From the Book: “I will listen when it hurts to hear”

I selected the phrases for my coloring book to say what I thought might be most important to others within the activist community.  But because the coloring book simply has the coloring pages without commentary, I thought I might use this venue to elaborate a bit on why I chose to include what I did.

“I will listen when it hurts to hear.”

Doing good is difficult.  So much work undertaken with good intentions to benefit others runs up against the objections and criticisms of those who see the situation from a different point of view.  The more strongly we feel about the mission we see ourselves working towards, the harder it often is to hear those criticisms and adjust our approach or point of view.  It’s one thing to be criticized by those who think they have better methods or motivations, but it’s quite another to be criticized by those we’re working alongside or even those we’re attempting to aid.

On paper, I think most activists agree that the point of view of the communities needing aid are among the very most important perspectives to hear.  Insisting on indulging our own images of what is needed results in wasted resources, intrusive and destructive actions, and unmet needs.  Our first instincts are often wrong.  In the days after 9/11 many rushed to donate blood, only to realize later that there were few injured survivors and that the real need was support of rescue personnel.  Mission trips send inexperienced but enthusiastic Westerners to minister to disadvantaged people in far flung countries, but often end up impeding the work of qualified philanthropic organizations in the process.   But too often we push our own visions and agendas despite valid objections because we want our contributions appreciated, our strengths utilized, our efforts acknowledged.  We don’t want to be told that our efforts are not inclusive, that our good intentions aren’t really helping, that we’re simply standing in the way.

It’s vitally important, though, to keep our ears and hearts open to what is being said.  Philanthropic activity and activism requires an intimate relationship with reality in all its aspects, and our efforts suffer when we become defensive of our own perspective.  It’s more important to hear others tell us how we could be more effective than it is to hear others tell us when we’re doing well.

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