Friday, June 17, 2011

Inner Change

Serenity Prayer in English, Spanish, and Russian. The message is simple, powerful, & universal (yahoo images).

My Peace Corps experience often put me up against myself: responding to new situations in a strange environment, surrounded by a foreign language, confronted by different cultural norms, values and traditions. I had to adjust my expectations and responses. I had to slow down, for one thing. I learned a lot about Ukraine and its wonderful people, and just as much about myself.

I never prided myself on having quiet patience and favoring slow change, but these virtues came in handy all along the way. The American “can-do” spirit and need for instant gratification came on a bit too strong for Ukrainian tastes. It is a slower pace in Ukraine, change is even slower, and trying new things is a challenge. Ukrainians are wise, strong, resilient, but they are also mistrustful, burdened with a traumatic history that affects attitudes, viewpoints and behavior, and often just plain burdened down with survival, the hassles of daily life.

It takes a while to gain trust. Enthusiastic global ideas for change, and "transferring skills," in Peace Corps parlance, don’t send sparks flying. Maybe just the opposite. Things have to evolve, slowly, one step at a time, many cups of tea, many toasts.

The Serenity prayer came in handy. It's a favorite maxim and mantra in AA and Al Anon (attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr, the theologian) and I thought I had it down. Hah! It took several months of adjusting and re-adjusting, and then some, actually to put theory into practice in a new environment. "I can’t change this, but I can do that," I kept telling myself. One step at a time. One day at a time.

And that’s when things started happening, with human rights NGO Victoria, with the Starobelsk Regional Library, with the English Club, with writing and receiving grants for projects, with networking and making new connections. I pushed through the frustration and doubt, adjusted my attitude, checked my habitual responses, often reversed them, went with the ups and downs, accepted the challenges of the language, and came out okay. It's a great feeling when it works!

Serenity Prayer in Russian
"Дай Бог нам спокойствие
принять то, что мы не можем изменить,
мужество изменить то, что мы можем,
и мудрость отличить одно от другого ".
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