Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The power of empathy in street/life

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I find myself perplexed by the intertwined walkways of streetwork and everyday life...
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"He gave it to me...he did it to me...he took it from me...I understand how you feel," he said, "...in the pit of your stomach when those memories surface"..."When they are so vivid that you can't think straight...that words do not form correctly...that sentences are difficult to put together coherently...that everything around you is a blur...a snapshot in time...muffled voices...blank faces"..."I understand what it feels like to want to escape...to the point of standing on a ledge without even realizing you were that close to falling until you are back safely inside"...

Next time you may not be so lucky - there may not be people around to reach out and catch you...

The strength of those around me sometimes overpowers me and smacks me in the face with self reflection - I often fight moments of paralysis and/or catharsis spurred by the pain that comes knocking at my door or at times lies by my side...

Sometimes those who are closest to us get close for a reason...a feeling...a moment of solidarity....of empathy...understanding...shared experience...sometimes we don't even realize until it is staring us in the face...and then it all makes sense...

I have found this to be true as much in street outreach as in my everyday life in Bogotá - although the two are difficult to separate...I have found that the people who surround me now (at home and in the streets) have similar strengths, sensitivities, and wounds albeit unrecognizable at the surface level...

 I am therefore trying to keep my ethnographic eye/'I' that much more alert to the feelings of those around me...to the reaction or suspicions I may have when I sense the lump in someone else's throat (almost as if it were my own)...

These days I find myself thinking more as a street girl than as the person who arrived to conduct doctoral research in Bogotá 15 months ago...

I see this as part of the process of adapting one's positionality to enter ethically into the research context and to operationalize or ground an 'ethics of care'...an ethics that implies actually caring about those we work with (as activists) and write with/for (as academics) - although these roles are interdependent and constantly evolving...

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