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!