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Do-Gooders Beware

September 26, 2010

I have met a great many people and I hope to meet a great many more.  Most of these people have had positive impacts upon my life.  Some have not.  Regardless I maintain — have always maintained and will always maintain — that people, at their core, operate from love.  Yet, some people are misguided and it is those I address now.

Last night I engaged in conversation with someone I met…oh, maybe seven years ago (w-o-w!!  I am officially old).  Upon that first meeting I made a drunken fool of myself and haven’t seen him since…until last night.  Fortunately for me, this time he was the drunken one.  I was intrigued by the crossing of paths.  So many people we meet we walk away from knowing we will never see them again.  Last night was just another proof of our inability to know.

Anyway, I digress.  He spoke of a non profit he was working with that dealt with teaching English to children in Nepal.  He was in the works to go over and teach English.  He then went on and on about how much better he will make their lives by giving them the gift of English.  My ears perked.  I had already been having trouble adjusting to the bar scene I found myself in.  With the extraordinary influx of awareness into my life over the past month and the majority of my time being spent with the most vulnerable population in our society…I felt very uneasy and couldn’t quite adjust my energy to the energy around me.  I felt more an outsider, looking in a window and taking in a scene that I could see, smell, feel, taste, hear…but wasn’t really apart of.

My re-found friend for the night was so genuine in his desire and it came from a really beautiful place.  But it was still cloaked in a dominant/superior view.  I doubt it was intentional, it is very difficult to see the role one plays when one is of the dominant group.  For example, I am white.  White is the dominant race in America.  White holds the power and privilege in America.  Therefore I have the luxury to forget I am white.  It is invisible to me because it is the norm and it is not constantly being pointed out to me.  Black people know they are black because it falls into the ‘Other’ category.  Day in and day out they are constantly being made aware of the fact, in both subtle and overt ways, that they are not white, they are black.  So my view of my world and the world is less consciously shaped by my race than a black person’s view of their world and the world.

A desire to do good is an admirable quality in a person.  I just ask a bit of awareness and a multi-dimensional view.  Instead of Gulf of Tonkin-ing our way into the lives of others, explore the history, explore the culture.  Learn about that which is not you and find that awareness that your way may be right for you but that does not mean it is universally right.

One part of social work that I just love is the understanding that we are not experts coming in to ‘fix’ things.  The only expert on an individual’s life is themselves.  The experts on a community are the collective group of individuals and the history that make up that community.  We do not go in as experts with all the answers.  We work with individuals, communities, government and we figure out, together, what works best for the individual, communities, government.

Know just as your way may be best for you, another’s way is best for them.  We are all masters of our own fate and only our own.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Laurit permalink
    September 27, 2010 6:36 pm

    it’s funny- i had a similar conversation with someone i know who is going to teach english abroad as well…and she also seemed to think she was doing a “good” thing…but while yes, it’s good for people to learn other languages, teaching english en masse could potentially be really harmful to culture (especially low-populated cultures), as people learn the “international language” and then move away from their own countries to pursue economic interests/necessities…it’s a part of world-wide globalization and essentially corporatization as wel. …though i am sure most of the young people going abroad to teach english do so with well intentions, they may not have explored the full picture…

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