The state of the world came sharply into focus after the birth of my first child. I saw it all–good, bad, and ugly–not just as my own habitat, but as the place where I would hand off my son and his generation. This realization lit a fire of motivation in me to do everything possible to ensure that I leave this planet better than I found it.
That’s a tall order to be sure, but I believe that small things eventually add up to big things. I believe that change can, does, and will happen with directed energy and focus. I also believe that mothers are uniquely positioned to effect and create opportunities for change.
Years ago, on my first Mother’s Day as a mother, I was delighted to discover the origins of the holiday are more substantial than the greeting card industry would have us believe. Julia Ward Howe issued this Mother’s Day proclamation back in 1870:
Arise, then, women of this day!
Arise all women who have hearts,
Whether your baptism be that of water or of tears
“We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies,
Our husbands shall not come to us reeking of carnage,
For caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of
charity, mercy and patience.
We women of one country
Will be too tender of those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.”
From the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with
Our own. It says, “Disarm, Disarm!”
The sword of murder is not the balance of justice!
Blood does not wipe out dishonor
Nor violence indicate possession.
As men have of ten forsaken the plow and the anvil at the summons of war.
Let women now leave all that may be left of home
For a great and earnest day of counsel.
Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.
Let them then solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means
Whereby the great human family can live in peace,
Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar,
But of God.
In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask
That a general congress of women without limit of nationality
May be appointed and held at some place deemed most convenient
And at the earliest period consistent with its objects
To promote the alliance of the different nationalities,
The amicable settlement of international questions.
The great and general interests of peace.
Her proclamation is just as relevant today as it was 145 years ago. We, as mothers, weep with the mothers all over the world who are losing their children to war, poverty, police brutality, and other injustices.
Sitting with all of this anguish, with the pain of these broken-hearted mothers in our hearts, a dear friend and I decided to start a new Mother’s Day tradition in our community. We’ve invited all of the mothers in our area to join together for 30 minutes on Mother’s Day morning–before the brunches, before the (precious and beloved) handmade cards, before the massages–in an inter-spiritual and inter-generational gathering of solidarity with mothers everywhere and to meditate and pray for peace.
We will meet in the park, we will read the original Mother’s Day Proclamation, we will meditate and pray together, and we will commit to doing everything within our power to create a more just and peaceful world.
When I decided that this gathering was something I needed to create, I reached out to Mirabai Starr, who is a mother, author, and poet. I asked her if she would write something for us to read together before we parted ways on Mother’s Day. She directed me to something she’d already written:
“Mother of Mercy, the cries of the world keep me awake at night. I rise from my bed, but I cannot locate the source of the wailing. It is everywhere, Mother coming from all directions, and my heart is shattered by the sheer intensity of suffering.
You of boundless compassion, expand my heart so that I can contain the pain. Focus my mind so that I can arrive at viable solutions, and energize my body so that I can engage in effective action. Give me the courage to follow the crumbs of heartbreak all the way home to the place where I can be of real service. Let me dip my fingers into the dew of your compassion and scatter it now over the fevered brow of this world.”
It is my fervent hope that by gathering together, by joining forces and intentions, we can “arrive at viable solutions,” energized in body, mind, and spirit to courageously go forth as agents of Peace and Justice, not only for our own children, but for the children of mothers the world over.
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Ms. V.
Image Credit: Google Images
Photo Credit : Mafuyou/Flicker Creative Commons
Last week over 650,000 South Korean students took their college entrance exams. To give you an idea of how important this day is to Korean families, consider the following: banks and government offices open late, air traffic is rerouted, extra metro trains and buses are added to the schedule, and police officers are deployed to ensure that students arrive on time for the exam. In addition to this many of the parents of these students spend the 100 days leading up to the exam fervently praying at temple, performing 3,000 bows for good luck.
What is perhaps most striking about this yearly ritual, as an outsider looking in, is how everyone in the country sees it as their duty to ensure that these students make it on time and do well on their exams. The amount of pressure to succeed academically is unlike anything I’ve ever witnessed.
South Korea does indeed lead the world in measurable academic success. They have one of the highest rates of literacy in the world, in addition to scoring very high on international standardized tests, especially when compared to Western nations. Unfortunately, South Korea also leads in the world in another unfortunate and surprisingly related area: suicide.
As of 2011, suicide is the leading cause of death among South Koreans under the age of 40. In the age group from 15-24, worry over academic performance is cited as the reason. Every year after the exams there are reports of these “Exam Suicides”.
Suicide affects every culture, not just this one, but it is deeply troubling to observe just how widespread it is here, not only among young people, but within the general population as well. Long seen as a private and personal issue, the government has finally taken steps in recent years to stem the tide. There are call centers and prevention groups receiving government funding, as well as dedicated employees who search the internet and social media for suicide-related posts. Within the last few months a specific type of pesticide was banned, as it had been commonly used in suicides.
Preventing access to means and providing support will be effective up to a point, but perhaps a closer look must be taken at the cultural obsession with academic success. I was thinking of all those kids taking the test last week, wondering how it must feel to know that the entire country is invested in how you do on this test. Such immense pressure! I can’t even imagine.
As I have mentioned in previous posts, South Korea is at a very interesting point culturally. It has rapidly modernized and continues to do so while still having deep roots to the Confucian principles that have guided society for generations.
It is the intersection of new economic realities and globalization with older traditions of filial piety and family honor that seem to be most challenging to navigate.
As long as suicide is seen as an honorable exit because of failure to live up to expectations or, in the case of older people, to unburden the family from the need to provide for aging relatives, the numbers will at the very least remain somewhat steady. As the culture changes, so too will the rates of suicide, I suspect.
But how many people’s children will die in the meantime?
The results of the exams will be announced on November 27th. Until then, we all wait, hope, and pray.
This is an original post written for World Moms Blog by S. Korean Contributor Ms. V.
Do you think it is possible to have such academic success without all the pressure?
Photo by Ms. V
The third week of August here in Seoul brought some extreme heat, some sun after weeks of monsoon rain, and the first ever United Nations Commission of Inquiry into human rights abuses by North Korea.
The hearings were held at a local university and while the accounts were harrowing – beatings, killings, starvation – they were nothing we haven’t heard before. For some, the fact that the UN was officially holding these hearings was a hopeful sign that the international community is poised to act on behalf of the millions of North Koreans living under that repressive regime. For others, these hearings carry little, if any, weight at all. After all, what will more talking about abuses that have been going on for three generations of the Kim family rule do to stop them?
What I found most surprising about the hearings was the almost complete lack of interest in them here in Seoul. They were very sparsely attended, journalists being the bulk of those in attendance. As an outsider, it is very challenging to understand the complicated relationship that Koreans from the south have with Koreans from the north.
In the period immediately after the war, and for a few decades after, defectors were hailed as heroes and national treasures and were taken care of by the South Korean state. Somewhere along the road, though, attitudes began to shift. As more and more defectors made their way to South Korea, the government changed its policies for handling these North Koreans and South Korean citizens began to see them, not as heroes, but at best a nuisance and at worst a problem.
One must understand the vast differences that exist between these two countries occupying the same peninsula. North Korean defectors are shorter, less healthy, and far less educated, if at all.
Their language and speech patterns are different and they struggle to assimilate into the very fast-paced and highly technology-dependent life in the South. It is not uncommon for South Koreans to believe that North Koreans are lazy drunks and to feel embarrassed by their very existence.
The framework of Confucianism almost always provides some clarity to the cultural nuances that I don’t understand. In this case, the Confucian preoccupation with the “right way” creates an environment where differences, rather than being celebrated, are focused on and seen as inherently bad. There does not appear to be any room in the South Korean culture for an appreciation of the difference in language or mannerisms of the North Korean escapees.
Source: Wikimedia Commons
This focus on uniformity and a belief that there is one right way to do everything is apparent throughout Korean culture, and while I have observed it many times and in various situations, its application to the situation with the North Korean defectors is hard for me to wrap my brain around.
As an outsider and a guest in this country – which I must say has been mostly warm and welcoming to me and my family and a very comfortable place for us to live – my perspective is admittedly limited. Bur from where I stand, I see the heartbreaking reality that those who are courageous enough to do what is necessary to flee North Korea and make it to the south have a largely uphill battle.
South Koreans cannot undo what has been done to those in the north. They cannot erase the trauma or the long-term effects of malnutrition and suppression. What they can do is put an end to the discrimination.
Differences are often threatening at first glance, especially when they are a result of something as terrible as war. Yet, all differences are opportunities for enrichment and growth. It is a shame that the current generation of Koreans is paying for the choices of previous generations and the problem of managing the current flow of defectors, not to mention what would happen were the two Koreas to unite, is beyond overwhelming.
This we know – the North Korean regime is guilty of human rights abuses. The North Koreans who make it to the south have suffered enough and defecting is only the beginning of their very hard road in life. Hopefully the South Korean government and people can create policies that help and cultivate attitudes that heal.
This is an original post to World Moms Blog written by our South Korean contributor Ms. V.
Did you follow the news of the hearings this past week?
For more information about the challenges faced by North Korean defectors, you may want to read this report compiled by CrisisGroup.org
As the world watches and wonders what, if anything, is going to transpire as a result of North Korea’s recent threats against South Korea and the US, we sit here in Seoul going about life as usual. Indeed if it weren’t for the international news coverage, I could have easily remained blissfully unaware of what our neighbor to the north has been up to these past few weeks.
Perhaps because they are used to it, or perhaps because stopping everything is simply not an option, South Koreans continue on with life. I suspect it’s a combination of the two. If there is a great deal of fear about the threats, it is not apparent. There seems to be more of a sense of annoyance that we have to play out this charade once again. It is incredibly frustrating that North Korea can set a whole region of the world on edge with these oft-repeated promises of obliteration. (more…)
Royal Tomb Yeonsangun, 10th King of the Joseon Dynasty
Italian journalist and writer Italo Calvino said, “The more enlightened our houses are, the more their walls ooze ghosts.”
I love this quote for many reasons, and it carries new weight for me being here in Korea where one’s ancestors are a prominent part of life. They are honored at various times throughout the year and the story or history of a family is one that carries much weight. For better or worse, the past is always present and ghosts abound. Turns out, it may indeed be for the better.
There was a recent article in the New York Times, The Stories That Bind Us. It’s a fascinating read about recent research that suggests that there is a direct correlation between a child’s resilience, self-esteem, and sense of control and how much they know about their family’s story. The article says:
“The single most important thing you can do for your family may be the simplest of all: develop a strong family narrative.” (more…)
We are in the midst of the Christian Lenten season. About 20% of Koreans are either Catholic or Protestant, so even in this predominantly Buddhist country, I am seeing signs of the Christian faithful observing the 40 days leading up to Easter.
The observation of Lent was not in my faith tradition growing up, and I do not identify as Christian. That said, I decided this year, for the very first time, to observe Lent in my own way.
I love the idea of setting aside a specific amount of time to step back, take stock, and reflect. As I began my research into the origins and practices of Lent I kept coming across something I’d never known; this idea that Lent is a form of justice to God, self, and others and that it is a time to call things what they are.
Calling things what they are. (more…)