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My Metanoia

Metanoia |metԥnoiԥ| (noun)
Cíange In one': +a+ o1 II1e ¡e:uIìIng 1¡on jenIìen¢e o¡ :jI¡IìuaI ¢on+e¡:Ion.
ORIGIN Iaìe 19ìí ¢enì.: 1¡on G¡eek, 1¡on neìanoeIn ¢íange one': nInd.´

That this journal covers the path of my entire life since enrolling at Tufts should be read
as a testament to how central the IGL has been in shaping into the stranger I am today.
Any time I speak of Tufts to my loved ones and friends the IGL inevitably takes center
stage, and I have no compunctions about it being that way. Today is my last day at Tufts
as a sophomore and the first day of my life as an active social entrepreneur. I wouldn¶t
have known how to respond if somebody woke me up and told me I¶ll be leaving for
Kenya to launch a new peace-building initiative in two years, without an undergraduate
degree and just a close friend and a shoestring budget. I probably would have looked
Kenya up on a map and requested that I base my project out of Mombasa where the
ocean is, then Googled the meaning of µsocial entrepreneur¶ for the first time. Then a
horrible anxiety would have set in over the fact that I likely wouldn¶t be ready or capable
to do what I¶m setting out to do as co-founder of Sisi ni Amani. I showed up to Tufts with
my hockey sticks in one hand and my bag slung over my shoulder with the other, for
god¶s sake! My hands were already tied from the first day! This journal is therefore a
collection of thoughts on paper as I wonder aloud, What¶s changed?

Most of what I¶ve learned since the day I met my freshman orientation leader, Adam
White, has been through hearsay and observation. I¶ve also gained some experience and
understanding by doing what I saw others around me doing in the IGL: being a
meticulous listener and a relentless questioner. And then, of course, I¶ve read and read
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and read, everything from journals to books to the paperbound knowledge that spews
from the cabinet of enlightenment. In these two short years, I¶ve grown on a thousand
vectors and acquired an incredible amount of wisdoms, appreciations, skills, revelations,
counter-revelations, and factoids. Throwing myself into the epicenter of the IGL, I
sometimes felt like a smoothie that had had far too many quality ingredients added to it,
as if a sensible combination of bananas, celery, and berries was being bombarded with
oats, yogurt, mint, melon, and vanilla, so saturated that you finally had to just sit back
and let the ingredients separate themselves before you could savor any of them. This is
my chance to tie together the thousand loose ends floating in my head, to sift through the
past two years and give a narrative to my metanoia, which I suspect is currently
suspended somewhere in my mind¶s ether.

Part of my need to write this journal is so I can attempt to make sense of what I¶ve gained
from the IGL on a much more personal level than the gains were ever intended to be. For
the vexing fact is, I am one part solipsist and one part proton. I at once view the world
and every interaction I have with it as a direct reflection of my own inner workings: if
friends are disengaged, if failures start accruing, if classes are failing to interest me, then I
need to reflect and shift the chemical balance between my ears to set the world straight
again. That¶s the only reality I know, the very self-centric approach to finding inner
recourse after a bad day, but also the very reinforcing view towards the successes you and
your close friends attain on the good days. I¶ve had this outlook since the time I skated
alongside the best of the best hockey players I know, some of whom are now beginning
their careers in the NHL, and realizing that good bounces go to those who take care of the
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unseen details while turning on the intangible elements of greatness. I never claimed to
be one of those players, but I accepted that anything positive you create in life will
originate from qualities you work to cultivate within yourself, which then tend to
multiply, reinforce themselves, and spread through your own positive inertia into the
lives of others. My enduring motto, therefore, is that great things happen to good people,
and even better things happen to those who cluster around good people. It requires a
tremendous amount of perseverance and love to look within for improvements as your
world falls apart around you. More importantly, though, it requires the utmost humility if
you chose to look at your successes (and especially those of your close friends) as even
the indirect manifestations of your own strength of character. So, to keep my humility
among all of this, I simply place the credit back on the good people I surround myself
with and thank them for all that they¶ve taught me about how to live a genuine and
openhearted life. In that way, the origin of our successes gets lost in an endlessly
reinforcing cycle that nobody saw coming but all contribute to and benefit from in
immeasurable ways.

This is how I move from solipsist to proton. I cherish the fact that I¶ve become embedded
in the most life-changing social network imaginable, one that fulfills every young man¶s
need for friendship, laughter, thought provocation, and exploration. Nothing that the IGL
does, or that I¶ve done within the IGL¶s orbit, can be achieved in solitude. This is why
Sherman¶s door can never be closed shut for an extended period of time without a
lingering anxiety seeping into the air, and why Hannah Flamm¶s desk was so perfectly
unavoidable when you walked up to the second floor. It¶s why the ergonomic design of
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the IGL¶s halls allowed Heather¶s laugh to swoop down on you from three floors away,
where you thought you were safe. It¶s also the reason behind one of the biggest, most
frustrating ironies of the IGL: you can never find a minute of quiet to get any regular
work done when you¶re there.
~
I first became acquainted with the IGL at the suggestion of Adam White, whose
characteristically elliptic description of EPIIC as ³interesting´ was enough to rope me
into the first class. Taking my seat next to Adam in what would become the most familiar
classroom of my freshman and sophomore years, I proceeded to listen to Sherman¶s
ruminations on the complexities of the urban age and watch the glee with which he
revealed our lack of knowledge about the peculiarities of the world¶s greatest cities. It
was Fall 2008 and we were embarking on the academic rollercoaster of our college lives,
EPIIC, which was themed ³Global Cities´ that year. I can think of two reasons one would
choose to take EPIIC while at Tufts: either you love the topic in its entirety or are drawn
to some aspect of it; or you are motivated by the sheer challenge that the entire
undertaking represents. So, we¶ll be reading a tree of handouts per week? A million
books in a month? Six hours of class plus recitations plus study groups plus the infamous
five-hour exams? It all sounds so absurd that you just want to poke your head in and try. I
fell squarely in the latter category when I asked to be considered for the class, and I
slowly discovered that the topic mattered very little for an intellectual polymorph like me.
I was a freshman in an unfamiliar environment whose norms I hadn¶t yet understood, and
I carried nobody¶s high expectations but my own, so I let myself get taken for a ride. It
turned out to be one of the best intuitive decisions of my life. It was also a choice, I
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learned a year and a half later, that wouldn¶t come without its sacrifices. But even the
sacrifice, I¶m beginning to see, broke me down into the more coherent and self-aware
person that I know I am today.

My motivation was the challenge, but what kept me engaged and ultimately brought me
back for a second year of EPIIC was the riveting community. It was my growing nucleus
of friends and professional acquaintances that all treated each other with a very different
kind of respect than I was used to at home. These were friendships formed around our
collective uncertainty as we navigated (or pretended to steer ourselves) through our first
ever attempts at asking informed questions, deconstructing a lecturer¶s argument,
traveling to foreign countries, conducting formal interviews, constructing an academic
panel, and even producing original research. We were constantly searching for tempered
balance in what seemed like a world of extremes. It was extreme that we were in a World
Bank boardroom interviewing the architect of that famed but troubled institution¶s in-
country governance and performance indicators. It seemed extreme that anybody
wouldn¶t condemn its pro-liberalization economic policies and that the environmental
movement didn¶t have the full support of the D.C. beltway. Upon some more inquiry, I
eventually understood those latter two µextremes¶ as my own sincere misperceptions. I try
to avoid the word complexity, because I see it used far too often by pundits and students
who want to avoid giving real responses to difficult questions, but the undeniable and
wonderful fact is that the issues we were researching soon became less defined by their
extremes and more colored by their immense, and sometimes halting, complexity. My
greatest intellectual progression of my freshman year, after all was read and done, was
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leaving the classroom with more questions than I¶d entered with.
~
I returned to Vancouver at the end of freshman year with what felt like a life¶s worth of
knowledge and experience. Two trips across two different oceans had left their marks on
me in hugely different ways. Traveling to the Philippines with the Poverty and Power
Research Initiative, I conducted my first-ever international research on the nexus of
oligarchic elites, corruption, and American foreign aid while I was forced to deal with
polarizing team leadership and the stresses it put on the group. I tried to contemplate the
current decrepitude of the Philippines¶ economic and political institutions through the
existing literature on development and poverty, its historic relationship with the United
States, and my own thinking on the emergence of defunct socio-political cultures. I came
face to face with public officials widely suspected of such despicable crimes as
corruption, bribery, and murder. Then traveling a week later to Cyprus for the Sustainable
Engineering in the Eastern Mediterranean conference hosted by Engineers Without
Borders International, I entered a world of Middle East politics and community
development, where every actor has divergent and multilayered agendas, to present the
vision for Solar for Gaza/Sderot to an audience of above-thirty country-chapter EWB
presidents. By the last five minutes of my presentation my mouth was drying up and I
shut it down to solicit questions, but the overall experience was humbling while the talk I
gave itself was nothing short of exhilarating. In Cyprus I met some of the most genuine,
pleasant, and enjoyable individuals I¶ve ever met in my life, which is saying quite a lot,
so it was only fitting that I would return the next year with the most genuine person I
know on the earth, Hannah Flamm. That she is now about to take the full reigns of Solar
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for Gaza/Sderot by launching it at the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies in Israel
this summer and find her own personal path along the way is perhaps the most rewarding
outcome of any project I¶ve ever been involved in. That too, clearly, is saying something
special.

Leaving the IGL and returning to Vancouver for my freshman summer felt like it used to
feel when I laced up my skates for the first playoff game of the year with an entire season
of practice and training under my belt. At the same time, I took the incredible wealth of
experience I¶d gained from the previous year and applied it to one of the most significant
encounters I¶ve had in my life, and it happened not within the walls of the IGL but in a
drug treatment center right in my own hometown. My time spent at home that summer
filled a spiritual void I never found a way to accommodate at Tufts, and the sacrifices I
noted earlier became clearer in some respects. Time slowed down, as it often needs to
when your thoughts start to run on a deeper current, as I spent the next four months
embedding myself with one hundred men in a five-home residential chunk of a
neighborhood who were struggling to overcome drug and alcohol addictions. What does
the word spiritual mean anyways, and why hadn¶t I found it at Tufts? This actually gets
to a bigger revelation I had at the end of my time with these men, all of whom I
considered brothers and they I as well, which was that treatment centers for recovering
addicts are more than just the µspiritual kindergartens¶ they are touted to be by the
alcoholics and narcotics anonymous communities. Rarely does the outside world ± the
world consisting of µnormies¶ (or µbastards¶ as the guys would call me) like you and I ±
have the opportunity, let alone the necessity, of repairing the internal defects and
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character flaws that hinder our ability to unconditionally love ourselves and, by
extension, those surrounding us. My brothers were finding their way through a spiritual
kindergarten, and the devastating reality is that most would never graduate the 12
th
step,
but for those of us on the outside living our days from one problem to the next, most will
never know how to enroll in this school to begin with. For that alone, I told them on our
last day together, they should be grateful. As a nineteen year-old college student, I first
approached the treatment center to understand what it means to be homeless in my home
city, but I couldn¶t have foreseen the transformation this experience would evince in me
by the end of my freshman summer. If the student culture at Tufts didn¶t place our
spiritual sanity on the pedestal it deserved, I was going to return to my sophomore year
and exude this newfound energy from within.

Here was the biggest unforeseen challenge in my college life, as I have only recently
realized. The pace of my second fall semester at Tufts was anything but slow; in fact, it
immediately cranked to one thousand miles an hour, as I re-enrolled in EPIIC and took on
new responsibilities as the co-leader of PPRI, the co-editor in chief of the student
publication Discourse, and launched what became the Mango Tree Project with the
Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village in Rwamagana, Rwanda. These roles taught me more
about the dynamics of leading a team than they did about anything remotely academic in
the conventional sense, and I used trial and error to prove to myself that different
leadership styles evoke variously positive and undesirable responses from different
people. I was also enrolled in five classes at the time, and I sometimes wondered if I¶d
crossed the line over to sadism, but I happily began the cycle again with South Asia as
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my number one focus for a second year of EPIIC. It became quite normal to have days
that began at six a.m. and ended at three a.m. where I would be engaged in some form of
class or extracurricular work for ninety eight percent of those hours, and that is not an
exaggeration. It was the height of human productivity, a most excellent time of my life
where every bit of work I had piled on my plate I happily got done in the twenty-fifth and
-sixth hours of the day. It also formed the nexus of my social and academic life, as the
work ultimately remained secondary to the community of friends I kept by my side
through every step of the way. On the last day of the fall semester, however, the
anomalous load of work I¶d undertaken all hit me at once and my synapses literally went
into reclusion. I had accomplished more in those four months than I suppose I ever will,
or ever will like to, for many years to come over a comparable period of time, all because
I chose (without actually choosing) to ascertain the limits of my mental capacity, to see
how far it could push my body, and whether I could have the wherewithal to
concomitantly attend to my spirit and soul. The crucial piece that went missing in all of
this was my nonnegotiable (or so I thought) devotion to athletics and fitness. Pretty soon,
I¶d gone from two hours a day of exercise in the summer to the most agonizing stretches
of one to two weeks without breaking a sweat here at Tufts. This might seem like a trivial
sacrifice to some, and many of my peers claimed this was just the product of college life,
but it was a sacrifice I was no longer willing to make by the arrival of my sophomore
spring. I understand why the break from my athletic side ever happened in the first place:
I had been a self-defined hockey player for fifteen years prior when I came to Tufts, and
it was time to forge a new identity and set of norms for myself as I embarked on a new
era in my life. But like a pendulum I came back, though surely not for long, but at least
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for long enough to reassess the priorities I¶d set in my life. As I¶ve attempted to converge
the two towering pieces of who I am, intellectual exploration and physical fitness, I¶ve
come to see this as a struggle to conjoin the best of my life in Vancouver and the life I
live at Tufts. Tufts can no longer be the intellectual retreat I¶ve treated it as, where I drop
by for four months at a time and escape before my oxygen tank runs out. I need to start
living at Tufts as a human being would. I need to become a resident of Somerville who is
enrolled full-time at Tufts, in addition to being tuned into the different aspects of health,
culture, and world affairs that make me truly happy and complete. That is my challenge
for the fall of 2011, and the significance it bears for the direction I take in life after my
college career will be enormous.
~
It¶s time I devoted some paper to a few of the intellectual revelations I¶ve had since
stepping foot inside the IGL nearly two years ago. I¶ve found it interesting how our
inquiries into the realm of politics and general academia reveal so much about the rather
fundamental currents of life. (That didn¶t last long ± now I¶m off on the bigger topic of
life again). I¶ll touch on the issue of corruption, which has been a topic of passion and
interest of mine for the past two years now, owing to my research and leadership of the
Poverty and Power Research Initiative. Corruption is, first of all, a compelling topic for
an undergraduate ± I would even call it sexy ± and by studying it with all the concern I
have since my freshman year, I¶ve certainly accrued some titillating stories in my arsenal
of interesting conversation starters. (And while it is a distant goal of mine, I still have
nowhere near the anecdotal cache that somebody like Jack Blum has). More importantly,
though, is how corruption has colored and inspired much of my thinking on the vastly
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bigger issues of international importance, which I suspect can confound us all later in life
if we haven¶t begun to confront them at an early age.

I recently read a line in a book on U.S.-Iran relations and it unsettled me. One of the
reformers within Iran's post-revolutionary Islamic regime was Mohammed Khatami, who
came to power as President in 1997 and ruled with decreasing aplomb until Ahmadenijad
took power in 2005. At the outset of his presidency, though, he represented a suppressed
popular voice that was remarkably anti-establishment, pushed hard for social reforms,
and he was generally the best man for pursuing a rapprochement with the U.S. at the
time. But Khomeini¶s old guard fought back against him, despite the fact that he was 'one
of them,' and one of their tactics was to arrest and imprison his political allies on
trumped-up charges of corruption. According to the author of this history, "Even if the
charges were true... in post-revolutionary Iran, charging a public official with corruption
was like arresting someone for public drunkenness at Mardis Gras." This man had the
weight of an entire country behind him as he crusaded against the brutalitarianism of his
own regime. At the same time, this analogy painted Iran¶s corruption like a malignant
disease rotting its way through the political fabric of the country, like a fungus taking
down a giant cedar. When a major diplomatic breakthrough with a regime that had for
over two decades presented a staunchly anti-American front became possible, could our
abhorrence of corruption possibly stop the U.S. from extending a crucial olive branch to
this courageous man? What would I do? These serious questions go beyond the black and
white perception I once treated the problem of corruption with.

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I once treated corruption as an absolute wrong, something that one could never find just
reason or cause to excuse a public official, a malicious businessman, or a low-wage
policeman for. Slowly I came to understand the motives and structural reasons behind the
police officer¶s corruption, even though I was appalled by the young cop in Rwanda who
feebly insinuated he would like to extort my colleague and me. And while I never
broached the point where I could overlook the well-connected businessman¶s attempt to
bribe, cajole, and persuade through insalubrious means his friendly clients in public
office, I even came to understand how the pernicious combination of extremely high
taxes, a wild-west-like culture of law-avoidance, and the degenerate example of
oligarchs-cum-politicians in the Philippines could produce a tax-evading and policy-
procuring entrepreneur like Lucio Tan. However, it wasn¶t until E.P.I.I.C. South Asia,
when I began to explore the imbroglio that the NATO coalition forces have created in
Afghanistan, that I found myself relaxing my steely disdain for corrupt public officials. In
a war that everybody involved had difficulty justifying, that I believed was as much
rooted in vitriol of America¶s violent reaction to 9/11 as it was in a sound counter-
terrorism strategy, my strongest inclination was to accept ± pragmatically, I thought with
some pride ± a less-than-perfect exit strategy in which warlords would still exert power
through tribal- and patronage-based institutions of rule. And what did this say about my
moral and political calculus? Had I become so impatient and pessimistic about the
Afghan conundrum, which otherwise called for a high level of persistence and
carefulness, that I would pull the plug on the Afghan mission if I were put in the position
to do so?

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Or had I unknowingly discovered the limits of my hitherto excessively liberal (in the
Tufts sense, not the concept¶s actual definition) sensibilities? Was I approaching
Afghanistan, which I knew had its own traditions of tribal affiliation and long-established
norms of socio-economic hierarchy, with too much sensitivity towards these elements of
its culture, which actually embodied the feudalistic and oppressive structures that I have
never lived under nor would never hope to? How could I be so ungrateful for my own life
circumstance, and instead turn a morally-righteous blind eye to the suffering of
Afghanistan¶s great many under the hands of its greater few? The first ever ex-college I
took at Tufts, Adam White¶s class on Engineers Without Borders (EWB), instilled in me
a truly ethical sense of deference to the talents, wisdom, and cunning of local
communities when attempting to share my privilege and acquired skills with them for the
benefit of their own lives. It reaffirmed a profound humility and self-awareness of mine
that I¶ve carried to the downtrodden streets of Vancouver, the remote villages in Rwanda,
and the roadside shacks of Bombay that I¶ve visited through the IGL. It was quite a
revelation for me when I realized that this humility had to stop, or be muted, when the
negative consequences of µrespecting¶ discriminatory power structures and abusive
relationships become too great. Studying Afghanistan through EPIIC had drawn my
intellectual oscillations closer to a middle ground, where I could both advocate for active
intervention where humans lived under regular abuse but also appreciate that the outcome
of these interventions often lies in the manner in which they are carried out. Would I
intervene if I saw one of my men at the drug rehabilitation center teetering on the brink of
relapse? Absolutely, but primarily because we know and trust and love one another.
These are real issues I only began to contemplate at the beckoning of EPIIC and the IGL.
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It¶s scary to think how soon I could be basing life-altering decisions on the conclusions
I¶ve tepidly arrived at, even if in transience.

Here too is a quotation from the 2002 National Security Strategy of the United States, the
first post-9/11 document to succinctly articulate the foreign policy strategy of the Bush
administration. ³The U.S. must defend liberty and justice because these principles are
right and true for all people everywhere. No nation owns these aspirations, and no nation
is exempt from them. Fathers and mothers in all societies want their children to be
educated and to live free from poverty and violence. No people on earth yearn to be
oppressed, aspire to servitude, or eagerly await the midnight knock of the secret police.´
Ignoring the bellicose tone of the rest of the document (again, how it¶s done • what is
done), I find myself largely agreeing with what the president and his advisors had written.
Amartya Sen, drawing on the pluralistic history of the Indian subcontinent to demonstrate
the novel origins of this very un-western concept, said roughly the same thing in his
universalist defense of liberal democracy.

Have I regretted any of what I¶ve done during my time at the IGL, or anything I didn¶t do
at Tufts as a result of my heavy involvement in the IGL? Emphatically no, because regret
is an active verb that implies you have ongoing doubts and yearnings for second chances
and repeats. I learned rather quickly somewhere along the line that there is a finite limit
to the amount of time one should spend being disappointed at past actions, decisions, or
failures. It¶s made me a tremendously happier person as a result. Two major periods in
my teenage years introduced me to this life-changing piece of wisdom: the first was my 9
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years as a competitive hockey player and the mental toughness that it brought; the second
was my spiritual wanderings through the world of addiction and penitence in the summer
prior to this year¶s EPIIC class; the third, because there really were three, was none other
than the past two years with the IGL, where I finally saw how much college life has to
offer a young adult like me and how insufficient little time there is to soak it all in. The
first was a religious indoctrination ± the culture of self-sacrifice, humility, and hard work
you encounter in Canadian hockey has few equivalents in the sporting world, and it spills
over into life in more ways that I ever realized at the time ± and the second was a peeling
back of any last shred of self-denial, internal bitterness, or uncertainty I was holding onto.
The third was my metanoia.

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