Asia West Pacific

Discernment: An Experiential and Reflective Note

By Subhash Chandra 

After the earthquake, we shared our resources with elderly people as priority. In the photo take in Sindhupalchowk, they are carrying zink sheets to construct new house as the old one was destroyed by the earthquake

A devastating earthquake hit Nepal in April 2015. Any natural disaster of this scale overwhelms most of us, including me. Though my family and I were physically safe, my ability to think clearly, decide properly, and act in a timely manner was dramatically reduced. It took at least some weeks for me to regain a normal state of functioning. 

Once I knew my family and I were safe, I started to find out about others who were in trouble, who needed attention and support. Thousands died, tens of thousands were injured, and hundreds of thousands were made homeless, and entire villages were flattened. People were in chaos. Elderly, sick, pregnant women, and infants were the most affected, and worried about a safe place to spend the coming nights and their next meals. On top of that, subsequent aftershocks threw people back into fear and hysteria. Those of us who were safe and wanted to help others had lost our sense of right judgement and action.

When we are overwhelmed and not in a normal state, we become unable to decide how, where, when and why to focus our attention and energy. At those times, we need others–usually those who are not overwhelmed and able to function from their core self–to help test our judgements, receive feedback, and navigate a right direction. This enriching process of testing our judgement about a situation, action, or next step, receiving feedback, and navigating a new direction is what I understand as discernment. This was my experience from our relief work during the 2015 post-earthquake situation in Nepal. A few days after the earthquake, Nadine on behalf of Friends Peace Teams in Asia West Pacific asked me how they could help people in Nepal. Within a few weeks, an unexpectedly large amount of money was donated to help the Nepali people.

We set up a discernment team comprised of myself, Nadine, and Kalpana from the Community Self Reliance Center (CSRC). We would then ask for feedback on our decisions from at least three other Nepali who knew about the subject, and then at least three members of the AWP Working Group who brought a global perspective and experience. We would take action on decisions affirmed by others, or we would integrate or respond to the feedback. We honored clear concerns, but when discernment was simply not decisive, we erred on the side of the people closest to the situation. 

A Nepal team, coordinated by Subhash, came up with situation descriptions, priorities, and proposed plans of action. The discernment team asked vital questions to make sure that our judgements were right and proposed actions were appropriate so that the resources–time, energy and money–were best utilized. Honest, authentic, and frequent communication was very important to making discernment work. Likewise, a few things blocked the discernment process such as: when we become too personally attached to our judgements and plans (rigidity); when we turned on a self-defensive mode (self righteousness); or when we were unable to welcome feedback and questions (closedness). 

My first experience of discernment was tremendously nurturing. It helped me process and complete the relief and rebuilding process with ease. We were able to support thousands of families including hundreds of newborn children and their mothers, pregnant women and elderly, and most of them were from marginalized and disadvantaged Dalit communities. We collaborated with the Community Self Reliance Center (CSRC) and National Land Rights Forum (NLRF) that developed into a close and functional relationship going forward. Our friendship has resulted in further partnerships in Creating Cultures of Peace training with the largest nonviolent social movement in Nepal for peace and justice, and effectively supporting their campaigns for the rights of the poor, women, and children in Nepal.

It was important to share our attention to the mothers of new born babies and pregnant women. In the photo, Kalpana from CSRC (in pink dress) handing over a special relief package to a pregnant women in village