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What is Moral Injury and How Does it Affect You?

Quick link: Moral Injury

Last Friday I wrote about moral injury for A Life Overseas. I recently learned the term and it was so fitting for much of what I’ve felt and experienced. The essay gets pretty vulnerable about my own weakness.

I first learned the term “moral injury” in a Plough magazine article by Michael Yallend, Hope in the Void. He quoted authors Rita Nakashima Brock and Gabriella Lettini who say moral injury, “comes from having transgressed one’s basic moral identity and violated core moral beliefs…Moral injury destroys meaning and forsakes noble causes. It sinks warriors into states of silent, solitary suffering, where bonds of intimacy and care seem impossible.”

Foreign Policy magazine describes moral injury as “damage done to a ‘person’s conscience or moral compass by perpetrating, witnessing, or failing to prevent acts that transgress moral and ethical values or codes of conduct.”

Can you think of ways you have experienced this in your life abroad?

Read more here:  Moral Injury

Don’t Send Your Marie Kondo’ed Clutter to Africa

An American public health nurse hired by a university in northern Iraq works to develop the nursing program for Kurdish students. She tried to raise $15,000 to build student capacity, continue education for faculty, and fund the purchase of equipment. Tried and struggled and is failing, because let’s be frank, who cares about the health of the Kurds? Does caring for their health and their education spark joy for most Americans? Apparently not.

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Marie Kondo tells Americans in her book and now her popular Netflix show to toss out everything that does not bring them joy. Touch the object. Feel no joy? Out it goes. And so, mountains of excessive items that fail the joy test pour out of American homes. What does tend to give Americans joy is to donate their used items.

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The public university in Northern Iraq where the American nurse works receives an anonymous shipment of 18,000 books, many of them nursing books. Every nursing book was published in the 1980s, except the one published in 1965. Thousands of outdated, potentially harmful nursing books bring no one joy and they bring no one health.

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I imagine the American who decluttered their home of all these books leaves the post office full of joy at having done a good deed. They are so joyful, they may head straight to the store to buy more junk.

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I work at a school and launched a girls running club in the Horn of Africa and we have also received donations of items that brought no one joy in the United States. Sports bras with two different sized cups. Underwear with one leg hole massively stretched out. Shoes with no laces. Shoes with holes through the bottom. Used coloring books. Popped balloons. Burned down candles. Children’s books with pages torn out.

While it might spark joy for the person donating the used underwear or popped balloons, it does not spark joy for me to receive them. Or to spend time going through boxes of worthless donations. Or to spend even more time carting the junk to the already over-flowing city garbage dump.

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The American nurse now has to spend the week figuring out how to explain why Americans sent piles of worthless books, and decide what to do with them. She has less time for her students or her classes. She, her students, and other faculty feel insulted and ashamed. And she still struggles to raise the money needed to run the program at top capacity. The cost of shipping the container would have made a significant dent in that need.

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What if instead of Marie-Kondo-ing all the excess junk, Americans didn’t buy it to begin with? What if a movement to declutter morphed into a movement to never clutter? All that excess money saved could be spent to save lives in northern Iraq. Not lives saved by military conquest or complicated and short-term political solutions. Not lives saved, in theory, by donations of used clothing. But lives saved by fellow Kurds who have learned the skills to be effective health care providers and who can now serve for an entire lifetime among their people?

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Why do people end up with hundreds of shoes they have never worn, never even taken out of the box? Those shoes alone (and I’m referencing one of the episodes) could more than pay for this nursing need in Iraq. Why do people have so many holiday decorations they can’t even celebrate the holiday? What hole in the heart are we trying to fill and when will we learn that stuff will not fill it?

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I’m not saying never donate or don’t send things. I pass on my shoes and shirts and pots and pans that I don’t use anymore. We donate, we ship. We have way too much stuff. I’m not immune to this and am speaking to myself as much as to anyone else.

I’m just suggesting we behave thoughtfully, respectfully, and wisely.

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Two things to end with and you might call me crabby or mean and that’s fine. I get that my opinions from this side of the ocean are not popular with people on the other side.

Don’t let your spark of joy be an excuse to cause someone else a groan of frustration.

Consider never cluttering to begin with and think of generous ways to use what could have been spent on that clutter. That could spark a lot of joy.

 

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A Belated Merry Advent Letter

*please note! I wrote this last year and then never published it. It felt kind of scary and raw. I have another letter drafted for this year’s Christmas/advent letter. But then I read it again and while parts are not relevant because I’m in the US and the twins graduated, parts were exactly what I needed to be reminded of personally, again. So maybe it will resonate with someone else who needs to choose joy this season. So, I’ll publish it now.

Merry Christmas from Abroad,

Our four-foot tree is up and shedding quite sadly. The Santa costume is being borrowed by a very Saint Nicholas type of fellow. The stockings, for once, are hung on steps and not over the air conditioner with care. The temperature is a chilly 87 degrees. The kitchen smells like ginger snaps and apple cinnamon candles. The grocery store has a horribly skinny Santa, barefoot, with no shirt under his costume, a rather sexy Santa with bright blue eyes. More stripper than Santa.

Its beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

This is our Christmas letter, the one in which we tell you about our exotic summer vacations (Minnesota is, truly, exotic to desert-dwellers) and about our children’s stellar performances at school (define ‘stellar’), about all the things we are really good at (like forgetting new vocab words in one of the three languages we’ve learned), and then show pictures of things we secretly hope you envy, ala the humble brag (like our incredible, rundown house with rats in the ceiling and roaches in the bathrooms).

What if, instead, I’m totally honest? What if, instead, I told you that this year I’m tired?

A few nights ago as we drove to church, a local boy made the shape of a gun with his fingers and shot at my face through the car window. A few days before that while I was running, a man drove by on a motorcycle and punched my ass. I miss my kids almost the whole year ‘round because all of them are at a boarding school two countries away. My husband and I started up a big new project, thirteen years in the dreaming and our hearts bleeding all over our sleeves, and no one told us that start-ups in Africa take a toll on a marriage.

I would like to go to a movie theater and disappear into the cool darkness and forget about it all. There aren’t any movie theaters in the country. I would like to enjoy a nice evening out with my husband but if we go for a walk we are harassed or are simply just bored of the same, limited, not beautiful route. We’ve tried almost every restaurant in town, there aren’t many cultural events like concerts or plays or dances. Plus, sometimes it takes too much energy to go out the front door.

It can be lonely here. This year, I have a full life, rich with new staff and new friends. People who speak my language, people I enjoy deeply and am coming to love. But I feel lonely creatively, if that’s a thing. Lonely for my people, people who pursue a life of creativity and words and I don’t even know if I have people anymore because I don’t seem to fit anywhere. Lonely spiritually, for a community that speaks my language – both the language of my tongue and of my heart.

What a depressing Christmas letter. At least, that’s what I thought when I reread this. But you know what? This isn’t a Christmas letter after all. Its an advent letter. A letter of longing, of waiting, of seeing the holes in things and the struggle of being alive while being fully convinced that hope is never in vain.

Someone asked me what I want to experience of Jesus this advent season. I want to experience joy. Not happiness, not glibness. Deep, abiding joy that acknowledges there are so many broken things in the world but that chooses to delight in the healing, beautiful things in the world. Joy that says, all is not right in the world. But, “all will be well and all will be well and every kind of thing shall be well.” Julian of Norwich

So, I conjure up joy because that is what I want. Joy is what I need. Joy is what my family needs. It feels like the snow falling in a snow globe. The flakes rest on the bottom and then the world is shaken with strenuous effort and a veneer of cheer falls over the scene below. The scene is the same old one, the flakes change nothing, but for a few minutes while they fall, it is Christmas. It is beautiful. And maybe that’s enough for this year.

Merry Advent,

Rachel