Where I just was in Tanzania is heaven compared to what I just walked through last night on my way home from an event in East Hastings (The downtown east side) in Vancouver, BC. It is truly a world unto its own. Pushed aside, ignored by many who purposefully choose to not frequent the area, shielding themselves form the realities that are right in our own backyards.
And then I think too about the perceptions of the west from those beautiful African lands I just had the pleasure of being on... how people I met there told me they think everyone in the west has money, is rich, and lives happy lives.
Oh how I wish I could shed the true light on all of that. We're not doing much better and in fact we might even be doing worse. Sure we have "things" (though a lot of us don't), but what else do we have? It is perhaps that it gets hidden better, placed in a box and out of the minds eye.....plus mental illness is already more hidden. And of course, the people heading to Africa are the ones who have the money and generally mental health in check, so the interactions on the ground in Africa are quite one-sided, one type of person.
It completely boggles my mind how people can flee far and wide, all congregating on one continent…Africa, for what seems like one purpose “to save the [insert perceived underprivileged group here]” - though I met many foreigners who were against this type of thing while there, the general story that seems to be spread is one of "saving". Granted people converge in other “developing” countries too, not just countries in Africa…. But the point is people flee their own space (which they arguably know best since they've grown up there, live it, and are part of the culture) to “help” other spaces that, quite frankly, likely don’t need the help, and are indeed hindered by such things as it creates dependency, and people participating in projects that ultimately don't help the community but there is money to access so "why not"? sort of mentality. It's not to say that each place doesn't have it's problems, but that those problems are generally better dealt with by locals who know the issues inside and out because they live in them, have been part of it for their whole lives and are connected to the cultural subtleties etc.
Is it that the pain is too great to witness in our own homes? That we don’t know how to fix it so we run somewhere else where the problems seem relatively easier to fix, or so we perceive in our biased western minds? Is it because we're concerned with the numbers of it all "I saved 5 families, or I helped 10 kids go to school..." Is it because we need those cold hard facts or else we feel like we're not doing anything?
It reminds me of the chapter entitled Morphogenesis, in Charles Eisenstein's newest book The More Beautiful World our Hearts Know is Possible - which is available for free online. Thanks Charles! Here's a quote that sums it up a bit...but I recommend reading the whole chapter, and, indeed, the whole book.
I wish I could say that the new story provides a map, but it does not. It can, however, remove the disorienting fog of habits and beliefs, leftovers of the old paradigms, that obscure our internal guidance system. The principles of interbeing do not, on their own, offer a formula for decision making. Even if you accept that “I and the world are one,” you will not be able to distinguish whether it will benefit all sentient beings more to stay home and reduce your carbon emissions, or to drive to the rally to protest fracking. To attempt such a calculation draws from the old story, which seeks to quantify everything, to add up the effects of any action, and to make choices accordingly. That way of making choices is useful only in certain, narrow circumstances—in particular, those in which cause and effect are more or less linear. It is appropriate for many engineering problems and financial decisions. It is the mindset of the actuary, weighing risks and payoffs. The new story is a much bigger change than to revalue the risks and seek new payoffs. It is not going to help you make choices from the calculating mind. But it will provide a logical framework within which our heart-based choices make a lot more sense.
Poverty is one thing, and it’s relative, and generally seems worse through our (the west) eyes, understandings, and perceptions because over here, money talks, and money is what we need to get anything done...community comes second if at all, if we have money, we're fine, so when we see people without money we immediately think the worst. What we fail to miss is that despite not having much in the way of cash flow, when people live in a community that supports them, when they are able to grow their own food, and when their mental health is in check - they are doing really good. In addition, things are not so heavily monetized in these countries, so not having a lot of money is not the deciding factor on whether or not one lives a good life. Now consider not only poverty (which we have plenty of in the west), but include with it the pervasive western isolation, deteriorating community and mental health issues that largely go unaddressed (which arguably result from such isolation and disconnect of community) coupled with social systems that do little to truly alleviate the root of the problem – it’s a whole new ball game. Is it that it's too painful? Too close to home to be able to do anything about it? Is it that it's "cool" to help Africa, and "what people do" but it's not yet on our minds to help those right in front of it? Someone please tell me what it is....as I'm rather perplexed by it all.
At the end of the day, given our deep interconnection, if I have a meaningful interaction with someone here, or in a different city, country, continent and we, together, generate good energy and positive feelings, this helps the whole world.... but I just wonder why we use so much time, energy, and money, to fly half way around the world to help people and make ourselves feel good when we could walk down the street and help our neighbors? Or heck, even say Hi to them! A "Hi" goes a long way...especially in today's disconnected (side of the) world.
And I don't mean to say this to point fingers at those who do go oversees to volunteer and do aid work (of course I went too, to work for an organization, but my goal was learning, not "helping" as I mentioned in my first post for trip #2) ...I'm merely trying to understand it, to raise the question and bring about dialogue as it's important to be aware of such things, and consider our reasons for doing what we do.
What I do know is that what I felt and experienced last night brought me a deep sense of sadness. For what is happening there isn’t unique. It’s the reflection of how are feeling inside, of what is going on in our world today, of the disconnect and separation; the old story rearing it’s broken face.
What do we do?