Sunday, November 3, 2013

Knowing People

The theme of my brain the past few months seems to be all about "relationships."

As I become more and more convinced that "living in peace" is of utmost importance I ask, "How do you do that? How do you make it matter? How does peace work on a national, global scale?"  As I read the stories of other people who have sought to live in peace and make peace the way of life in their neighborhoods and countries and world, the recurring theme is relationships. You listen to others. You sit down at dinner with people. You do this especially with people who have different perspectives, backgrounds, etc from you.

It's fascinating and infuriating.

This is so small, so simple, so slow.

But it seems to work, it seems to matter.

Somehow you get to know your neighbors and it makes you care about neighbors across political and geographical borders. Somehow when you understand what it is to be poor or sick or alone or foreign or scared through the eyes of someone with whom you have shared a meal, then you empathize with the poor and sick and alone and foreign and scared that you don't know or see. And you know it's not a simple solution. You know that there's not one answer, a magic wand, that is going to solve the deep and divisive problems in our world.

In her memoir Mighty Be Our Powers, Nobel Peace Prize recipient Leymah Gbowee reminds us that "Organizations like the UN do a lot of good, but there are certain basic realities they never seem to grasp. One is that every war is different . . . because the reasons and the ways countries fight have everything to do with their histories and the way their societies are organized. If conflicts aren't identical, resolution can never be one-size-fits-all." (170)   Lessons she learned while advocating peace to end the Liberian war (which worked) can be used and applied to conflicts in other countries and at other times, but she understands that without actually knowing the people, without having relationships, one cannot effectively work for peace.

So I am trying to "live into" this this fall, to make decisions based on relationships. To build relationships so that I build community, and hope that community builds peace.

A couple of days ago, I was at the grocery store, getting my coffee creamer and almond milk when I saw a man in a motorized wheelchair a few feet down from me. He had parked in front of the glass-doored case and was making an effort to begin the process of getting milk. Far enough way to open the door, close enough to still be able to reach. I'm sure it's a science he has practiced frequently. I stood there for a brief moment, not wanting to take away his "agency" - not wanting to offer aid if it was going to just be a reminder to him of how many "simple" things he could not easily do for himself. I didn't want to offer to help if I was just going to be one more person making uninformed assumptions about his abilities and independence based on the fact that he moved around while sitting in a chair.

But in the brief seconds that I contemplated whether to offer help or not my brain said, "Relationships. Think. Use who you know."  So I thought of my mother, who has limited physical mobility at times and who has made use of her share of motorized carts. I glanced at the man's face, his body language, and I knew what to do.

I didn't know this man, had no relationships with him, but I know my mother and her body language when she needs help or when she doesn't. And so when I asked, "Can I grab something for you?"  I was not surprised when he gave a relieved sigh, sat back in his chair a bit, and said, "Yes. That one there on the top. Thank you."


  1. This helps put it into perspective for me. Thank you.

    1. Thanks for the comment, April! Glad it was helpful. I know for me when I have these big global issues whirling around in my head, it's the very minute person-to-person thing that makes it all make sense.