Alternate title to this post…
Listening is the Coolest: We Should All Practice it More Often
So I think my guardian angel was working overtime for me recently. She sent me this lovely couple that I mentioned in the last blog, Ileana and Efrain. They came through, at first, just passing through, and then they decided to stay for a month. This decision was based on the fact that their motorcycle (with side-car) was out of service and in need of a part…..BUT, more so because they realized how difficult it was to fly in and fly out of a situation like the Buen Pastor and actually do something of substance. This became a large part of our discussions as we became friends and “co-workers” for this period of time. We examined and compared the endless sided prism of volunteer work, and even more tricky, the concept of Voluntourism and how is it impacting the communities that receive these individuals. What is the dialogue between the community being “served” and the volunteer organization? Is there even a conversation? Months ago I heard a very interesting podcast about the nature of aid. It was addressing how organizations were working with Haiti at the time, however, I see the misconceptions that were addressed as something that all of us could spend some time thinking about, and could benefit from asking ourselves how these ideas apply to our own worlds and our endeavors, large and small.
The cliff notes were as such: You probably don’t know best so the quicker you drop your fix it list in the trash and trade it for a blank sheet of paper and pen, the more likely you are to actually do what it is you came for, to help.
I have had this heavy on my mind and heart lately. I have been personally feeling this truth rather than pondering the concept. This couple was truly a blessing for me because together we were able to question these complex relationships and the structures of their organization and mine. Seeing the good intentions on both sides that so often lead to nothing close to the desired result. In fact quite often the unexamined intention results in quite a mess for everyone involved.
In the midst of the Story Play workshop I had this ridiculously strong feeling that I needed to branch out of the classroom and bring these ideas and opportunities for exploration out into the everyday experience of Buen Pastor. It felt like it was something that had to be done. Literally like a voice was shouting, “MAKE THIS HAPPEN!!!” So, I listened. I wrote the proposal and pitched it around and got some preliminary support. Mainly from the volunteers that have been working at the Buen Pastor. The idea of having a structure to plug into, games and activities to draw from and someone (me) to report to with questions all sounded like the best idea ever! I encouraged a couple that was ending their 4 month period volunteering to engage some people from within the Buen Pastor in a sort of exit interview. We brainstormed the many questions about their roles and difficult situations that had arisen. Because there had been no formal training or Q and A in the beginning, most of these were still without answers. It is a classic a sink or swim situation.
My best of best intentions was to create dialogue between the volunteers and the organization. But then when it came time for me to act, in my opportunity to know more about this place that I am so much a part of, the voice in my head was louder than anything occurring in front of me.
Can you believe it? I flubbed it up just like all of these far off organizations that I was criticizing for not listening first, for not asking the simple question “How can I help?” and thinking that they know best. I think I transformed into that without even seeing it.
The changes that I am trying make “structurally” seem like small shifts to me and yet I can envision how they will transform the experience in fundamental ways. Because of this, I will stand by my idea. BUT….in the thick of all of this dreaming and scheming somehow it started to feel like wrestling. Who am I to say that this way is best? And did I listen to the problems that the people within the program felt were going to stand in the way of this transformation? Regardless of what I am perceiving about this situation and projecting what it could look like or what it should offer, bottom line is, I am not able to do it alone. I cannot impose my ideas and expect that this will create any sort of shift in their perception. And somehow in this struggle I lost sight of the thing that I am able to offer, what I as an indivual am representing for the girls. The idea of this shift in structure so that the girls could have this overall experience that I see as nurturing and stimulating, blinded me to the simple observation that the classes and the relationships that we have might be offering this experience to them on an individual basis. Maybe in observing that and then focusing on these connections, I might actually be able to cultivate the change I envision.
In this realization, I sat down with Tere and apologized if my suggestions came across in an manner that felt in anyway like judgement. Then I asked her to please tell what things she saw as systemic problems that she could not address. Partly because she is already doing the work of four people, and furthermore is often faced with the reality that the funding for her salary has run out. I explained that I beleive that structure and stability are something that the girls need more of, however I also recognize the difficulty presented in trying to create that for such a bumbling mass of individual need. But I also was clear in this conversation that I want to create these changes to lessen her load, and if she sees other, more glaring problems of a structural nature, I am willing to tackle whatever might make things run smoother for everyone.
This idea of change, of bettering the world, is a dangerous thing to hang your hat on without close examination of why you are so commited this being the solution in the first place. For me I found it hilarious that I was screaming (in my head) about structure and stability and the importance of routine and then I was terrified by the thought that I am the one that has to create it and more importantly, honor it. Which is like asking a vegetarian to prepare and then eat a medium rare steak.
So now here I am embarking on the journey of Activity and Volunteer Coordination….agreeing to just be there everyday in the afternoon to facilitate the development of the “structure”that I have proposed as the solution to so many things….gulp….my inner voice has shifted its demands to “Just listen. Pay attention. Relax spaz, It will be okay if that doesn’t work out.” So with all of my senses I am trying to keep understanding how I can be of service instead of marching through with my ideology drowning out the nurturing and stimulating experiences that are offered in abundance, everyday.