A Life Half-Full?
Recently, my friend told me a story about her life growing up. From the age of three, her parents diagnosed her as sick - not physically, but mentally and emotionally. Her relationship with her parents was always strained. She had trouble concentrating and applying herself in her classes at school, and was eventually diagnosed with having ADHD. She was even admitted to a psychiatric hospital for a time. She constantly harbored an internal anger - at her situation, at herself, at life. For the majority of her life, she was convinced there was something wrong with her. She began to tick off the things she needed to change to become well again. I was surprised to hear this story. Here, in front of me was a confident, strong young woman who ran half the administrative side of her NGO, a beautiful person about to open another site in one of the most unstable countries in the world... by herself! To say I respected her would be an understatement.
My friend went on to tell me she loves to write, to paint, and to connect with people. But more than anything, she loves to travel. When she told her parents about her passion to work abroad, her father told her she would not be able to cope with the uncertainty and recommended a creative, less transient pursuit instead.
I believe this next statement to be an essential truth of human nature: When we tell people they are sick, they begin to believe that they are. When we tell communities they are helpless, they begin to believe that they are.
But I also believe the converse is true.
When we tell communities there are capable, they will buy into this narrative. When we tell people they are strong, they will believe they are strong. My friend told me if her parents had told her that she was passionate and had the heart of an activist, her life would have unfolded differently; more confidence, less anger, and a greater delight in life.
So this begs the question, when we arrive in a community, what do our actions say about who the community is? Do we see them as sick or do we see them as strong?
In Staying for Tea, Aaron Ausland has this to say: “There may be a drawback to defining the situation in terms of needs, because it automatically frames the whole development issue in terms of the community having something wrong with it that needs fixing… the poor community is seen both by itself and by you as incapable of supplying its needs."
By diagnosing a community as helpless, it starts to feel helpless. By offering dependency, a community will become dependent. They will rely on external solutions instead of themselves. They will see themselves as sick instead of strong. In my next post I will tell you about something called Asset Based Community Development or ABCD. I think you’ll like this concept. I do.
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