Today, I went to hear Dr. James Orbinski speak on a panel about genocide, war and conflict with Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish and LGen. The Hon. Roméo Dallaire. One of the questions moderator Carol Off asked was how Dr. Orbinski felt treating the wounded who may have been killers or genocidaires and who could, after healing, continue to perpetuate violence. He answered, and I paraphrase, that he is frequently asked this question and does not feel there was any dilemma present because of the underlying principle of his actions as a physician and humanitarian, which was to treat each patient as a human being first, worthy of aid and common decency. The relationship of physician and patient reaches a fundamental place that is inviolate by politics.

It is only now that I have become aware that I have been living with this incredibly subversive idea and how actions derived from this feeling can be truly revolutionary. To experience in action, that every person, regardless of their past, their actions and their wrongdoings, is still a human being that deserves a certain regard.

Sometimes I wonder if the one-on-one encounter holds the most potential for this subversive idea. Perhaps the dyad is where equality may begin – even in relationships that are traditionally structured around a power differential (e.g., teacher and student). It seems to me that there is something unique about a coupling that cannot occur elsewhere. All context falls away and at least temporarily, you are the whole world of the other and the other becomes your whole world. It is no surprize that a frequent desire for a romantic couple is to get away from it all, to escape context, to try to protect the dyadic connection.

I remember an aboriginal woman who befriended me, who took me under her wing. Before arriving in her community, I recall thinking that my privilege would be a serious barrier for me. Afterall, I was hailing from a white dominated society with a long, abusive history of assimilation, cultural genocide and exploitation of aboriginals.

But in that dyadic space, I found that none of that really mattered. It was a space where other things mattered more, things like chemistry, mutual understanding, respect, curiousity. We had one of those rare, almost immediate connections. I’m not saying that identity politics did not have an affect on how the relationship developed, because it most certainly did. I am sure having shared history of imperialist domination (although this was to play out in a radically different manner for our families) provided a certain sympatico while my privilege and especially my mobility, created an asymmetry. Yet I was always a human being in her eyes, not my Southern/socioeconomic privilege just as she was a human being to me, and not an ugly racial stereotype. We were two equals, two individuals acting in the present, not stock characters in some romanticized colonial narrative, the civilizing scientific westerner rescuing the backward native, nor the noble savage teaching the soulless, modern man how to reconnect to a lost sacredness. Our relationship had fuck all to do with that.

It had to do with sharing a love of arts and crafts and of being creative; tacitly and mutually agreeing to trying anything once, devil may care; exploring and expressing culture and heritage; and just having a good time in a breathtakingly harsh and beautiful environment. It had to do with the simple, yet challenging act of making a new friend.

The one-on-one space invites the possibility of truly transcending differences that are greater than yourself because of the deep intimacy two people can attain there. The experience of love in this space dwarfs the weight of all else. The trick I suppose, is being able to protect that relationship from those who would not understand or accept it, to learn from that experience of deep connection, to strive for a human regard with all people and to find and create this space wherever possible…