Today I started my day with an hour long yoga routine, a short meditation, and listening to a Kirtan, Michael Franti, and Shakira (WAKA WAKA). What a great start to the day. I’m committed to conquering a hand stand by June. My arms and back are achy attempting to build strength. I really have no excuse not to practice as there are no other distractions. Next on the agenda was the movie, Iron Man with the LogCo. I will watch anything with Robert Downey Jr. especially as a super hero. :) It has been a much needed relaxing Sunday. This week was a bit stressful as it was the first week on my own and it was monthly closing for December. I had my week hand-off, it was time to GO. The Admin Assistant is a national staff person and he has only been on the job a month and two weeks on his own. It was a blind leading the blind week. The financial team from Coordination arrives Monday night, I can’t wait as I have many questions!! One of the challenges I am having is the many different languages, but more on that in another post.
I recently finished the book, The Blue Sweater. I highly recommend this book if solutions to poverty are of interest. I’ve started another book, but keep coming back to this book so decided to put into writing some of my thoughts spurred by a lengthy dinner conversation last night.
I still haven’t made it to the hospital to spend some significant time so my knowledge of the project is based on evening conversations. Last night there was a discussion of a woman and her family camped out on the grounds of the hospital. She did not make it to the hospital before giving birth to twins en route on a bus; therefore, she was not admitted. She arrived with her husband, two children of seven and nine and a 1 week old infant. The second infant did not survive. The tragedy in this is she has end stage breast cancer. She needs to go home to her village to die and make arrangements for her children. I won’t go into all the complexities and details of local health care that doesn’t have palliative and hospice programs as I probably know enough to be dangerous. The crux of the discussion was how to fund her trip home and at least provide pain management. The desire of most of us was to dip into our stipend to give her and her family money to get home to her village. Thus began a debate about being a humanitarian organization and the right thing to do vs. the woman is not our patient and discussing medical details that could make her our patient. I went to bed feeling a little queasy about the situation and troubled that no matter where you go the administration side of providing care to people surfaces. What appears to be a simple solution isn’t. This morning they were gone – they left during the night.
This brings me back to The Blue Sweater. There is a part in the book where the author is expressing her dilemma about buying an expansive bottle of champagne while living in Africa among those who are poor. Her friend’s response, “I know it doesn’t make a lot of sense on one level. We’re working with the really poor and you and I couldn’t be more privileged in relative terms. But don’t pretend to be someone you aren’t. If you want to remain happy and alive in this work, you need to reconcile this part of who you are and understand the inconsistencies with the work you do and how it all fits into your whole way of being.” I think there is a lot to reflect on in this statement and keep coming back to it over and over. I’ve never been a fan of comparing situations and find it dismissive when someone says there are others who have it worse. There are always those who have it worse or better. It is a given of life. Yes, maybe many complaints we hear on a day to day basis are first world problems, but that is the world we live in. And, I am not saying some complaints are not petty and self-absorbed. However, I think spending more time reflecting on what we are grateful for in our lives and as stated in the above quote to spend time reflecting on the inconsistencies, but not attempt to marginalize or dismiss what we or others feel. If someone’s complaint hits a nerve perhaps instead of telling them others have it worse spend time and reflect on our own reaction (judgment). I think comparing creates more separateness.
And, while I am on the rant, really, how truly meaningless is to the child who isn’t even aware of the larger world to say there are children starving in Ethiopia so clean your plate. How is cleaning your plate helpful to those who have nothing. We can learn to be more grateful for what we have and teach that to children, but making blanket statements does nothing but dismiss and marginalize the person in front of us – in my opinion.
“For me, God exists in that place where all living things are interconnected-and we know it when we feel the divine. For the world to heal its suffering, we need to combine tough determination and bring solutions to poverty with this sense of ourselves not as isolated individuals, but as beings who need one another and depend on one another.”
“I am a part of all that I have met.” And they-every one of them, good and bad-are a part of me.”
Poverty is complex and there are many opinions and obviously I know very little, but I found this book triggered my thinking about poverty and the solutions to poverty. There are so many well meaning people who want to help and many who think the solution is to throw money at the situation. There are numerous organizations doing just this, but this book highlights how many are not helping, and in fact are making things worse.
“I’ve learned that generosity is far easier than justice and that, in the highly distorted markets of the poor, it is all too easy to veer only toward the charitable, to have low – or no – expectations for low-income people. This does nothing but reaffirm prejudices on all sides.” She provides several examples of how helping people back to health and assisting building a sustainable income generating business restores hope and dignity to the poor. And, why it is important to hold people accountable no matter their economic situation.
She ends the book with Aristotle’s definition of happiness, which is a deep sense of meaning, purpose, and, ultimately, abiding joy. I do believe this is my favorite definition I have read to date. I generally ignore all happiness quotes and books not because I am not a believer, but because I don’t believe in a bubbly lightness that society appears to want to embrace. It isn’t possible.
So those are my musings so far. Always subject to change. I close with my favorite from the book – how Acumen, the author’s company, is attempting to define leadership.
Go to the people
live with them, learn from them
start with what they know
build with what they have.
But of the best leaders,
when the job is done,
the task accomplished,
the people will say:
“We have done it ourselves.”
- LAO TZU