Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Platinum Rule

Author's note: Now that I have finished writing and tweaking this post, it's rather long. You may want to get a snack, a pop, or take a bathroom break before settling in for this post. Enjoy!

I've been wanting to write this entry since we were in Chicago. Then again during our in-country orientation. And again last week. Each time I've had trouble deciding where to start. So I'm going to try to start at the beginning.

The Beginning

Our orientation in Chicago was full of interesting presentations, fascinating discussions, and discovered truths that brought tears. I loved every minute of it. Two of the bigger ideas we discussed were accompaniment and solidarity. According to the ELCA,
"Accompaniment is defined as walking together in a solidarity that practices interdependence and mutuality."
Such a short definition and I've been mulling over what it means for months. And will continue to do so for the rest of the year, I'm sure. (We'll come back to solidarity in a bit.)


During our in-country orientation we visited each other's placement sites.At Jake's site, Amextra, part of their presentation discussed just two verbs; to develop and to transform. Mr. Webster tells us that to develop is "to grow, become bigger or more advanced" or "to create (something) over a period of time". To transform is "to change (something) completely and usually in a good way." Most of the time, these words are similar enough that we don't think too much about the nuance. But as we talked, we found that in those words lies a subtlety that makes a world of difference.

When you have a developer or a development project you usually find someone from the outside with an idea of what should be and a way to get there. Someone from the outside comes, looks around, and decided what they think is needed. Many times these developers forget to ask questions. Or more likely, they assume that their answers to those questions are universal and can be applied anywhere. But if you  ask new questions, and ask many people those questions, you find that the answers can change from place to place. What worked once may not work somewhere else.

Now, to transform something- to change something completely- you can't have an outside-in solution. To truly change something the change must come from within. This means you need to ask others what is needed in each new place. You must be willing to change your ideas and perceptions to each new location and endeavor. Everyone needs to be included, be involved, and work together. When everyone is involved and mutually working towards a goal that's when transformations happen and those transformations have a greater chance of having a lasting impact.

Solidarity, accompaniment (and privilege) 

During our Globalization retreat our coordinator, Lindsay, gave us a chapter from the book Doing Mujerista Theology. This chapter five is about solidarity. In reading this chapter I feel like I finally have some pieces to put this blog post together. Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz points out that
"for the majority of people who are committed to justice, solidarity means agreement with and sympathy for the poor and oppressed."
I see this type of solidarity all the time. Awareness campaigns, colored ribbons, car magnets, changing your profile picture for a day, donating spare change to charity. These things are highly visible, but they're not enough. Not that these things are bad. We've all done them and good things can happen from these actions, but solidarity is more than that.

Solidarity calls us to question. Ask people who they are, what they need, what their reality is. We also need to ask "Why?" Why are things they way they are? What is keeping things that way and what do we need to do/change/transform? What's more, we need to work together to answer those questions and act. The world is a complex and interconnected place. Change must come from understanding each other (asking questions and listening to the answers), understanding ourselves (and our preconceptions and privilege), and working together.

The Platinum Rule*

*Not the one from How I Met Your Mother

An old BGR buddy of mine from Purdue, Sam Killerman, wrote a piece months ago that, at the time, I had a hard time fully understanding. In his post at It's Pronounced Metrosexual, Sam advocated replacing the Golden Rule. We all know the Golden Rule: "Treat others the way you want to be treated."

I've always liked the Golden Rule. It reminds me to be nice to everyone because I want everyone to be nice to me. So everyone's nice and we're all happy, right? But, let's look at that Golden Rule again: "Treat others the way you want to be treated." 

You want. 

In that line of thinking, what you want should be what everyone wants. And therein lies the problem. If we are aiming for solidarity, mutuality, and accompaniment, we can't assume that what we want is the same as what others want. We can't assume that what works for us works everywhere, that we always know what others need. Often times we miss something. Sometimes it's a 'little' thing: children that are given new coloring books but nothing to color with. Sometimes it's a big thing: brand new schools and no money for teachers (Zambia, 2004).

So instead of the Golden Rule there exists an alternate option, The Platinum Rule. "Treat others the way they would like to be treated." If we want to truly accompany others and practice solidarity, we need to give up the idea that we have all the answers, that our way is the right way, that we always know what is best. Instead we need to ask questions, listen to others, and question what we think, what we know, and what we think we know.

One thing I have learned this year: I know very little. I don't have many answers and I have a lot more questions. But I have learned to be comfortable in the questions and looking for the answers. For now. The questions and answers may change tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Winter Newsletter

I know blog posts have been nonexistent lately, but I'm working on that. I have a few partial entries started that I am trying to wrap up.

Until then, you can enjoy my Winter Newsletter.

I talk about the holidays here in Mexico (there are several), more Spanish words, and more food.

If you would like my next newsletter to go directly to you inbox, let me know and I can add you to the mailing list!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Fall Newsletter

For anyone that didn't get an emailed copy of my newsletter you can get it here. In my newsletter I talk about my work site, review some new and exciting food, and give a short Spanish 101 lesson.

I would also like to thank my September and October sponsors:


2- Wayne & Ruth Eubank
15- Ken & Mary Musselman
16- Mike & Beth Dana

28- Dwayne Daehler

If you would like my next newsletter to be magically delivered directly to you inbox sometime around New Year's, you can comment, message, email, or snail mail me your email address.

If you would like to know more about becoming one of my daily sponsors, leave a comment and I'll be in touch!

Monday, October 21, 2013

My Spanish is getting better. It sounds awful.

Yes. You read that right. I know my Spanish is getting better because it is sounding worse. You're probably thinking this makes no sense. Hear me out.

When I arrived, I was very careful when speaking. I would have to think what I wanted to say, carefully translate it, and stick to words that I already knew well. I could manage some small talk, but not much more.

Now? Now it's getting interesting. At the dinner table we've had discussions about current events, economics, soccer, politics, and traditions from both here and the US. Rather than carefully planning my simple sentences then speaking, I've started spitting out my thoughts as I think them. My grammar has been all over the place- and I often use the wrong word, try several similar words, or have to stop and ask- but I can clumsily manage to convey a wider array of ideas. My family and coworkers have been very patient with me and have helped and corrected me many times. I am so thankful for all they are teaching me.

I've also noticed my thoughts have started mixing languages. Today as I was writing notes for work, I found myself switching languages multiple times in the same sentence or mid-list. A few times I've managed to entertain my fellow YAGMs by switching languages while speaking, too. I'm sure I'm not the only one in our group that's been doing this.

I can only hope that my Spanish will keep getting better and that, just maybe, one of these days it will finally start to sound better too.

¡Mis amigos!
I should probably dust these off again.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Mail time!

Well, almost.

I finally managed to get to the post office during business hours. To my September sponsors, your post cards are on the way! They may take a few weeks to get there, but they are in the mail. Thank you for your patience!

You can check out my Sponsor-for-a-Day sponsors in the calendar on the right. These sponsors will get a postcard in the mail telling what I did that day and a special mention in the newsletter (coming this month!). If you would like to sponsor me for a day feel free to shoot me an e-mail for more information.

Friday, September 27, 2013


I didn't pack a watch.

That was one item that was listed on our packing list and discussed a number of times in our orientations. Pack a watch. You won't want to pull your phone out to check the time. You may not even have a phone. It was also a mission I had for myself for Chicago orientation and in-country orientation before arriving in Tepoztlan; find a watch.

Now, I haven't worn a watch in years. My reasons being that many watches are made with metal wrist bands. I have sensitive skin. Seeing as I balk at the idea of spending hundreds of dollars on a 'nice watch' -because I don't wear them that often- I stick to the modestly priced watches. Usually from Target. These watches usually make my wrist quite itchy, so I stop wearing them. And since I never wear my watch, I don't want to spend a lot of money to get a better one. I see a pattern here.

My mission was to find a watch that didn't have a metal band, most likely a sports watch. Not the most fashionable, but something that would serve me this year. I never did find one I liked. Mission incomplete.

I didn't pack a watch.

And you know what? I've been fine without one. I do have a local cell phone. Given the number of smartphones I see everyday in our little, touristy town, I doubt checking my cellphone for the time would make cause me to stand out too much.
Though I do love this little guy.
And the surprising thing is I've not felt the need to check the time constantly. (And then check it again because you weren't really paying attention the first time.) The tempo of life is much different here. Often, time is more like a guideline. Relationships and people come first. The clock is secondary. I don't have to leave my breakfast, half-eaten, to rush out the door to get to work. (I would be more likely to leave it half-eaten because I'm not used to 2 or 3 course breakfasts, but that's a different story.)  If I stop to talk to a friend on the street, those few minutes won't make or break the rest of my day. It is a very freeing mentality to take life as it comes, in it's own time.

I didn't pack a watch. And I'm so glad I don't need one.

Addendum: I may have forgotten a watch, but I did remember to borrow my mom's travel alarm clock. (Thanks, Mom!). If I had any doubts as to its origin, it reminds me every day.
I have yet to turn the alarm "On" and yet it still goes off every morning without fail. 
Rise and shine!

I'm not sure if this is US time influence it has picked up or a bit of Mom Magic, but I have yet to be late to work. Thanks, alarm.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013


Naturalia is a non-profit organization that began in 1990 with the goal of saving the Mexican wolf. 22 years later they have expanded their goal to species and forest conservation. They publish a magazine, Especies, and have multiple offices in north and central Mexico.

I am working in their (small) office in Tepoztlan. On my first day (Monday) I learned about their current project, education about the importance of the local ravine to the local environment and cleaning the ravine. We started the morning by shooting some video that will be used in a promotional commercial and met with the director of the local elementary schools to get permission to hold a workshop with the students later this month. I spent most of the day watching and listening. (Side note: Junior year of high school, our Spanish class had a vocabulary unit on eco-tourism. At the time I remember wishing for more 'useful' vocabulary. Now I wish I remembered more of that unit.) I've spent the last two days looking at some of their publications and resources to find out more about the organization and what it is that they do. My dictionary has also been getting quite the workout.

I have already learned quite a bit and am excited to become more involved in the ravine project and more as time goes on!

For more information about Naturalia, look for the link at the top of the page, like them on Facebook, or follow them on Twitter (En Espanol!) And of course you can stay tuned here and hear more as my year continues.