On fixing and helping and serving and judgment

Thinking about the poverty and the prosperity and how closely they exist in South Africa, and how easy it is to feel bad listening to our stories and looking at our pictures.  How can we complain in this country about not having the latest gadget when these people are not sure where their meals are coming from?  How do we live with ourselves and our prosperity in this country when people are going hungry?  The guilt of being prosperous while others suffer is too much; perhaps it’s better or more just to remain poor ourselves, since the need is so great that we can’t begin to fill the vastness of the gulf between us.

I’ve been thinking more about Robin’s guest post, where she talks about fixing and helping and serving.  To summarize, fixing comes from a place of superiority.  I am superior to you–let me fix it for you.  It’s like what you do for a child who can’t tie her own shoes.  You say, “here, let me do that.”  And you tie her shoes.  Her role is to hold still so that you can do it for her.

Helping is similar.  Helping also assumes a kind of superiority, that I am better placed to take care of your problem than you are.  Helping is tantamount to rescuing you from drowning when I have a boat.  I have access to resources you don’t, as in, a boat, and you are in danger.  You are right to hope that I will help you, but you are expected to try to save yourself.  You don’t stop swimming until I get there with my boat, you try to keep yourself afloat and I help you into my boat.

Serving recognizes that each of us is already whole.  We serve each other food.  When I serve you food, I recognize that you are capable of eating it yourself, I don’t need to feed it to you like a baby.  If it’s a restaurant setting, I am recognizing that you are capable of paying for the food I’m serving you.  You are already capable of solving your problem (being hungry), it is my job to facilitate that by serving you the food so that you can feed yourself with it.

In the context of South Africa, and poverty, serving is a hard headspace (or perhaps I should say heartspace) to maintain.  People appear to be in such need.  It triggers a desperate desire to make it all better as quickly as possible.

But as Robin has pointed out, and I saw for myself, for the most part we are not talking about people who are starving.  They are hungry, oftentimes, and that is a shame and a sadness.  But, as much as they may need a bowl of food, they need more to be seen, to be known as human and divine and capable and whole.  They do not need my pity.  They certainly don’t need my Westernized viewpoint that says that they must be miserable because they don’t have a standard of living that I recognize as acceptable.  That’s just my prejudice talking.

As for our perspective on stuff and ownership and commercialism, of course that has changed.  We were at the mall the other day to visit our daughter at work and decided to go ahead and do some shopping.  It’s getting colder; our supply of warm clothes is a little low, since we’ve both lost a bunch of weight and given all our old clothes away.  We went through several stores.  I saw some cute things.  But every time, I put them back, because, you know, I have enough.  I am blessed already.

And the judgment?  I am working on that.  I know this about myself, that I tend to be very judgy.  Spellcheck is telling me that’s not a word, but yes it is.  I label experiences, situations, and yes, people.  They’re not always negative labels, often I’m judging something or someone positively–I like to think I look for the good more often than I’m looking for the bad.  But they’re all judgments.

“Judge not, lest ye be judged”.  I’m trying.  I’m trying to remember that we’re all human and divine and whole and capable.  Including me.  Including you.  Including everyone that you meet today, and everyone that you don’t meet today.  It’s a heartspace I’m trying to maintain today.


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