Believing in the Work

I think that every intern hopes that they will be provided the opportunity to contribute their work to something worthwhile, something that they really believe in and hope to one day pursue as a career.

I know that in my case I have wanted to work toward a more peaceful global community for a long time.  Ever since the first time I learned that there was worldwide inequality, and that people suffered at the hands of their global neighbors and community members I have been interested in finding a solution.  Upon my entry into the study of foreign affairs, I didn’t know that governments do not always act in the best interest of their people, I didn’t know the depths of cruelty some people are capable of, or how the suffering of repeated injustice can inspire such violence in response.  I didn’t know that terror was a weapon, that some people have no government, no police, and no army to protect them, or that there were even so many conflicting viewpoints in existence in the world.

I remember the first time I saw the illuminating film, “Life and Debt,” and the first time I cried watching a heart-wrenching depiction of genocide in, “Hotel Rwanda.”  I had just begun to read documented accounts of these devastating economic disparities and horrific ethnic conflicts during my course work at school.  I began to be disillusioned by the state system, and decided that no government was worth working with if politics would always make a government act in its own best interest.  I wanted to be a world vigilante, leader of an active NGO that found a way to save the world by working outside of the system.

Later in my studies I realized that conflicts and economic structures are complex, and that there is never simply a bad and a good guy.  Countries who perpetuate economic structures that leave some countries worse off are doing what they think is best for their constituencies at home.  Countries who go to war also give aid and try to assist their neighbors.  Governments who beg for aid also have corrupt leaders who steal the aid money from their people.  A paramilitary group who rises up violently against their country often has been systematically discriminated against and made to suffer for decades.

When I began to study the law I realized that working outside of the law is the best way to ensure that you will forever be excluded from its protection.  I became interested in working within systems to change them for the better.  At the same time I started to study cultural bias and ethnocentricity, and realized that there may not be one system that works best for everyone.

When I study Indonesia at work today and read their news articles and policy reports, I am struck by the willingness of the state to find a solution to insurgency groups and terrorist acts that the people will accept.  The government is making an effort to help the police force to form a bond of trust with the community, and they have tried to put less responsibility on military organizations the people distrust.  I am also struck by the urgency of the separatist movements and the extremist ideologies, who each look at their system and find it wanting and would do anything to see a change.  It is a world of tensions– between the police and the military, the extremists and the moderates, the government and its constituency, memories of the past and desires to move forward.

Indonesia is not unique.  Every state, every conflict, every system is full of people who are looking through different eyes.  It is only by recognizing and finding respect for our differences and capitalizing on our similarities and common interests that we may come to understand the full picture of a conflict and work together within a system to change it.

Today I am grateful for the opportunity to work with people who are interested in studying those nuances, understanding each perception, and trying to find a way to reach out a respectful supporting hand.

(The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the United States Institute of Peace, which does not advocate specific policy positions.)