In the business of entering lives – where is the line drawn?

As soon as the session on preventing violent extremism ends you make your way to the exit door and thank the guests for making it. They are all young Sri Lankans from every race and ethnicity. Some of the men will not want to shake your hand, which isn’t something to complain about.

Business cards are exchanged, photographs are taken, new friend requests are sent on social media and by the end of the day everyone is very excited to work with you on similar projects in the future. A small feeling of accomplishment kicks inside and you feel good about yourself and your vision to engage everyone together to one common goal of reconciliation.

Wait for it.

Two weeks down the timeline you are dealing with a boy who is convincing you why an inter-racial marriage between you and him will work out. Another guy who is writing poems to you about how good you looked when you introduced the next key note speaker at the event. You will also block phone numbers of fellows who tell you that your voice sounds like an angel when you recite, “testing…one…two…three.”

Testing one two three your patience.

Okay let’s try to damage control the scenario and call those events tolerable. What if a friend or your own team member starts calling you in the middle of the night demanding you to reciprocate his feelings for you because he gave you a lift home or paid for that lunch (even after declining your offer to split the bill) because if you believe in the cause of one united community, you should start with one another right and use the least violent means possible, right?

Now you’re at this weird cross road not sure how to proceed further because at one direction you’re supposed to conform to non-violence, treat people with respect and most importantly make everyone feel welcome. On the other hand, you don’t feel respected yourself. When we respect people and share life experiences with each other, we begin to open up our lives to them so they feel that we are all in this together. The moment someone takes advantage of it are we allowed to morph back into our previous non-volunteer selves and tell people off?

Maybe it’s a work-personal ethic situation where you need to keep a difference in the way you handle both aspects of life, but the bottom line is this:

We might be in the business of entering and welcoming lives to stay connected, but if one string of respect is cut in the name of the cause, they have earned the right for you to cut ties and remain professional in the way you communicate or just liaise with someone else to get the work done and have nothing to do with you in the future, but still making sure the situation remains civil.

It’s easier said than done, for you will feel guilt and unfairness to box people into categories when your whole purpose in life is to connect everyone. I wish I could tell you how many times I’ve had to lie to random humans about having a boyfriend just to push them away and put them in a don’t associate them again zone, but that’s just how the human race works and if you’re a super nice friendly girl, you need to identify that pattern and stay the hell out of its way.

-Nabeela Iqbal-



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