As I have traveled and talked with people from every continent, representing thousands of different belief systems and backgrounds, I have realized this…
WE ALL HAVE TWO THINGS IN COMMON
1. We all have problems.
Although I don’t know what it is, I know that you are dealing with some kind of a problem right now.
Let’s face us, who do you know that isn’t? It’s just part of life and a big part of what helps us to grow.
A wise man once taught me that you could go up to almost anyone and instead of asking, “How are you?” you could accurately ask “Where does it hurt?”
One of the coolest things I have learned recently from another wise man is the power of rephrasing my problems as questions — sounds so simple, still I was surprised at how it changed everything!
Instead of my brain dwelling on the negative problem, it started working out solutions — especially if I articulated a quality question.
2. We all have something to contribute — some strength, talent, or gift that we can share and use to help others.
Not only can we use our strengths to contribute something meaningful in the lives of others, we actually NEED TO in order to feel alive and fulfilled.
Honestly, among the greatest gifts that any of us can give ourselves and others is asking good questions - which can spark new ideas that can change our lives. Recently I have also become even more conscious of the power in asking our deepest questions (which reflect the problems/needs in our lives) to new people — people with totally different perspectives and backgrounds.
Here is a true story from Nigeria that my friend Esther Nasikye shared with me that is about this exact thing…
NOW THE BIGGER PICTURE - PROBLEMS IN THE WORLD
Among many problems in the world, a huge one I hate to see as I travel is the amount of poverty and suffering in certain communities around the world (and even at times in our own neighborhood), with incredible affluence, waste, and neglect in other areas. How can we see so much suffering in the world and not feel compelled to do something?
Changing this problem into a question - here is what I have asked, which I think many of you also have asked: “How can I best help those who need it most around the world?”
REASONS WHY WE DON’T HELP, OR TRY TO AND FAIL
I realized that the solution is not as simple as it seems - noticing these issues arise in most of the “development” efforts I have participated in or known about…
* Lots of people want to help, but don’t know how
* The suffering often seems so distant and/or overwhelming, that other more minor concerns appear urgent and occupy our time and focus
* When they do try to help, well-intentioned compassion easily becomes patronizing, and fosters dependency
* Part of the reason for this is all of us have so many unchallenged stereotypes and labels through which we see the world
* Another part of the reason is that the digital divide has limited participation in the conversation, neglecting those who should have the most voice
* Too often people seem to know the answer (e.g. computers, or whatever our background is) before they really know what the real questions/problems are
* There is very little conversation with the poorest people - more often others in high positions decide what they need (e.g. the UN Millennium Development Goals)
* Then no one is really held accountable for delivering it
* Often the aid gets stuck at the top levels (of governments, universities, businesses - people who are already the elite of their societies) and not to those who need it the most
* When we talk about “the poor” it becomes too vague and ambiguous, not concrete enough to do anything about, or to see their hopes, fears, and dreams as real as our own
* Meeting “needs”, although a very important, often neglects the more fulfilling part of being human - helping enabling strengths, dreams, and what we can contribute
HOW CAN WE APPROACH IT DIFFERENTLY - AND HAVE FUN DOING IT?
Some friends and I are now creating a way where instead of talking about helping “the poor” you can actually talk with them, finding out what they actually dream of doing with their life, or what they need next in order to get there.
Not only that - but they will be helping you with your problems at the same time!
Here is THE IDEA:
1. You submit a short video (3 min or less), or just audio if you prefer, that explains briefly:
A. What is one thing that you ultimately want to become/do with your life? (brief one minute or less explanation)
B. What is it that you think you need next in getting there?
(Maybe you don’t think you know what the answer to these question are, which is OK.
If you did know the answers though, then what would you say?)
C. What is one of the biggest problems/questions you currently have?
If you have funny questions/problems, that is OK - and perhaps the stuff that really comes from your heart - and is what you actually need some new thoughts, perspectives, resources on - will produce the best results.
(Once you create your video, you can either email it to me using something like YouSendIt.com — which allows for large attachments, or upload it to YouTube or other video sharing site and let me know the link)
2. In the next few months I will be going back to some of the poorest areas of the world (visiting certain communities starting in Uganda this week, Mozambique next week, Senegal at the end of the month, later Ethiopia, and hopefully Guatemala, Nepal and India too). I will find a contact person who is can translate, and they will show your video to some of the local people, and ask them what their advice is to help you with your problem/question.
From a blog entry I wrote about a year ago, here are some pictures of the first community I will be asking to help offer answers your questions: http://www.clintrogersonline.com/blog/2008/07/27/mistakes-in-giving-aid-and-development-part-2/
3. We’ll record at least a few responses for each question received and you can rate each answer on a scale of 1 to 5 stars on how helpful you find it.
4. Then it provides an easy way to also ask several of them to share their story: what do they ultimately want to do with their life? and what do they think is what they most need next to get there?
5. You can respond to their questions, offering any ideas/thoughts/suggestions you have. And they can give each response a rank of 1 to 5 stars in how helpful they find it.
– I don’t know what will happen after that.
Ultimately, if you like it, we might want to upload those videos to the Internet and try to get as much collective wisdom/resources/etc from my friends and their friends in helping each other with whatever we each need next?
WHY THIS, WHY NOW?
The idea initially sparked from realizing that I myself have been trying to help “the poor” — but really haven’t spent that much time actually talking to “them”. (Instead, I sit in an office at a university, reading research reports, and trying to think up the biggest words I can to communicate simple ideas so that I appear to be somewhat intelligent!
And the reality, as you already know, is that “the poor” can include both those in physical poverty around the world, as well as those in Western countries who have a ton of stuff, but still feel poor/empty for whatever reason.
Like I said earlier, I talk to people all the time who want to do something to help in the world, but they just don’t know what to do or where to start.
My hope is that when we can see a specific person talk about their specific dream and what they need next, then we can collectively be resourceful in making something happen for them.
And when we see them also helping us with our biggest need, that there will not be a one-way patronizing feeling — instead we can see each other more as friends (members of the same family - the increasingly connected human family) helping each other. Because indeed, that is what we are.
Dr. Matti Tedre, a colleague from a university in Tanzania who will also be leading up a team there to help with this, told me about a woman who has been working in the AIDS clinic in a rural area of Tanzania for years. I really loved her philosophy, and think it definitely applies here:
—-“You may not be able to change the whole world, but you can change the whole world of one person at a time.“—-
(especially if that one person is yourself)
If you would like to add a video/audio, then just let me know.
Also if have any ideas for how to make this even better, or any other ways you think you might be able to help? — I’m all ears.
I’m sure some of your thoughts can help to make this work even better.
To see what happened, please visit: http://www.clintrogersonline.com/blog/2009/05/23/what-can-the-poor-teach-you/