It’d be so easy to flog this girl for all the things that she wrote – but how can you really turn a blind eye to the jarring honesty she exhibited. Just like with racists, all the hateful things that flowed from her keyboard were simply the product of who she is and the environment she grew up – and hopefully eventually matures – in. People are not born enlightened, after all. And besides, since the text was basically ripped from the pages of facebook, it is pretty safe to assume that her candor is limited to her circle of friends who, presumably do not think too differently. In other words, I doubt that this is the public face she presents and that in general, she is likely to be as politically correct as her most vociferous critics are.
Having said that, what struck me most about her account is that it paints a starkly accurate picture of what it is like to live in some indigenous communities. Her observational skills are respectable, and by recording her impressions side-by-side with her empirical notes, she intuits a sociological approach that highlights not just how things are but how huge the gap is between people like her and people like Aetas. That gap, she shows, cannot be bridged until the biases of those on her side of the abyss are addressed adequately. As she said, before her immersion, she was a naive girl.
And how many of us have the same problem the first time we sally forth to save the world, with our college diplomas and fiery idealism? What interests me now is how she will proceed from here. Gautama ventured into the squalor and poverty and indignity of the world outside his pleasure dome and went on to achieve enlightenment. Tracy might not end up establishing a world religion, but one hopes that she will eventually learn to look at the Aetas with some compassion and become a genuine crusader for them.
But honestly sorry St. Ignatius, I was NOT immersed. If anything, the trip was like a test of true patience for me and how well I could mentally block everything. Like aside from being the girl in our group who is known for her amazing bladder and colon control skills, I’m like also the girl who can keep sleeping anywhere and everywhere. It was like my spacing-out skills at its finest.
It is normal on the first go to engage in denial – always the first step people take when confronting crisis – or as Tracy says, to “mentally block everything.” The question is, can progress? That can only happen when she learns to move her focus from herself and onto the plight of others. Only then, I imagine, will she be able to realize that the purpose of immersion is not to achieve instant enlightenment but to spur self-doubt. Immersion is intended to shake up your pre-conceived notions of how peachy keen the world is; to bombard your senses with information that will give you a better appreciation of how shitty the world actually can be.
Or, she can remain locked in the selfish, shallow, and self-absorbed point-of-view she has now. Instead of Gautama, she might take after Imelda Marcos whose campaign to promote beauty consisted only in covering up the ugly bits. Yep, that outcome is possible too. And if she is unfortunate enough not to be able to break free of that, then I say the blame will fall on those who were supposed to make sense of this immersion for her.
She mentions a paper on her reflections where she will recount her ‘realizations.’ Yeah. Anyone with a firm grasp of all the platitudes can write a reflection paper that will bring a tear to your eye. But what good will that do?
Many students coming from immersion trips like this take the easy way out and write up their experiences as though they were Oprahclones. And their teachers, when they applaud those relentless epipahanies, are also taking the easy way out. The right way to end immersion experiences like this is to go after the dark, smelly, and clammy impressions you get and working out how best you can use those impressions – those eeks! and ews! – to the benefit of yourself and the depressed community you have just emerged from.
I hope Tracy is lucky enough to have teachers who can shepherd her out of this. Otherwise, we will lose yet another articulate and intelligent young girl to the seduction of materialism and the allure of comfort.