I sent out an email almost a week ago, inviting all my friends, family members, & acquaintances to attend or help with a fundraising event that I've created. Here's what I sent out.
I was so excited. I had a hard time going to sleep that night. I was feeling so positive about the good we were going to do in the world. In the morning, I checked my email first thing, so excited to see who would be joining us at the event.
Here's the first response I received. I've left the name of the responder out, but otherwise this response is verbatim, exactly as I received it.
Now, you know I adore you...but...
I met a young woman as a passenger on my vehicle last year. She cheerfully told me that she had been working as a volunteer in an area where things were pretty bleak. It was a social sharing kind of thing, I can't remember whether it was soup kitchen, yeah, I think it was. She was quite happy to tell me that she had been doing that, but when I (sagely) responded, "That must have been hugely disappointing.", she responded, much less enthusiastically, "Yeah, it kinda was." She went on to tell me that none of the people there seemed to have even the least interest in moving forward with their lives. She was surprised that they weren't eagerly taking the needed help and 'getting out there to do it for themselves.' She came to the realization that everything she knew about 'the poor' had been instilled in her in 'school', and not in a way that was balanced, much less true. In short, the people, their psychology, their world outlook and the lies by which they live their lives were so overwhelming that, in spite of her best efforts to resist the thought, it all came down to the realization that these folks were in their predicament for their own reasons and failings, not because society had abandoned them. Their will to 'do anything' was simply not there. No amount of help will aid them, nor redirect them.
I fear it is the same with virtually all parts of Africa, except that you must include dictators with guns. All of the aid that will be raised in this effort to 'do something' will be either lost to bureaucracy, stolen by the dictators goons, wasted on 'contracts' that line the pockets of the elite's friends and as such, can trigger instability even in the ruling classes themselves. Great hearts, good intentions, donations, small or large do more to de-stabilize an abusive situation than to help. They'll go for guns, not butter. And the despair, and danger, will deepen, not lift.
Say hi to Adam and Jordan.
Say hi to Adam and Jordan.
I've been sitting with this email for almost a week, wondering how to respond to it. In rereading it and meditating on it, I began to feel a deep, deep sadness. Not because my friend doesn't want to help with my event, but because of how cynical his beliefs must truly be if he would send this. What happened to him in this life to bring him to such cynicism? How did he come to believe that the words he offers are "sage". This email shocked me in so many ways. And at the end of the week, I'm offering gratitude for it. Not because I agree with it in any way. But gratitude for writing down what some people must be only quietly thinking and not venturing to say out loud. And gratitude that it has deepened my resolve to meet my goal, to be even more clear about what my purpose is, to show that the generalizations are simply not true, to offer hope.
I don't know if the girl that my friend was speaking to/of went on to find brighter days in her service work. What I do know is that I have never felt bad or disappointed after giving a gift of service unless I attached expectations or judgments to said gift, thereby rendering it not a gift at all. "A gift or a present is the transfer of something without the expectation of receiving something in return.
Gifts given with no strings attached bring as much joy to the giver as they do to the recipient.
I was a little sad that my friend obviously hadn't gone to the trouble of reading about where the money would go or why I was taking on this huge fundraising challenge in the first place, before telling me in not so many words that I was wasting my time.
I was deeply, deeply saddened that he believes that small children, orphaned or nearly orphaned, by the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and the people that are helping those children, don't deserve our help in any way. I hope my friend never finds himself in a position of needing help, but not necessarily deserving it, and finding only judgment scales offered to him. And I can't imagine what would ever make me feel that I was qualified to decide who deserves to live or die, who deserves food, water, shelter and who deserves to be left out in the cold to suffer with hunger & thirst. Who deserves life saving education about how to protect themselves from a deadly disease and who deserves to stay in the dark about that knowledge?
I do know that the author of the above email likes very much to think of himself as a wise man and as a critical thinker. But what wise person lumps the population of an entire continent - more than a billion people, young, old, male, female, rich, poor, powerful, powerless, hopeful, hopeless - into one group all undeserving of our compassion or our action?
I do know that if I was required to live this life all on my own without any help from friends or strangers, that I would not still be living. How many gifts have I squandered in this life? How many gifts do I currently benefit from that I have done absolutely nothing to "deserve". How "ungrateful" I was as a child and young adult. How unproductive and self indulgent I've been even just this week while suffering from a little cold. I'm sure glad I didn't have to prove that I was worthy of the tender loving care I received from my husband and mother this week.
In rereading my friend's email this strikes me... "She was quite happy to tell me that she had been doing that, but when I (sagely) responded, "That must have been hugely disappointing.", she responded, much less enthusiastically, "Yeah, it kinda was." It strikes me that my friend takes a certain pride in knocking the wind out of a person who is trying to do some good in the world in whatever small way. And I want him to know that he knocked the wind out of me, for a minute, but I'm coming back up swinging. I'm no quitter. No small or large disappointment will keep me from doing whatever good I can in this world.
In nearly the same breath he criticizes "the poor" in this way.... "In short, the people, their psychology, their world outlook and the lies by which they live their lives were so overwhelming that, in spite of her best efforts to resist the thought, it all came down to the realization that these folks were in their predicament for their own reasons and failings, not because society had abandoned them. Their will to 'do anything' was simply not there." So he is criticizing "the poor" for their lack of will to 'do anything', while it appears that the point of his email to me is to criticize my will to so something to help. The truth is that just by living and breathing we change the world, the choice is HOW we are going to change it? The comforting lie that we tell ourselves is that our actions don't matter. They do. All of them. hmmmm....
"All of the aid that will be raised in this effort to 'do something' will be either lost to bureaucracy, stolen by the dictators goons, wasted on 'contracts' that line the pockets of the elite's friends and as such, can trigger instability even in the ruling classes themselves."
What I want to say about this is that the funds that I am working to raise with this event will go DIRECTLY to people who ARE ALREADY helping themselves AND helping others. The organization that I am working to raise funds for has been working DIRECTLY with holistic projects in communities in crisis for severel years. I took this Seva (selfless service) Challenge because I believe in the work they are doing, because I want to be a part of something larger than myself, because I want to deepen my yoga practice through service, because I want to raise awareness about how each and every one of our individual actions in life affect everyone else on this little blue ball we call Earth for good or ill and sometimes both at the same time. And I am now even more determined to meet my fundraising goal of $20,000 and go to South Africa and work side by side with the people who are receiving these monies. And I will take photographs of the work we do and the people we do it with and I will write about it and share it and be joyful.
My life has already been enriched by this challenge in so many ways. I have already met so many bright, shining, joyful people who are ready to do whatever it takes to make our whole planet a joyful place-- to eradicate poverty and hopelessness wherever it lies.
"Great hearts, good intentions, donations, small or large do more to de-stabilize an abusive situation than to help. They'll go for guns, not butter. And the despair, and danger, will deepen, not lift."
Those two sentences are just simply dead wrong. The money we raise will absolutely NOT go for guns and the despair is ALREADY lifting, not deepening. I have been so blessed by the opportunity this challenge has given me to meet and better get to know some AMAZING hearts and intentions. Even if I raise not one penny more for this cause, my life has been so utterly enriched already.
I cannot sort out what it is that my friend wants me to do, except quit doing ANYthing. He probably thinks my job at 9-1-1 is a waste of my time too. I mean, why bother sending an ambulance to someone who just got hit by a car, it was their own inattention that got them there, right?!? What I think is that my friend needs to get his fear out and turn his love/joy ON. I don't know if my writing this will make any difference to him- it might just tick him off. I doubt that he reads my blog anyway. But, I needed to write this for me. To let the sadness and fear about the darkest sides of our humanity out of me so that I have room to embrace all the best of us. It's scary being a beacon in the dark, maybe my friend is just afraid for me. But I'm alright. I'm surrounded by the brightest of bright human beings a girl could ask for on a moonless night. And full of gratitude for them.
Here's the thing... Selfless Service enriches the giver as much as the recipient. Selfless Service enriches entire communities. It is the opposite of greed. It is the opposite of dictatorship.
I promise that if you take your own Selfless Service Challenge to raise some funds ($108 is a nice starting goal) and come to the One Love Colorado event and do 108 Sun Salutations with us, your body and mind and soul will get stretched and strengthened and it will feel GOOD, because it does feel good to do good in the world. You can sign up or donate here.... www.coloradoonelove.org
And if you didn't already know - we're putting together a ROCKIN' silent auction with donations from local businesses, yoga studios, local artists, etc. and we're going to have the sweetest little yoga dance party you've ever met right after the Sun Salutations.
It's all coming together. It's the weekend before Thanksgiving, the weekend before the ski slopes open, the weekend before everyone goes shopping -- what better way to give thanks for all of the abundance in our lives, do some ski conditioning and perhaps even get some Christmas shopping out of the way.
Come out! Have fun! Dance! Smile. Feel good!! You will meet some Great hearts and souls (probably a few quite pretty bodies too)!
Thanks for reading. I know I feel better for having gotten all of this out of me and into the inter-tubes. ;D