I wondered whether or not I should write about children forcibly separated from their parents in the United States, I wondered if I should write about Australia’s policies about asylum seekers. I wondered if you care about these topics, I wondered if this would have any impact in your life.
It is only privilege that allows us to think about the suffering of others without doing anything.
This is not about you. It’s not about me.
But I don’t think any of us want yet another political opinion as we swim in a sea of outrage. How do we become more concerned about the interests of others?
How do we become people of action in an era of outrage?
I’m writing for those of us who live in suburbia, drive in rush hour, drink lattes, endure difficult bosses, go to soccer practice, mop floors, and fold laundry. What does the suffering of some at the hands of immoral legislation have to do with us?
I hope these words are not another bucket of outrage water thrown into the sea. I hope we can see the land, swim toward it and find a way out. Here’s why this matters to me.
Thirty-five years ago in July, mobs of Sinhalese people wandered around the streets of Colombo, Sri Lanka burning Tamil homes, killing Tamil people, raping Tamil women, looting Tamil goods. They burned my grandparents’ home to the ground, the second time this happened in seven years. They stole my grandmother’s jewelry. They came down the street where my parents and I lived, and we jumped over our wall and hid in our Sinhalese neighbor’s house for three days.
I was under two and have no active memories of these events, but however hard I try, I cannot undo these threads out of the fabric of my life. I think it is why I write anything at all. So when I come here and try to write a devotional thought about how the falling leaves reflect the changing seasons in the world and in our lives or how patience is a good thing and we need more of it, well, I just can’t do it anymore.
Every corner of our world holds lives torn apart by violence – every corner of your community holds it as well. If you don’t see it, you’re not looking.
I need you to believe that the safe, beautiful life you construct for yourself and for your family, it is not shared by other members of your community.
Is this going to matter to you?
Will it matter to us that other kids struggle in under-funded schools while our kids thrive in a private school? Are we going to be bothered by a tax system that privileges some at the expense of others? Is it sufficient to be content with our children’s physical safety while kids on our street return to all manner of abuse daily? Is it enough to vote abortion out of our countries while ignoring the needs of young women and men in our schools? Are we going to be a people who stick to our three issues without looking to the myriad of other problems in our community?
Will it be enough for us to build a safe life for ourselves and the people we love?
For me 2018 has been the year when I knew that my answer to this question was a solid no. If your answer is no, please keep reading. These are the small ways that I’ve been moving toward becoming a person of action in an era of outrage.
Reject your privilege
What’s the easiest way to find our privilege? Whenever I think or feel, “I deserve this,” I know I’m looking at my privilege.
“My child deserves the best teacher.” “I deserve that parking spot.” “I deserve a break at the end of this hard day.” “Our community deserves a better playground.” “I deserve ___ because I pay my taxes.” “My church deserves protection from the legal system.“ “I deserve to receive my food when I want it.”
Deserve is the language of privilege. Checking where I believe I deserve something is becoming a source of freedom for me – freedom from my privileges, freedom to see what other people need, freedom to see what I need to do.
You could look at it another way. I’ve chosen to believe that I have everything I need. Everything I need. There is no lack in my life, so why would I spend my time, energy and money giving myself more? Voting so that I am safer and happier? Enabling organizations and politicians who want to work for me? I have everything I need. This means I look to the interest of others. It means I vote for what is best for others. It means I am looking for the protection of people in my community who do not have the security I do.
Meet different people, ask better questions
Many people who read this blog are from a Christian background, and it can be easy for us to be so planted in a faith community that we have no idea of what else is happening around us. It’s been crucial for me to engage with people who are doing different things – people in local business, council members, and program co-ordinators at a community house. When you meet people who are involved in a different part of community life from you, ask them questions. Ask them what they notice about your city, ask them where there are the most needs, ask them who does good work.
I found out that our city has the highest rate of domestic violence and suicide in our region of Melbourne. I found out that there are many organizations already doing great things here. (Do not be so foolish to think you are the only person who can come up with good ideas. I’ve been amazed at the wonderful things already going on where I live, and the many heroes who have tirelessly served behind the scenes.) I am beginning to find places where I can take my skills and hopefully put them to use for the welfare of our city.
Make the big issue a local issue
We’ve all seen those Facebook posts asking us to sign a petition or giving an opinion about the latest even in the news today. The big issues can get us angry, but does it make us active? For me the answer is no. Yes, I’ve called my local and national politicians and given my opinion (we all should), but turning my eyes to our community has given me things I can do. Are you disgusted by your government’s policies on refugees and asylum seekers? After you call your representatives, find out who works with migrants in your community. Involve yourself there.
The key here is who do you know? Maybe you need some new people in your life – people who can draw you out and into different corners of your community.
Take small steps toward involvement
Every movement I’ve taken in 2018 toward my community has been small. It’s been a conversation with a woman about her indigenous heritage at an event at our local kinder. It was a meeting with a project officer at a community house. It was asking a local council member a question about what most surprised her in our community. Small conversations, small steps. I still don’t feel like I have “done” much, but I’m moving toward something. I’m choosing to believe that these small steps will lead to finding my place in our community. But most importantly it has given me a bigger, deeper vision and love for where I live and what is going on around me.Whatever the rest of 2018 holds for you, I hope that somehow you can take one step toward someone else in your community. Believe that you have nothing to lose and nothing to fear. Believe that there is a better life than simply being angry and outraged. Believe that there is a life for you outside of your privileges. Believe that you have something to give. Let’s do this together.
Now it’s your turn: I would love to hear your thoughts about community engagement – do you consider yourself involved in your places? What have been effective tools in getting involved? What keeps you from being as local as you can be? What is a corner of your community where you could be involved?