Jan 31 2012
Feelings are in a constant flux when you’re in India. One minute you’re furious because people are living in trash. The next you’re happy because you’re playing cricket with the kids. The next you’re crying, listening to stories of heartache and suffering. At the close of each day, I take inventory of what occurred in the previous 16 hours. On the fourth or fifth day of our September trip, I realized in my journal that I was consistently sugarcoating what I saw. No matter the event, I would try to put a positive spin on it – mainly for literary effect – so it left a solid feeling when I dotted the final period of that entry.
In practice, it looks like this: so and so child lives in this crap hole that animals shouldn’t even be allowed to inhabit. Here’s a picture of the crap. But, in spite of this, they have so much joy. Here’s a picture of them smiling. Lesson: I should be content with what I have because they have nothing.
What good does that lesson do for my life or for those who read it? There is some good, to be sure. It may really change me. But, as I realized this last September, I felt a sting in my heart. If I lived in abject poverty, how would I feel about being used as an object lesson? There’s a sense in which I may be honored, but I think I’d be a little sad, too. Maybe a lot sad or even angry. I’d want to yell at the top of my lungs, “DON’T YOU SEE I HAVE ALMOST NOTHING TO EAT AND TWO AND A HALF TARPS OVER MY HEAD FOR SHELTER!?!?!?!? THERE ARE MORE IMPORTANT THINGS TO TALK ABOUT THAN YOU BEING CONTENT WITH WHAT YOU HAVE!!!!! LET YOUR HEART BE CHANGED, BUT HELP ME REALLY CHANGE MY LIFE!!!”
We see videos and listen to songs these days and talk of being “inspired.” We like the “high” of enlightenment. But this isn’t the only understanding of the word “inspire” and we too often embrace only the lesser version.
When we say we’re “inspired,” we mean to say our emotions were stirred – that we felt like a glassy lake until we watched that video or listened to that song which ran through our hearts like a boat and made waves. But the waves dissipate over the course of a couple minutes or a couple hours or a couple days or weeks, depending on how profound the experience, and we return to our previous state.
Stirred By Poverty
When we arrive at the terrible places we visit, our hearts are jolted. The experience is an enormous boat displacing a huge amount of water and we’re shaken. It literally impacts us. We feel it. But when we leave these crappy places, the waters calm over time. We return to our previous state of being. We forget. On some level, the same may well be true of those we visit. Their happiness may leave them in some way or another after we leave. I can’t say for sure either way.
The curious thing about waves is that they move water up and down, but the water molecules remain largely in the place they were before the wave arrived, having only moved in a circular motion as the wave passed its point. For the most part they don’t move forward or backward. When we’re emotional, there’s agitation, but there isn’t often progress.
Courtesy Grand Valley State University (http://faculty.gvsu.edu/videticp/waves.htm)
I’ve learned this past year that remaining in the open waters of sympathy and emotion usually leaves us in the same place we were before. We’ve had a nice trip going up and down the wave – to India and back. We met some people, saw sad things, and learned a couple lessons. But we often remain as we were. And the condition of the poor remains also – something which is, frankly, inexcusable. That I know people living in grinding poverty and had days this year where it never crossed my mind shows me how mean and coldhearted I can be.
On the other hand, I’ve learned excellent lessons from poverty. I’m not diminishing their worth or the worth of emotions. They’re both a good and probably inevitable thing.
I learned this year that I must KNOW emotions alone won’t help anyone very much. If our emotions die like waves without stirring our will, everyone loses. Poverty must inspire us in the higher, verb-form of the word – where we decide we must DO something. We decide to ACT – to attempt materially changing the crappy situation we see and feel bad about.
At this point in human history, the pressing concern of the world is not more eyewitnesses. We don’t need more people blogging about poverty or taking pictures and video of it. Those things need to happen but emotions alone cannot fix poverty. Actions do. We need to understand why poverty occurs and we need millions of more people to spend themselves helping to FIX poverty through well-thought out, well-executed, tangible relief work and programs. We need the best of our society (and theirs) across all disciplines – agriculture, engineering, technology, education, finance, and health care – to work on these problems because helping someone with food and a house isn’t enough. It’s just the beginning.
Jesus didn’t ask us to pray that reporters would be sent out into the field. He asked for workers. Reporters are certainly workers. Reporters open eyes. But workers, as I’m using the word, change lives. Both are needed but the world especially lacks the latter. This past year, I learned I must be a worker. It’s changed my life and it’s slowly changing lives in India.
How do we begin having ACTIONS stirred and not just our emotions? More tomorrow when I talk about the third thing I’ve learned since meeting poverty.