There are times when one finds oneself so engaged in something, that it begins to consume the majority of one’s conscious thought and the bulk of one’s energy. In such instances, it can become possible to forget oneself and the tenets that one set out as guides along the path of whatever experience one has set oneself upon.
In this particular scenario, I’ve found myself in such a situation, down a deep and dark rabbit hole. The tenet that I’ve so foolishly and arrogantly forgotten is that of humility, and what’s more, I’ve let slip a core principle of the paradigm of community development which I have hoped to stay true to during my OceanPath Fellowship. While engaging in work “on the ground”, I am constantly trying to remind myself to meet community where they are at, and to respect their lived experiences and ways of seeing the world. Indeed, I see these community members as individuals that I can learn a great deal from, particularly about the context of the Chilanga community.
Where things have become quite muddled, however, is in the correspondences with those living in Canada and Ireland who are dedicated to working with the very same community. In my time here, I seem to have forgotten that they too deserve to have their thoughts heard, and their experiences valued. Just because they are far away, does that mean that they cannot understand what is taking place here? I’ve realized that in a state of headstrong arrogance I have come to, in part, believe this. This is not to say that I have disregarded every idea and question they’ve offered. Yet, it has at times meant that I have forgotten what I claim to be – namely, a co-learner, and someone who seeks to place importance in what all have to bring to a particular space.
I am supremely disappointed in myself, to put it plainly. In many ways, I feel I’ve betrayed one of the things that I hold most dear to my approach not only with regards to community development, but more and more, to my approach to life: relationships are the work. Forgive me, as I know that by now I must sound like a broken record – but it has become apparent that I still have a great deal to understand about what is seemingly a simple mantra. This is something that must be remembered with all people who I encounter, whether they be someone who I have known for 20 years or someone I’ve only just met. It doesn’t mean that it is something I only keep in mind during meetings and conversations with community members. I’m coming to really appreciate that taking this mindset, one which pertains that every single relationship in my life, can lead to really positive outcomes. Perhaps the word “work” sometimes throws me off, as I believe that I should only be seeking to meet people where they are at when they are (in this case) community members. With regards to my colleagues in Canada and Ireland who dedicate themselves to the very same community that I have been working in and with for the past months, I’ve seemingly forgotten that the relationships I have with them are of equal importance. For that, I offer my sincere apologies to them.
As an aside, in writing this I once again have come to appreciate the necessity of reflection. As I mentioned at the outset, I believe that in the past weeks and even months, I’ve allowed this truly therapeutic practice to fall by the wayside. It’s clear that in neglecting it I’ve not only given up a helpful outlet for the expression of ideas, but I’ve also lost touch with myself and the values I hold in highest regard.
To close, I can only try to remind myself of what I have forgotten. Relationships, be they professional or personal, formed through happenstance or by design, are what are of value in this world. Disregarding, for a moment, their importance when engaging in community development, this sobering experience has reminded me that one must enter all situations ready to learn. A humble approach must be a constant, not something that is only used when dealing with certain groups. What’s more, I need to remember that everyone has something to offer, regardless of any classification that I or society may bestow upon them – in this particular case, one’s geographic location is not something that should preclude me from showing them respect and care.