River of cruelty| Trauma and Healing

By now you know that Kenya held the general election on Tuesday, 9th august 2022. A lot of stakeholders have been observing it to ensure transparency. It has come as a shock to the international community that Kenyans are not fighting. In fact, a renown news outlet published a blog that calls this years election period “boring”.

However, I have been wondering if this is what peace looks like for the Kenyan collective. Previous election seasons have been marked with unrest, deaths, bribery and loads of both disinformation and misinformation. So this one feels a little strange, like we can almost stop worrying that the worst could happen.

It is true that groups of peacebuilders have been working tirelessly to bring cohesion and peace. This could be the first time in history that Kenyans have been united regardless of political affiliation. Anyways, let me bring my focus back to what the current experience could mean.

It feels like a new dawn. That does not necessarily mean it’s fun at first. When we are courageous enough to start a new journey, we have to stay open to the possibilities. Hopefully, the experiences will bring lots of joy and laughter. Honestly, the Kenyan meme lords have been making us laugh senseless. Which has been an important tool for collective regulation.

Almost everybody who is cruel as an adult to somebody has almost always experienced cruelty long before they were cruel to anyone else.

Quote is lifted from a tweet thread by Angi Yoder-Maina

Kenya has complicated bouts of historical trauma. The impact of colonialism is present as well. I always wondered whether we would ever find the root problem in order to find a solution to the collective pain. However, learning about the river of cruelty changed my perspective.

River of cruelty by Green String Network, Nairobi.

Cruelty in itself is a big problem because it motivates violence, theft, killing and many other malicious acts. But we must always remember that it is used for survival reasons. This cruelty we have all endured for years is unfair, it hurts and will never be justified. However, when we start our communal healing, the goal is to pull more people outside the river of cruelty.

Traumatic events impact our safety, identity and sense of community. Which in turn affects our bonds and families. In the picture you can see that we experience adverse emotions. They are meant to keep us safe This highlights where we need to be more keen. It’s good to remember that this work takes intention and time.

But how does the river of cruelty relate to the Kenyan experience? I have a theory that peacebuilders were actually able to reach influential people in the community who in turn helped model what cohesion and moving forward looks like. Of course, there is so much more to be done but we must always appreciate a positive milestone.

Eventually, there will be more safe spaces where the fearful can feel safe without worrying. While the outsiders can feel welcome without feeling like there are no resources for everyone. Collective healing needs us to build up our capacity and shared resources.

As we move forward, we should keep nurturing our ability to be accountable. Of course the guiding questions will be, “Where and how have I been treated cruelly? How have I treated others cruelly?”

I feel hopeful today. I hope we see more days like this one.

“To heal is to touch with love that which we previously touched with fear.” — Stephen Levine

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