Wednesday, January 29, 2014
Loving My Neighbors
I am a visionary. That means I dream big dreams. One of those dreams is for everyone to be treated with dignity and as equally valuable persons. I struggle with this, especially as my dwelling spot on this earth is smack in the middle of a culture of consumption. And while to all appearances we consume in a vacuum, there really are far-reaching consequences. One of those consequences is systemic oppression and systemic poverty. I am participating in a synchroblog hosted by my friend Esther. She and some friends dreamed this up as a way of conversing about economic justice and how we can be intentional in bringing it about through our choices. This is my first 2-cent contribution to what I imagine will be a very productive ongoing conversation.
It is often said that education leads to freedom. In ideology, it can definitely be true. In the real world, it's not always enough; sometimes there are systems at work preventing those living in poverty from rising above their circumstances.
In the real world things get broken, and so do people. In the real world, there is too much “emergency” and not enough “fund.” In the real world this happened to me, and my middle-class blinders got shattered.
I realize the subject is uncomfortable and tense because everyone wants to believe the American Dream could work for all people or if it doesn’t then it is their fault. The school of life taught me it is a lot more complicated than lifestyle and choices. I don't believe there's a black and white answer of either you're a responsible person or an irresponsible person. I think there are deeply rooted injustices needing to be addressed.
As I see it, I now have three choices. I can ignore the injustice and keep on doing my own thing. It’s sad it is an option, but that is a product of systemic privilege. Second, I can rage about it until I feel better, garner a lot of support, but really accomplish nothing except creating feelings. Or third, I can participate in an ongoing conversation where I place my tiny fragment of knowledge and experience next to other peoples’ tiny fragments of knowledge and experience and learn some practical ways to change things.
I am all for Door Number 3. I’ve become convinced that it's going to take a widespread community effort to be the change we all desire.
How can I help?
There are a number of ways to demonstrate love to those struggling with poverty. This is the place where I join the discussion and try to be a part of the change. Here are some things I have learned:
1. Do not see a person as a "problem." See the person! Acknowledge humanity before addressing circumstance. Avoid labeling someone as a generalized group entity, e.g. “the poor,” and adopt people-first terminology, e.g. “a person living in poverty.”
2. Calling by name. I will find out someone's name because it restores a sense of dignity and worth. It says "You matter so much you are worth knowing by name." (I am always thrilled when people start a conversation with me by calling me by my name rather than a pronoun.)
3. By listening to those “in the trenches.” Sometimes the best way to combat the despair of people in poverty is to listen to their story. "What is it like for you?" I need to put myself in their shoes as they tell me their history. I know my heart is guaranteed to grow a couple sizes. I guarantee I will be humbled by their stories.
What are some practices I plan to avoid?
1. Judgment, when I should be extending grace. Let me just lay it flat. I am beyond tired of the designer purse/iPhone toting/babydaddy tropes. I will not participate in that nonsense. I will learn compassion.
2. Shaming, when I have the opportunity to empower and encourage, or even offer assistance. I will treat everyone with dignity, especially those who wear rags.
3. Disgust/Avoidance, when I should be listening and learning. People need to be seen and heard. Acknowledge presence. Look people in the eye. Engage in dialogue.
4. Rationalizing. It is easier to talk about who is the problem, playing a blame game, than it is to actually move toward understanding what is at work behind the scenes. I am done with looking away.
Shattering the Stereotype.
This is the section where I brainstorm ideas and not necessarily promote them. It's more a "what do you think?" kind of challenge. I wonder if this change can start with giving real people in real disadvantaged circumstances a way to be heard?
We tend to talk about and around those who are truly hurting in the midst of their circumstances. We give them a generalized label of “the poor” rather than an actual individual voice. I think that needs to change. Empathy comes through testimony, not just observation.
What if the whole blogosphere or even the whole of social media or even just a small intentional group of people (hello there!) devoted a full day to using our platforms for an interview process; hearing real live stories from those actually in poverty? What if we devoted a whole day to closing our own busy mouths and simply listening. And not listening only but actually hearing: the pain, the grief, the discomfort. We are doing a little bit of that here with this synchroblog, but I will be the first to say I can get mighty tired of the sound of my own voice saying the same thing over and over. I want to move forward. And while it isn’t my cup of tea to absorb the desperation of humanity, it is still something I purpose to do. Because I love. Because this matters. Because each person in the human race matters.
It is hard to grasp the meaning of poverty. It is an overwhelming issue requiring a complex solution. I can’t be a part of every facet of that solution. I CAN show up, listen, and learn from the studies and experiences of others. Tell me YOUR stories, friends.
Posted by Jamie at 1:24 PM