Respect, Love & Belief
The work of creating social change is not about solving social problems. It is about respecting, caring and believing in the power of being a human being, irrespective of the context in which they are right now.
In this work we can start with the assumption that people are unfortunate, or sympathetic for their situation or in other cases “judgmental” about their capabilities.
The other way to do this work is to believe that people are very capable, they are genuinely good but the context is the challenge. A good way to illustrate this is through two different stories.
The first story is of a girl who has lived through state care in Australia. Due to no fault of her own (parents who could not take care of her) she ends up in a system that is not designed to create the best outcomes. Like lots of other kids, she is part of a system that does not believe in the potential of young people and needs to go through life to end up with a possibly mediocre outcome.
One day she encounters a staff member who believes in her. Everytime he would tell her that there is lots of potential in her and she can become good at anything she wants. She does not believe him at the start but he continues to tell her the same story. Over weeks and months, the girl changes. She starts to believe in herself. This is the first time anybody believed in her genuinely. The story stays with her and even years after she has been out of state care the biggest difference in her life was because somebody believed in her. They saw what she could become rather what she is right now.
Image Courtesy, Wikipedia
The second story is from India. One day, in 2003, I was talking through the roads of Mumbai with Atanu Dey. Atanu and I were discussing poverty and people who are poor. We walked past a women who was selling fruits and vegetables on a four wheel cart common across most of India. In all likelihood, she was poor in terms of material possessions.
With a different vantage point Atanu took me through the process of observing her that changed my world view for ever. Here was a women, who was in all probability, did not have a primary education. As we observe her, a man walks over to the cart and starts to ask various prices and picks the vegetables he wants. Another women comes over and does the same. In five more minutes she has two more customers. Now, she is juggling 4 customers who are buying different vegetables of varied quantities.
The second customer finishes her shopping and asks for the cost of her purchase. She says Rs. 22.50. The third one finishes and she says Rs. 11.75. And on it goes with the first one and the second one and in the meantime, more customers join the others.
In a flash, I saw how capable she was. She could manage multiple customer journeys at the same and still manage to get it right in the end. How many educated people can do that? I can’t do that.
That taught me that people are poor not because of who they are but due to the context.