Confession

elchiang's picture

I have a confession to make. In eighth grade, I was first exposed to a documentary called Invisible Children that exposed the longest running war in Africa with all its atrocities. From that point on, being apart of this organization was my life and passion. I felt so enraged that human beings could be treated as animals and slaves in this day and age. I was a founding member of the club in high school as well as at Bryn Mawr where I hosted many fundraisers and participated in peaceful demonstrations on the behalf of the children of Northern Uganda. However, this past summer after six years of involvement, I came to the realization through divine intervention per se that Invisible Children as an organization had consumed me and made me into a monster. Instead of continually being empowered to help children abducted and forced to fight in a terrible war, I was more concerned with receiving the recognition and glory for my good works. The irony in all this is that the initial spark that created this passion for activism came from this deep belief in human rights. I really started thinking about how this passion is connected to the 360 program when Teresa came to our class and asked us why we were in the class or program. Originally, I applied because I had a passion to help from a position of privilege as well as compassion. However, through the 360 program, I no longer see a single story. I had compassion for children that were used for rape as a weapon of war, but I did not allow myself to see the an amazing culture. I did not learn about the rich cultures being affected by the war and only focused on my good intentions.

 Not to be cheesy and sentimental already but I can see how this program has really changed my life already. I feel as though I am working on overcoming these prejudices of Africa, but at the same time, it is all driving me crazy. I feel too cautious because I don't want to offend anyone by admitting to the fact that there are problems in Africa. I would really like to find a balance. I realize that I have a lot of preconceived notions that will not go away right away, but I also want to be unafraid to bring ideas to the table and learn. How do I balance my past good intentions with my new academic perspective? I think this question can be answered through continual exploration and appreciation of African culture as well as specifically Ghanian culture through the trip.    

Comments

alesnick's picture

Where is your thinking/feeling now?

The extent of commentary on this post testifies to its power.  It would be meaningful for you to revise and extend these ideas with reference to your experiences, academic and via travel, since writing it.  How are you authoring a new version of yourself through this learning and questioning?  What is changing in your ways of understanding problems and your role with respect to them?  Where is room for your desire (in Tuck's terms)?

elchiang's picture

Arrogance vs. Compassion

First of all, I'm so glad that I'm not the only one who feels this way. Also, the discussion on compassion and perception brings me back again to the discussion on arrogance and perceived arrogance, which is probably the other side to the compassion argument. The people we are having compassion on can idenfiy it as arrogance or take a loving perception.   

alesnick's picture

And . . .

how can we have compassion for/with those we find susceptible to arrogant perception?

JBacchus's picture

no idea why that posted twice

no idea why that posted twice in two locations. lo siento

JBacchus's picture

perceptions of pity/compassion

I totally agree with both of you that compassion is a better model (to use your word) than pity - but even if I understand that I'm looking at those with compassion, those people might not see it as that. Sometimes I feel like it's hard for the person to recognize whether they are being looked at through pity or through compassion. Thus, I can be looking at maybe a school with few resources in compassion, but the important thing is that they can see that as pity, and react poorly. It's not only how one perceives how they feel, but how others perceive it as well - importantly, those at the recieving end.

alesnick's picture

feelings and thoughts

In Teaching as Contemplative Practice, a book I am reading with the Ed senior sem, Mary Rose O'Relly, O'Reilly discusses the dissonance between analysis and intuition as one of the ongoing challenges of life, and also one of its sources of meaning and chance.  Tacking between or mediating them is a task for a lifetime -- and it's so interesting to consider how sometimes each one informs or teaches the other, and to wonder what experiences can strengthen each in us.

To add to the etymological inquiry here, the "com" in compassion comes from Latin for "together."  I've also long been interested in how the term "to suffer" means to undergo an experience, to be susceptible, to yield to something that happens to us -- so compassion has a yielding, involuntary quality to it, as compared to the transitive verb "to pity," which more easily takes an object, and thus objectifies.

et502's picture

balance through questioning

Esther - I can't offer a real answer to your question - (“How do I balance my past good intentions with my new academic perspective?”), but I want to let you know that you're not alone in this feeling - I was nodding throughout your entire post.
I saw a similar film about Northern Uganda when I was in high school. A organization in my town was working in Uganda, so I had an opportunity to get involved after I graduated. Before that, C, a young man who was identified to me as a former child soldier, came to my school to talk about his experience. J, a girl who'd had a similar experience, was attending my church and we became good friends, despite the language (and childhood) barrier. I finished high school got an internship at this organization.
While the internship was good in some ways, I reflect on the overall situation as fairly negative. The more I got to know the organization, the more problems I saw with the way things were run. For example - C was always forced to carry this burden of being identified as a child soldier - where is the healing in that? Yes, it's important for people to hear his story, and yes, it is powerful to hear it "straight from the source" - but the good intentions were tainted with the maintained trauma.

Anyways, long story short, the experience has left me with a critical view of NGOs and my relation to them, and to communities through them. Maybe just that - the questioning - will be enough to keep unwanted pity in check.
JBacchus's picture

This is a really powerful

This is a really powerful blogpost. I totally understand where you're coming from...sometimes I feel like I struggle with how much compassion to have - I don't want to feel like I have too little compassion for those who have problems, but I don't want to have too much compassion and make it seem as though I feel like I'm better than them or I'm a Westerner coming in to "rescue" them from a situation without appreciating their culture. I really appreciate your thoughts on this.

et502's picture

I think there’s a difference

I think there’s a difference between compassion and pity - based on how I define them. I see compassion as a kind of humane and general love (very mushy, yes, but peace-love-happiness cannot be underrated!), whereas pity victimizes the pitied. Pity is reminiscent of the deficit/damage model, but compassion, I think, is more like the ‘desire’ model. Again, these are my own definitions, so I just wanted to make the distinction. I think that, like you said, the most important thing is to not maintain a positioning of victim and rescuer. 
pyiu's picture

The definition of compassion

I agree with you Emily. I've been wondering about the definition of pity for a while and feel that pity and compassion are not the same. For me, as a Christian, I've heard compassion defined many times as "to suffer with," defining the word as a verb with an action component. Moreover this definition would place all people on the same level. However, for the definition of pity, I feel that the word is often used to denote exlusion and a sense of superiority. Also, I feel like when people use the word pity, it just shows their feelings towards something but these feelings never lead to action. Thus I would agree that compassion is more the ideal model than pity is. 

JBacchus's picture

perceptions of pity/compassion

I totally agree with both of you that compassion is a better model (to use your word) than pity - but even if I understand that I'm looking at those with compassion, those people might not see it as that. Sometimes I feel like it's hard for the person to recognize whether they are being looked at through pity or through compassion. Thus, I can be looking at maybe a school with few resources in compassion, but the important thing is that they can see that as pity, and react poorly. It's not only how one perceives how they feel, but how others perceive it as well - importantly, those at the recieving end.

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