The Libreplanet opening keynote had me in tears. It was a talk by Dr. Tarek Loubani. He described his work as an emergency physician in Gaza and how 3d printers and open hardware are helping save lives.
They didn't have enough stethoscopes; that was one of the critical needs. So, they imported a 3d printer, used that to print another 3d printer, and then began iterative designs of 3d-printable stethoscopes. By the time they were done, they had a device that performed as well or better than than a commercially available model. What was amazing is that the residents of Gaza could print their own; this didn't introduce dependencies on some external organization. Instead, open/free hardware was used to help give people a sense of dignity, control of some part of their lives, and the ability to better save those who depended on them.
Even more basic supplies were unavailable. The lack of tourniquets caused the death of some significant fraction of casualties in the 2014 war. The same solution—3d-printed tourniquets had an even more dramatic result.
Dr. Loubani talked about how he felt powerless to change the world around him. He talked about how he felt like an insignificant ant.
By this point I was feeling my own sense of hopelessness and insignificance. In the face of someone saving lives like that, I felt like I was only playing at changing the world. What is helping teach love and connection when we face that level of violence? Claming that sexual freedom is worth fighting for seems like a joke in the worst possible taste in the face of what he is doing. I felt like an imposter.
Then he went on to talk about how we are all ants, but it is the combination of all our insignificant actions that eventually change the world. He talked about how the violence he sees is an intimate act: he talked about the connection between a sniper and their victim. We die one at a time; we can work to make things better one at a time.
He never othered or judged those committing violence. Not as he talked about his fellow doctor and friend who was shot, radioed that he could not breathe, and eventually died pinned down by gunfire so that no one could rescue him. Not as he talked about how he himself was shot. Not as he helped the audience connect with grief-stricken family members facing the death of their loved ones. He never withdrew compassion.
To me I heard hope that what I try to teach can matter; it can connect. If he can face that violence and take a stand against it while still maintaining compassion, then this stuff I believe actually can work. Facing the world and making real changes without giving up compassion and empathy seems more possible: I’ve seen it done.
Somewhere in this talk, I regained a connection with my own value. People like him are helping save people. However, the violence will continue until we have the love, empathy and compassion to understand and connect with each other and find better options. In my own way I’m doing that. Every time I help someone see a different way of looking at things, I make it easier for them to start with empathy first rather than fear.
Everything I’ve written about sex is still true. That journey can bring us closer to accepting ourselves, stepping past fear and shame. Once we accept our own desires and our own need, we’re in a better position to meet in the Strength of Love and advocate for our own needs while offering compassion to others. Once we know what we can find when we have empathy and connection, we can learn to strive for it.
So I will find joy in being my own little ant. Insignificant and divine: take your pick as it’s all the same in the end.
Bringing that Round to Debian
Debian is back in the center of my compassion work. I'm running for Debian project Leader (DPL). I served on the Debian Technical Committee for over a year, hoping to help bring understanding of diverse positions to our technical dispute resolution process. That ended up being the wrong place. Everyone seems to believe that the DPL is currently at the center of most of the work of helping people connect. I hope to fix that: more than one person should be driving that work.
After the keynote I found myself sitting between Micky Metts and Henry Poole. Micky asked me what I did that I loved. “Ah, she’s not expecting this answer,” I thought to myself as I talked about my spiritual work and how it overlaps with my Debian work. It turns out that she was delighted by the answer and we had a great time chatting about self empowerment. I’m looking forward to her keynote later today.
Then Henry asked how I was going to accomplish bringing empathy into Debian. I talked about my hopes and dreams and went through some of the specifics I’ve discussed in my platform and what I’ve had success with so far. He talked about similarities and overlaps with work his company does and how he works to teach people about free software.
Especially after that keynote it was joyful to sit between two luminaries and be able to share hopes for empathy, compassion and connection. I felt like I had found validation and energy again.