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Why Be A Line When You Can Be A Circle

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Excerpts taken from Rachel Naomi Remen’s In the Service of Life found in Noetic Sciences Review Spring 1996.
 “I think I would go so far as to say that fixing and helping may often be the work of the ego, and service the work of the soul.”
This sentence captures Remen’s main point. I think it’s genius to address one of the major factors in service. Most especially, to give a name to this issue; within its nomenclature, the problem itself can be found. Helping. The word is thrown around a lot, both in and out of service-talk. Nevertheless, the word has the same meaning in both contexts.
“A server knows that he or she is being used and has a willingness to be used in the service of something greater, something essentially unknown.” 
This “major factor,” as I’ve put it, is dealing with cognizance; the server has to be aware of the consequences of his actions. The issue begins when someone is performing an action for someone else, and lacks an awareness for the essence of their action. Its quality, intent, and recipient are all factors of this essence. For example, if a waiter’s quality of work is sub par, he walks away with no tip at the end of the night. When Jimmy Rollins hits a foul ball and it hits someone in the stands, he had no intent of harming that fan. Finally, the passive individual -the recipient of the action- also has to be aware of the action. When you put a dollar bill into the soda machine, it has to recognize the paper before it processes the transaction.
“The wholeness in us serves the wholeness in others and the wholeness in life. The wholeness in you is the same as the wholeness in me. Service is a relationship between equals.
I would like to point out that Remen’s idea of solidarity is not linear or hierarchical. Not to put words in anyone’s mouth, but somewhere down the line, when I was developing an initial definition of solidarity, I must have heard the words “meeting the passive individual on their level.” In my mind, this would require a higher individual to lower him/herself to a lower level. And in Remen’s concept of service, this would be no different from helping. The ego would be lowered, not the soul.
“In fixing there is an inequality of expertise that can easily become a moral distance.
My simple solution is that Western thought of linear paths (e.g. Hell-Earth-Heaven stacked vertically) isn’t suited for solidarity. If one can take a flat circle ‘O’ and place it horizontally so that it’s flat, you get an even plane. The same thing would happen if you cut planet Earth like a guacamole; the insides of the two halves would be flat planes. It’s from this model that I think a more appropriate definition of solidarity would derive. Servers and those being served exist on this one plane. Equals. There would be no lowering to serve others; just crossing the circle-plane to reach them.
“When you serve, you see life as whole.”
In terms of my time at Mercy Neighborhood Ministries, one of the earlier realities I struggled with was that we were exempt from helping. Sure, from time to time, we helped open milk cartons for clients whose gnarled fingers couldn’t do the trick without spilling it, but there was no constant physical activity that would boost my ego (as Remen put it.) In this sense, I did feel some sort of internal reaction to the actual service I performed. After the crashing and burning of my ego that resulted from the deficit of help I was able to dish out, there was nothing to do but be refilled with Remen’s concept of wholeness.
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Written by Jack Viere

April 14, 2012 at 6:04 pm

There is something ethically vitalizing while riding trains

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You can’t help but see the underbelly of society; the infrastructure that one can sense, but no one wants to admit exists. Riding the SEPTA in Philadelphia over the Schuylkill River displays you the declining socio-economic classes that are compiled into what is called a city. Starting with middle class homes and their neighboring duplexes, the train passed more barbed wire fences and broken concrete as you enter Center City Philadelphia. Wrecked buildings are still inhabited since the city’s orange conviction notices did not label any doors. Garbage is that factor to gauge the destitution that communities face. You realize that garbage is an expense; you pay for garbage pickups and disposals-something that a college student wouldn’t realize offhand. While people cannot afford a new window to replace shattered glass or fix their deteriorating homes, how will they be able to properly dispose of their trash?

And then suddenly, as if the poverty witnessed was all a dream, the train magically arrives at a transportation hub. Filled with prominent business people that sit across from the untouchables, you begin to smell the pretzel shop at 30th Street Station. The sky is grey, allowing no sunshine to breach the windows as you walk widely around those that invade your path. Your smartphone of choice is your compass that your nose is pressed to in the hope that you don’t trip, fall, and land face first into the lap of one of the beggars.

God forbid you spill that Starbucks you sip as you walk down to the platform. Waiting impatiently, you pull your collar up closer while experiencing the smallest of glimpses of what the homeless must feel. You’re still inside; you’re only catching a slight breeze from the opening on the other side of the platform. And so you continue to sip that coffee as if it’s some barrier keeping you from being no different than the beggar that you avoided up stairs; he’s now sitting directly above you, still looking on with his bleak eyes. Your smartphone happens to be out again, acting as your status shield. It says, “Don’t worry everyone; I am financially sound and stable! I can’t afford to be here now though, I have to check Facebook statuses from the past and Like events in the future.” Is the present too expensive for the well-off? The poor man upstairs was rich enough…“But more importantly, I have that piece of plastic to suggest otherwise, don’t I?”

As you become situated in your own row that is designed for two but Mr. Suitcase fills that extra seat, you look up from your phone. Staring after college girl and her body before she turns; you think no one sees you as you try to mask your act as some sort of thinking posture; “Did I crunch those numbers correctly?”

Your dream turns into a nightmare as your Amtrak starts pulling out of the station. You leave the city’s prominent skyline-buildings and stumble into a rapid decline into the impoverished areas again. This time it’s worse. You see the outskirts of another city: Baltimore. Where did those hours go; the time in between Philly to here? It couldn’t have been the suckers only free Wi-Fi, could it?

 

The portion of Baltimore’s underbelly you’re witnessing is worse than Philadelphia’s. This time, you see white conviction notices that bar individuals from inhabiting eroding structures that you dare to call a home. More grey. More trash. Less people. As you’re about to look back down to some distraction in your lap, a magazine or a laptop-“What’s the difference these days when you can get your news online?”-something catches your eye. The train is slowing for the next station; why is there such an obnoxiously colored turf in one of the traffic medians? Its highlighter quality is in glaring contrast to its surrounding counterparts; broken benches, broken homes, a broken community.

That baby won’t stop crying any time soon will it? Luckily, I have those Bose headphones. One of the best purchases of my life! Or was it a gift from Tina? It doesn’t matter, I’m almost home. I can just see myself waking up from this mess.

Written by Jack Viere

December 16, 2011 at 6:46 pm

Lions, Attachment, Punching a Pooch

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I needed something to be my next blog post victim as I headed north on my Amtrak trip back to Philadelphia; some topic would become my prey. Something easy, agreeable-like when a lion catches an antelope; it’s right because it’s natural. Hmmm, I thought. What’s my blog’s antelope? What’s shooting fish in a barrel for me?

People. An easy target. Look at how pathetic we are capable of becoming. And I’m not pointing out any physical qualities that would suggest our devotion to brand-names, cosmetics, and semper-updatable-technology. No, if I was to go after that topic, that would be like kicking a kitten, punching a pooch, or stealing candy from a baby. I said antelope. That lion has to burn some energy in order to catch his next meal! So I hope what I have to say next doesn’t come off as a kicking a kitten tone.

Attachment. The word doesn’t really seem like a “buzzword” as it does in Eastern religions. I think we tend to see it as a negative harm (not always) when someone becomes too attached in a relationship; “attached at the hip.” Yet,  Buddhism likes to state that the Second Noble Truth (of reality) is the origin of suffering derives from attachment. So, as we  humans, we have so incredibly and profoundly discovered that what we don’t like, we don’t do. What tastes bad doesn’t end up in our mouths a second time. Genius. We evolve. In the instance of attachment equivocated with suffering, we would conclude that we sever all of our attachments to things, peoples, and emotions.

that doesn't taste good

It’s a pretty tall order, hence, so many Americans turn elsewhere for a more comfortable interpretation of reality. (Still, in Christian language, actions deemed as sinful fall into this larger category; the harmful effects of attachment. In this instance, Christianity uses the language of lust, envy, and greed to name a few.) “When greed is our motivation, no matter how much we have, it’s never enough…When generosity is our motivation, we can find satisfaction in the simplest of things.” (Noah Levine, Against the Stream, 97.)

Last night on the Amtrak, I witnessed a lot of needless attachment; individuals being overly possessive of seats, luggage space, and leg room. And I’m not describing the people who just kicked back and relaxed once on board. I was guilty of this too; throwing a bag on the seat next to me to avoid any confrontation with any passerby that even dared to sit next to me. In this scenario, as well as more instances than we would like to imagine, our relationship of attachment to comfort causes suffering. “We begin to understand that clinging, attachment, and aversion are the primary causes of the extra layer of suffering that we create for ourselves.” (Noah Levine, Against the Stream, 85.)

okay, so it wasn't this crowded...

This is where I think my example of shooting fish in a barrel is appropriate. We can clearly see that in blocking the seat, we are being greedy and self-satisfying. And while my focus in this little piece isn’t about to go into depth on what the harms of attachment are, we can deduce that greed and self-absorption have a negative effect on our relationships. By perverting our relationship of attachment for comfort to serve our own needs, we ignore or blot out the needs of others. In this example of the Amtrak, individuals just walked to the next car for the next open seat. No serious harm was done unto the other passengers; most-likely inconvenience at the most.

Yet, beginning with the small things, our relationship with attachment to emotions and desires could cause us to become acceptable of larger hurts produced by unhealthy relationships. Sexism, racism, and social injustice are just a few to name. We like to turn that blind eye that we often turn when we experience something that is morally wrong. What enables us to do so is our subtle but continuous establishment of a sickened relationship of attachment to others. It’s not obsequious to say that a small hurt will lead to a larger one if the smaller one is continuously exacerbated. Pick a healing scab, and you aggravate it to the point where it bleeds fresh blood.

So we are pathetic. Especially when we look around for the origins of the negative ISM’s (like the three mentioned above,) we point fingers and ask questions about slavery in the 19th century that distance us a great deal from the racial tensions that thrive today. There is no mystery where our problems come from; especially those that revolve around relationships.

 

Written by Jack Viere

November 28, 2011 at 3:48 pm

Strays, Abandoned Buildings, Garbage

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Sure signs of poverty. I find it frustrating, to say the least, when educated people have a tendency to stress the importance of poverty outside of our country over our destitute neighbors here in America. I must admit that before arriving in Philadelphia, my priorities for where resources such as time, talent, and money were to be spent had not been set. My hometown afforded me that luxury. Yet, here I am. I enter a wormhole on Route 1 that bisects our gated university and somehow find myself transported to another world as I head off to service. A heavily impoverished world, completely separate from the affluent culture of university living. The gates bordering the university are more than just physical boundaries; they exist as the wool pulled over many students eyes, (myself included) prohibiting them from experiencing (noticing) the poverty they actually live among.

I would make it a point that my frustration is not focused on students’ tendencies to choose the pathos-invoking, starving children somewhere halfway across the globe. I actually take great pride in my school’s incredibly proactive, socially aware community. Nor is my frustration to say that there exists no sense of urgency in third world countries that also suffer from poverty’s inflictions.

My frustration derives from a fuller context of our larger society: Americans turn a blind eye to its own poverty. And in doing so, they can sleep easy knowing that they pitied some foreign country that made it on to CNN for thirty seconds. Maybe it’s this sense of sympathy; maybe Americans have enough sense to innately feel that sympathy alone towards another American is un-American. Maybe we really can tell the difference between sympathy and empathy in that our sympathy shown to our neighbors really is ineffective. Sympathy doesn’t help anything. And we know it is because our neighbors will tell us it is so. People get fed up with the pity card. We therefore shift our pity to some distanced country that cannot communicate its frustration with our passive sympathy; we are distanced from the problem.

I had the chance to read Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail last night. And yes, the racial context of his writing may seemingly appear contrasted with my point about poverty. Yet, when you remove the racial tone from his thesis just for a moment, you get a similar frustration with America’s poverty. “…the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society…” (As a side note, I would argue that the racial tone should not be removed because every time I go to service in north Philadelphia, my service partner, a traffic guard, and myself are the only Caucasians to be seen.) Nevertheless, King goes on to depict his disappointment for the white moderate:

“who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says, ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action;’ who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advices the Negro [impoverished] to wait for a ‘more convenient season.’”

Could his words be anymore perennial? I would argue that if you cannot see the truth of his words in today’s context, you should take a walk around the “shady side” of your town on a beautiful day. I have had this opportunity for the second time while at service. The hairs on the back of my neck instinctively stood up as I walked passed peoples’ homes with shattered windows and deteriorating wood work. I had Kim, an employee at Mercy Neighborhood Ministries and local/native of the area, point out her grandmother, who I received a beautiful blessing from impromptu, as well as her cousins and friends. We pushed wheelchairs around the detours on the split sidewalks. It was impossible to go 25 yards without hitting some break in the pavement that made it impossible to transverse in a wheelchair.

Cats were in a great host in various abandoned residences. Not the average feline either; more of the stray breed. I saw a pit-bull at one point. No collar and no owner to be found. Garbage piled alongside the curbs, windswept to their permanent homes. As our little caravan ambled through the “sketchy” section of town, I couldn’t help but notice that money was not the only factor that was keeping the community from improving their immediate area. Garbage just simply needs to be picked up and thrown in a bag. And, even if the streets were lined with garbage bags until the garbage truck came by, it would sure cut the similarities between America’s streets and third world countries’. The latter seems to be what people seem are more sympathetic towards anyways…

But back to the point: why don’t people just pick up their garbage? I think the apparent answer is their desolation; their reaction to being overly sympathized by fellow Americans-the ones who still sympathize over Americans instead of distant peoples in foreign lands. They’re tired of being left to fend for themselves. They’re tired of being thrown the most pathetic bone ever: sympathy. The solution: start becoming empathetic and proactive by curing the blind-eye people turn when words like homeless, hungry, and Americans are strung together. Helping our immediate surroundings is an immediate cause-effect scenario. There’s no middleman, no tariffs on shipping foreign aid, and there’s no lack of proximity between the affluent and the destitute. Both of them are right around the corner!

Written by Jack Viere

November 11, 2011 at 9:37 pm

What Scares Me, Uganda and Africa

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*Photograph taken by Bryan Juliano            
   There’sjust something about Africa that scares me. I’ve been fortunate enough toliterally go to the other side of the world in Okinawa, Japan. Let me tell youthat when we were not in Tokyo, the world was foreign to say the least. OurWestern culture shares its similarities and differences with the Far East and Ienjoyed my visit with family stationed there; I had the chance to see a little morethan the average tourist! That was a trip in my past. One that I have in myfuture is to serve in some impoverished, third-world country in South America.I am drawn to my Catholic brothers and sisters that predominantly populate someof the nations below the equator.
Geoffrey Ochem*
               Butthere remains this strong fear and maybe some awe for Africa. Whatever limitedknowledge I can conjure up to rattle off for a class derived from an earlier class that brieflytouched on Africa. Media has its scopes on Egypt and Libya, Yemen at times, andwhatever interactions northern countries have with Europe. But I feel like inthe instances of Egypt and Libya, their appearances in our limited newscoverage only revolve around the “revolution of the Middle East” and its spreadto the northern countries of Africa. (Even though Libya’s violence stems from adifferent root-bear with me!) Yemen; I heard about it in an Outside article which christened it themost dangerous tourist destination for Americans. And since my interest with Europeancurrent events is spread thin from Greece to France with economic hardships, Ioccasionally hear about immigration problems from North Africa.
               I also wouldlike to add that my fear of Africa probably derives from yes, my ignoranceabove, as well as my European history classes and reading The Ear, the Eye, and the Armby Nancy Farmer. If I can sum up European imperialism in the 19thand 20th centuries: they done screwed the African nations over big time.Maybe I feel some sort of regret? Not that I had any direct affiliation 150years ago, but I suppose that is a factor. It could also be the disservice ofcertain history courses that revolved around Europe, the Americas, and Asia.(So that would be my fault; I chose the classes.) I read The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm in middle school. In essence, theplot revolved around a futuristic Zimbabwe. Within this Brave New World setting existed a tribe. And now that I havementioned Brave New World, the samesort of abstraction-from-society theme lies in Huxley’s pages as well (andprobably predates Farmer.) Yet, The Ear,the Eye, and the Arm painted a picture in my late childhood. There was aheavy contrast between polar opposites in the financial spectrum. And now, anymedia coverage on Africa fits this preceding mental image of Africa I have hadever since I was thirteen.
               I stillhave this fear; maybe even more so after attending Front Line’s Invisible Children presentation. Afterthe last seminar I attended on child violence inPhiladelphia, it has begun to grind my gears. Though I have not taken someheroic proactive stance on the issue, I was drawn to tonight’s topic, nowshifted to scary Africa. As I mentioned above, through the eyes of slantedmedia (in addition to my lacking motivation to look for a fuller variety ofsources,) I have recently seen Africa in struggle and turmoil. By attendingtonight, I felt like I was witnessing a car crash; I just could not look away.Yes, I was toying with my fear and facing it by showing up to a proactivemeeting. But I also thought it was an opportunity to let a darker human form offascination. Why would I be drawn to this horrendous reality of children enslavedto murder under warlords? And to clarify, when I say drawn, I mean like a mothto the light-not to be confused with some sort of sadistic-masochist attraction.
               Let metry to explain myself. Once I heard in Tony,a documentary on an individual’s life in northern Uganda, the term night commuters, I felt the hair on theback of my neck stand up. Because of the apparent civil war in Uganda betweenthe Lord’s Resistance Army and Ugandan government that has been waged for thepast two decades, children that are caught in the crossfire of inhumaneviolence (yes, there is a difference between humane and inhumane violence-Ifound that out tonight,) go into cities or larger populations to sleep. They gofrom their homes to avoid violence and enslavement every night.
               As any21st century documentary might have, Tony depicted the truest of colors its namesake’s home. I can onlysay thank you to Front Line for not drawing out the horror inflicted by JosephConvey’s LRA. What little coverage they used was enough. For me it was. But itobviously was not for Invisible Children.The documentary-style of Tony allowedfor one of its producers and founders of InvisibleChildren, Laren Poole, to speak directly to the audience. In this address,he said something along the lines of: “Now you’ll hear from someone Uganda…” Idid not actually think he meant it.
               GeoffreyOchem is twenty-four. His village was raided by the LRA when he was sixteen. Hewas pressed into service when he and two of his friends, Simon and Peter,witnessed the murder of a child soldier who was used as an example. Two monthslater, Geoffrey escaped from being rope-bound to ten other captive-soldiers ina firefight with Ugandan government forces. Tonight, six years later, he stilldoes not know where Simon and Peter are. By the way, Geoffrey’s personality wasshy in certain ways as well as firm. His English was choppy at times, but whenhe knew what he wanted to say, his point came across clearly; Uganda, his home,is ravished by irrepressible sectarian violence. What hit me hard was that hewas seemingly more nervous about being in front of college students thanemotional over his recollection of his past. His sincere laughs ended hisanswers to our questions adding a bit of light-heartedness to the grim realityput before us. That was most notable in my book; how he stood there, completelyopening his heart to retell a few atrocities.
               So,where’s the hope? Does this mean my fear of Africa is justified or increased? I’dsay so. But wait, that was InvisibleChildren’s goal, wasn’t it? Maybe not to induce fear, but somewhere near it.Geoffrey finished courses at his university and is graduating with a B.A. inteaching. He plans on teaching secondary history and economics. For one, hisstory is the epitome of InvisibleChildren’s objective: promote education. Another underlying themethroughout Tony that was reiteratedindirectly by Geoffrey’s own words is the harm American arrogance can cause. InTony, Jolly Okot, the initial Ugandancontact for the Laren Poole and founders, stressed the incrimination caused byfree stuff from America. Geoffrey, when asked by the audience what his initialimpression of the States was, answered, “I did not plan on coming to the U.S.”
 What I took away from both points was Americanresources and America itself is not this readily-made solution that is capableof being specifically cut for Uganda’s violence. Even when a bill proposed by Invisible Children’s Laren Poole reachedand passed in Congress last year to capture/stop Joseph Convey, the fact thathis violence is spreading past Uganda points to the limitation to America’sreadiness to throw Uganda a bone after bureaucracy had its say.
As a final point of reflection, Ithink my fear increased. The reality of the violence in Uganda was brought tomy doorstep. A member of InvisibleChildren, Nate, was murdered in the terrorist attack in Kampala during lastyear’s World Cup. Some proactive groups have videos that play off emotions togain financial and vocal support. But I have never come away from apresentation more fearful than I had initially walked in with; thanks Invisible Children.

*Photograph taken by Bryan Juliano

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Written by Jack Viere

October 13, 2011 at 7:02 pm

Posted in dukkha

Collective Efficacy: An Abstraction or a Real World Application?

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           I hold a soft grudge against Ivy-League graduates; maybe notso much a grudge, but more of an incredibly high expectation. One of my goodhigh school friends had the opportunity to attend a school at the level ofabove and beyond that many people so highly esteem. And, knowing how diligentof a student he was, I think that my high standard for Ivy grads is somewhat suitable.That being said, I find that some forms of higher education, me not to beexcluded, can involuntarily distance a college student from the “real world.”Somehow, in my instance, my food just happens to be magically paid for when infact there are quite a few sacrifices being made. My parent’s financial andmoral support, the kitchen staff that seemingly lives in the back of thecafeteria, the university for overseeing that our tuition goes to the rightplaces so we can we eat better. I say all of this because I, as a universitystudent, like to immerse myself in what the “real world” dubs as the real world. What I mean by that isattending something along the lines of a seminar on youth violence inPhiladelphia. I find that being informed on my surrounding community keeps mein touch with reality, which includes my thankfulness for being able to attendcollege. So to connect my points: acknowledging sacrifices, seeing theopportunity to hear about the “real world” from the real world, I feel like it’s my role to hear what people have tosay. And then form my own opinion on it, of course.
               Dr. Felton Earls sees himself as a witness. He says he wants to become an ally, apotential partner with Philadelphia. His soft spoken demeanor suggested he retainsexperience in his field; he has been to Tanzania. He possesses credible data fromhis studies and has many awards tagged to his name. He has even created a new term called collective efficacy.
               While inChicago, Dr. Earls measured the disorganization of 343 neighborhoods in thecity limits. Collective efficacy was a scale that he established that used auniversal rating system to determine how safe neighborhoods really were. Hisdiscoveries from investigating neighborhood responses to illegal activity brokesocial norms; Hispanic and middle class black neighborhoods apparently rankedvery high on his scale. He also drew an interesting, yet not incrediblyprofound, correlation between death rates and low birth weight. I think it was unbelievablethat collective efficacy was such an efficient means to measure this statistic;kudos to Dr. Earl. But I was at a loss when I started to think, “How could whatwe would already have been inferred withoutcollective efficacy, now presented to us in data, be any more useful andapplicable to the unsolved issue?”
               Between1995 and 1999, Dr. Earls worked in Tanzania during a severe outbreak ofHIV/AIDS. While working among two and three thousand population pockets, Dr.Earl found that 10-14 year old age groups worked the most effectively inconveying how to prevent the spread of HIV, educate the community on thebiology of the disease, as well as become what he keyed “active citizens.” (Here’swhere I got somewhat hung up on his titles and awards.) In essence, yes, as theopening speaker at this seminar, his story gave evidence to what the audience,panel, and community wanted to hear: children are capable of being more thanviolent, uneducated beings.
But what I personally foundmisleading was the veiled hope that a biased data collection from a rare pocketof two to three thousand population groups in Tanzania (of all places) wassomehow grounds to promote the idea that collective efficacy was to be appliedto American cities. Still, I did not see the connection between the datacollected in Chicago or Tanzania to the positive results that Dr. Earlsheepishly denied had any relationship to his “work.” In the instance ofChicago, shortly after the data from his collective efficacy came in, thehomicide rate dropped. I do not know if I did not catch the relationshipbetween the data and the aftereffects, but I personally do not recall in hisretelling how the raw data brought about change. Similarly in the Tanzaniaexample, even when he explained that he was educating the masses, I could notfigure out how whatever data he drew from the limited population groups linkedto his effectively educating teenagers. I think that the data enabled for himto see where more education on diseases was needed. Certainly. But could hehave not looked at the HIV/AIDS count and have said the same thing?
I thought the panel to follow hisopening remarks would fill the missing link between the raw data and theresulting application of that knowledge. What I listened to instead was thehardships reality imposes on theoretical concepts. The panel included manyprominent figures, much to my Virginian-boy surprise. It was the first time Ihad ever been to a seminar where the Deputy Philadelphia Police Commissioner, ActingSuperintendent of the School District of Philadelphia, Deputy Mayor ofPhiladelphia-and others-sat together and spoke plainly and pragmatically aboutthe issue at hand.
What followed inevitably cut anddried the lofty concept of collective efficacy. While each member of the panelagreed with the idea of collecting data, it seemed pointless to use time andresources to establish what they had already known. Youths are in danger.Youths are the future. Youths need to be protected in order to secure a betterfuture. Data was not needed in order to convince any member on the panel to actnow. They already were. And in the instance of the Police Department ofPhiladelphia where community policing has begun, collective efficacy was too late,or rather, it was already applied.
I spoke with a woman I work underthat also attended the seminar the next day. When Ms. Jill asked what my impressionwas, I said it was coordinated and informative. Especially since my hometownexperiences violence on a much smaller scale, the seminar brought me up tospeed on Philadelphia’s current events and issues. Nevertheless, I told myemployer that at the end of the session, something did not sit right inside me.While there was a positive flow of energy, there were no calls to action or anycommitment or proposal put forward to initiate action against youth violence. Ms.Jill informed me that while we were in the lecture, four kids were shot and twolater died from their wounds.
At that point, my optimisticsentiment took a turn for the worse. I feel like my cynical point of viewexpressed in this review of the seminar was created as a result of thatstartling reality. While it was important to acknowledge accomplishments andhear new ideas, the luxury of stopping to study and analyze is just too slowand impractical in this instance. 

Written by Jack Viere

October 4, 2011 at 8:14 pm

Posted in dukkha, ethics, Philadelphia

Seeing the Underbelly of Philadelphia

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My nerves were shot Tuesday morning. I have been spoiled this far in my first year at college: waking up incredibly early at 8:40 for my nine o’clock class. Rising for a reason non-Jack-schedule oriented was something new; Tuesday morning also marked the start of my complete first month spent away from home in my environment. Monumental, Tuesday was the gateway from my newly nested home to the bare, gray world of North Philadelphia.
                Service Learning was one of my highest reasons for coming to Saint Joseph’s University. In order to continue a path of service for (and now with-as the Jesuits have put it) others, I have been anxious to begin. Having the luxury of choosing where in Philly I would go, there has been nothing but bright lights, the beautiful downtown area, and cheery SEPTA workers. Home back in Virginia was nothing like this except for the shared sense of nonchalance that came with my absent-minded consumerism on the weekends. I have to admit that the cool weather this past weekend set a pretty scene among the gridlock, but a cold front must have moved in as Tuesday saw nothing but rain.
                I drove to Mercy Neighborhood Ministries. Consequently, my perspective of my new home and its surroundings drastically changed. In a car there is safety, comfort, and protection from our external world. All of these qualities could be seen in a positive light, but having not driven for a month, I had become quite comfortable walking to classes, to SEPTA, to eat, to survive. Now, the car gave me status, a leg up on any of my neighbors in the community that had to still walk. I subconsciously judged in the slightest of ways as our 35 mile per hour speed allowed for us to zoom by anyone else I would have had to look in the eye, say hello, or walk awkwardly by without even a nod. Cut off from my surroundings as I drove to engage with the community, I had a sinking feeling in my stomach.


                My father pointed in the paper to the new curfew that was set six weeks ago in Philadelphia within our sun-filled family room. I knew that community service would enable me to go at the beast head on when I reached Philadelphia; single-handedly solve all the city’s issues through Jesuit tradition! But this past Tuesday sang a different tune; one of bleakness and a never ending depth. It must have been the clouds as we drove over the Delaware River, which in my mind, had been the line drawn between my home and the great unknown.
                My two service partners, Graziella and Earl, sat in our gold Ford Focus as we snaked through elevated cemeteries. Eerie. I felt twice as far away from home, wherever that was now, as we passed garbage-strewn streets. Litter, shady sections of cities, and the hair standing on the back of my neck have all been past experiences. It irked me, nonetheless, when the realization hit me that I would be serving here.
                I have done PACEM meals, I have worked with kids with chronic illnesses, and I have volunteered for the Special Olympics. None of the above had placed me into the direct area where my new community partners lived. Frustrated when the MapQuest directions ended with us a block away from our actual destination (without me knowing our proximity,) I panicked. Ask Graziella or Earl. I did not want to park and walk aimlessly in the hope of finding our endpoint.
                Once inside, we had a second set of doors to go through. But there was a doorbell that rang at the front desk. Again, this was a small difference from something I am familiar with back home. As to the people inside, they had nothing but smiles. Strong smiles. There was no falsehood in their words, especially Ms. Barbara, who toured us around. Leaving, I could not decide whether the five and six year olds’ smiles out did the elderly’s, or vice versa, but both rekindled my passion to get involved.


                But our thirty-six minute meet and greet had us back in the Focus sooner than we expected as I timed every little detail for our trip next Tuesday. I took note of where the young children would walk to school after coming to Mercy Neighborhood in the morning. I saw several people out and about. I wished that the immediate area had somehow cheered up as the sun came out, but I realized that dedication and diligence was more needed than wishful thinking.

                I had the luxury of sitting co-pilot on the return trip. We passed many abandoned buildings. It seemed as if every other shop was boarded up. I recognized the SEPTA emblem at a bus stop. There is a connection between the community across the river and us university students, and it is more than the transportation system.

Written by Jack Viere

September 24, 2011 at 5:36 pm