“If you believe if you're going to...change the world, you're going to end up either a pessimist or a cynic. But if you understand your limited power and define yourself by your ability to resist injustice, rather than by what you accomplish, then I think reality is much easier to bear.” ~Chris Hedges
Even when real changes in people’s life conditions are not imminently possible, our role can be to enable hope in the face of adversity.
What is required of aid workers and peacemakers to serve rather than help, is illustrated further by a concept my friend Silvia brought to my attention, that of “cultural humility.” She works in hospice in California, working with healthcare professionals to offer more appropriate and compassionate care to the Latino community. In healthcare settings, cultural humility involves active engagement in self-reflection, bringing power imbalances into check, relinquishment of the role of expert, becoming the student, and seeing a patient’s potential to be a full and capable partner in their recovery.
The most effective and inspiring development practitioners I’ve ever worked with embody cultural humility.
Do you have the courage to battle the modernist viewpoints, privilege and racism at the roots of international aid, as well as to question your own personal prejudices, stereotypes, and agendas? Be prepared to go deeper to examine your own beliefs, values, assumptions, and biases. Karen Armstrong describes the “hard work of compassion” as constantly “dethroning” yourself to challenge your own worldview.
Maybe the title of this talk should be “What I had to un-learn from grad school.”
I do think there is room for aid workers and do-gooders to redefine our role as translators, between what people on the ground really need and that of the demands of donors. Not as providers of what people need. Not as enforcers of policy, or rules, or regulations. Not as helpers or saviors or martyrs.
Results, results, results. Yes, they are important. Results are not possible, however, without tending to “the process.”
You will have many bosses who do not understand this.
You will have to fight hard to not let the overly technocratic, abstractionist tendencies of aid work pull you under.
You will have to fight against “charitable” urges towards impoverished and marginalized people you encounter, which can ultimately debase their dignity.
You will have to fight to experience the full range of our human condition.
Anyone can identify what’s wrong. It will take much more skill and strength to wake up everyday and help identify what’s right, what’s possible, and where incremental changes can occur.
…Just a few of the things I wish I had known. What about you?
This post originally appeared at: http://www.how-matters.org/2011/03/30/if-i-had-only-known/
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