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Swimming with the current amid social chaos

By Teresa Sosa Vegas

Living in Caracas for the past four years has been a difficult and enlightening experience. Venezuela used to be a country with clear structures, organization, rule of law and extensive public services that worked reasonable well. Today, that is not the case. What was once a wonderful place to plan a future is now a place where the focus is on survival. The future has disappeared, it has become the present. Many  spend the entire day gathering the basic necessities of life. Notions of freedom, justice and equity have moved from an expected possibility to an almost unattainable ideal.

Venezuela was not that different from the rest of the developed world. Modernity, ideas of progress, democracy and freedom taught us to value wants, things and the importance of the individual. Personal preferences defined our individuality.  “I” became more important than “we”. Our goals were about what each of us got—now. 

Our individuality was safe, secure and protected in those times. Our choices were defined by our preferences and our image. Our narrow personal narratives were driven by the small circles in which we lived and were raised. Those experiences determined our perception of the world. The world became an adversary to our individual wants.

Our preference for the modernity of the developed world led us to the preference for the mind and the intellect. That narrowed our awareness such that we neglected other wisdom traditions and even the most basic—the rhythms of nature.

The years of fighting, of not progressing and the constant fear wear down the personality, the psyche and even long-held beliefs. They  can harden and in some ways soften people. Simpler pleasures become more greatly appreciated: a smile, a kindness or a walk in nature.

I can attest that prolonged loss or chaos can have enormous psychological implications, both positive and negative.

It can erase the boundaries of the self, our outward habits, beliefs and conditionings. It can seep deep into the soul, sifting through the moral codes, thoughts and beliefs of the subconscious mind.

We do not really know how the brain functions but we do know that our perceptions colour what we see and experience around us, and that becomes our reality. We have all examined research about change yet we are often too busy to incorporate some of those simple practices in our life.

In Venezuela, circumstances have forced people to revisit all that they have been taught, all that they believe. The chaos has forced everyone to find new ways to live alone and together. While daily life is now about survival, there is still a passion to regain what has slowly been chiselled away: civil rights, personal freedom and the desire for a better future for our children.

The political, social and economic chaos of Venezuela has spawned a groundswell of citizens wishing to reverse the existing destruction of our way of life. The chaos has created more interaction among neighbourhood communities. These impromptu gatherings offer a way to share experiences, expectations and losses and also to consider solutions to the oppressive drudgery of existence. No matter where people come from, they all seek the same thing—safety, a re-establishment of trustworthy organisations and government structures and stronger social community—where the needs of the citizens are respected; where common decency and care for others trump personal aggrandisement.

Perhaps our country was lax in seeing and acting on the forces that have overtaken us. While we did not ask for the current situation, we are complicit in its creation. By doing nothing, we allowed others to usurp our freedoms and our lives.  What we do know is that much that was taken for granted is not any longer.

In the midst of chaos, our focus now is about exploring options, creating foundations that hopefully will help us in the current upheaval. Each of us has become more fluid in our approaches, expectations and how we live our lives.

In some ways, we yearn for the boredom, the gridlock and the rigidity that stresses the developed world. Living every day in constant fear for our family’s safety and our personal lives from the roving gangs, indiscriminate acts, the military, the police and the government is debilitating. However, in the rubble we have also found commonality in our humanity. We have set aside class, ethnicity and neighbourhood in an interest to forge a foundation that will ultimately seed a better, safer future.

In the search for meaning, nature has provided grounding to many and a framework for how to cope; bend with the wind, swim with the current and float on the waves. 

Whether we want to or not, letting go happens, easily or through the constant barrage of daily life.

Stripped bare, one learns to surrender to life; to be focused on the present; to be less attached to things and ideas, and to be open to outcome. With that framework,  we are attempting to rebuild our lives, our families and our community one day at a time.

Teresa Sosa Vegas is a professor at the Post Graduate School of Political Science, Simon Bolivar University, in Caracas, Venezuela

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