are something we should start thinking about because this sort of perspective can help all of us.
I was left speechless at the end of our interview today with Hardin Lang, Vice President of Refugees International. He had so much worldly wisdom and knowledge to share with us that my brain could hardly keep up. I was awestruck by his years of accomplishments and experience. While answering our questions he continued to return to the idea of being humble. When talking about his role on humanitarian missions to other countries he said, “don’t see yourself as there to save other people, you’re there to accompany them.” Often, I think the United States views itself as sort of a “superhero”, swooping in to “save” the day. He said it was not our job to superimpose structure upon other countries, but it was our job to listen and assist. This struck me as important because I think we forget sometimes that we were born into a life of privilege by luck. The only difference between us and the refugees in Syria is that we happened to be born in the right place at the right time. I think this message is extremely humbling and important to remember. When we realize that all that differentiates us is nothing more than luck of the draw, perhaps we can finally get over the international barrier and create a more globally inclusive and supportive society.