Patrick B. McGuigan
In a wide-ranging discourse on conflict, youthful trauma, historic events and contemporary challenges, Dr. Nyla Khan engaged a diverse set of Oklahomans who gathered at a north Oklahoma City home to mark the release of her newest book.
Dr. Nyla praised the life’s body of work from Father Michael Lapsley as source material for her studies and reflections. She recalled that after an attempt was made to kill him (in which he lost an eye and both hands), Lapsley found his way forward, establishing for the nation of South Africa the “Institute for Healing of Memories.”
She told the July 1 gathering that she first encountered Lapsley at Oklahoma City’s Fairview Baptist Church. The breadth of her scholarly inspiration, Dr. Nyla made clear, includes men like Lapsley and the late Viktor Frankl.
Upon her first reading, she drew hope from Frankl’s ability to distill his own trauma and suffering into conclusions echoing core beliefs within diverse world faith positions. Frankl survived the Holocaust of the 1940s, going on to write a book that remains among the most influential works created in the Twentieth Century.
In “Man’s Search for Meaning,” Frankl wrote: “Everything can be taken from man but one thing, the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
Dr. Nyla’s new book is “Educational Strategies for Youth Empowerment in Conflict Zones: Transforming, not Transmitting, Trauma” (Palgrave Macmillan, 2021). It is available both in print and digital versions.
Concerning direct work with students, Dr. Nyla said that in classrooms, she encourages discussion of individual responses to trauma and challenges.
She reflects that many young people seem to carry “a sense of entitlement” – whether it is centered on position, access to power or their preferred interpretation of events. She presses them, hoping they find an understanding that “with entitlement comes responsibility.”
She asserts that her work has led to examinations of “multiple human life issues.” Dr. Nyla believes that contemporary students react best to testimonials. Young people discovering broader realities of modern life bear burdens in these times as they discern a “loss of values they thought would buoy them up.”
A trauma-informed approach to justice, she contends, leads to affirmation of the central importance of community and institution-building, realistic and pragmatic ways to broaden awareness among one’s own experiences. She recognizes but is not obsessed with debate questions among philosophers along the lines of this: “Do theories have a real impact on society?”
Dr. Nyla told attendees at the recent event she was encouraged to learn of the practical work of Charles (David) Tauber in Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia, using discussion, study and arbitration to benefit students and families.
In her work at Rose State and Oklahoma City Community College (OCCC), she has learned from the experiences of American soldiers in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, and from their candor about the aftermath of time in combat.
In his era of mass-media-driven “one-up-manship” and propaganda, Dr. Nyla described tutoring students to understand, and act upon, a knowledge that resolving a problem requires respectful discourse, a willingness to learn there are “shades of gray” in life.
Even as she seeks “transformative” understandings, she casts honor on the choices of those who choose a life of service to family, neighbors and community.
For all her generously calibrated praise for the works of scholars such as Lapsley, Frankl and
Tauber, the clearest emotional spark for her growing intellectual exploration emerges from her own family – her father and mother, and, in the last 18 years, her daughter.
Concerning her father, Dr. Nyla shared tender thoughts: “He often told me that people should feel free to delight in life until the last breath. He taught me how to live, and the flame of my father’s love will never be extinguished. Every calamity and every conflict reminds us of the fragility of life.”
And this: “Life is transient and precarious. The sooner we realize that we live on the edge of an abyss, the more present we will be for every moment, big and small.
As for the spiritual nature of we, the living, she said: “Acknowledging the uncertainty of life will enable us to recognize the potential for meaning in every moment. Our lives have meaning not despite the fragility of life, but because of it. We can learn to see every challenge as an opportunity to grow, because we are not immortal and must make the most of every minute on earth.”
Now an American citizen, Dr. Nyla draws inspiration from her homeland, the region of Kashmir on the west side of the Indian sub-continent.
Dr. Nyla said events in her native land and memories of days as a school girl in Kashmir combine in “the power to make my heart melt.” Among her motivations for writing the new book is a hope “the marginalized of that region can retain hope.” (Kashmir and Jummu was in the post-colonial era granted a semi-autonomous status, until the Indian government over recent years eroded that nation’s federalist system and concentrated power at the center of the nation.)
Dr. Nyla draws inspiration from students here and now, in Oklahoma and elsewhere.
While her book and her public comments are infused with memories of her father, she credited the “dignity and great self-confidence” of her mother, descended from a powerful Kashmiri political family, who made her family the center of her life for decades.
She tenderly praised the “creative rebelliousness” of her daughter, Iman, who was among the attendees.
Dialogue was sparked among the eclectic group of Oklahomans (and a pair of Peruvians). Many of those present shared brief testimonials. Those speaking for memorable moments before the evening’s close included Dr. Nyla’s husband, Faisal Khan.
Hosts for the event were Cindy Ruffel and her husband, Lance.
Some of Dr. Nyla’s colleagues from the Oklahoma Commission on the Status of Women (OCSW) were present, including Pat Carr (organizer for the event), Victoria Woods (chair of the commission), Riki Snyder (past chair), and Karen Sneary (OCSW secretary). Dr. Nyla is the group’s advisory council chair.
Academics at the gathering included Cathleen Skinner (state director, World Languages) and Candie McKee from OCCC, and Professor Steve Morrow. Enrique Villar-Gambetta, consul to Oklahoma for the nation of Peru, and his son Ignacio were there. Joan Korenblit of the Respect Diversity Foundation graced the assembly along with her twin, Jan Bravo.
Others in the group were: Andrea Holmes Voltura, longtime employee at the state Auditor and Inspector’s office (CPA, retired), as well as Rebecca Thompson, legal minds Robert C. Thompson and Judge Steve Haynes, as well as Kayla Bellmon Loount, Blue Clark, Sherry Sullivan, Germaine Odenheimer, Mike Hoskins, Adeline Yerkes, and Debbie South.