Wednesday, June 30, 2010

American Culture and Aid

I don't pop in here too often with my work anymore, but this one deserves sharing to a broader audience. I found a wonderful website today that provokes much thought about how our US culture affects international aid ... and a lot of it could just as well be talking about US Mormons (dunno if German latter-day saints or Chinese latter-day saints or Tongan latter-day saints feel the same.) So over here I'm going to talk religion instead of aid. The three starred links are to the original posts and are well worth reading.

Y'see, our stake president a while back was terminally ill and testified at one point that receiving help was one of the ***hardest things*** he ever had to do. After that, practically everyone confessed their own lack of ability to be served. "Jesus came to serve, not to be served," is the often misunderstood logic of those who forget a Savior who also allowed people to wash His feet or anoint his head as a service. Going back to the book of Pres. Monson stories, how much more often did I think of wanting to be Monson's shoes as the giver rather than the recipient of God's love?

My mother did her dead-level best to keep me from that attitude. Her primary argument, though, was still really about giving: by giving people an opportunity to serve me, I was serving them. Yes, the Lord loveth a cheerful giver, but "what doth it profit a man if a gift is bestowed upon him, and he receive not the gift? Behold, he rejoices not in that which is given unto him, neither rejoices in him who is the giver of the gift." I have to think the Lord loveth a cheerful recipient too.

There is so much about being independent and self-reliant in the US culture (and some of LDS culture) that people feel unclean if they have to accept charity. Charity is even occasionally used as a dirty word. In those cases, that's because they do not see charity as the love of God expressed by the kind gesture of one person who feels love or compassion for another person, but as a statement of moral superiority:
Being able to survive on one’s own strength is almost a moral quality. “She worked hard and took care of her children, despite terrible challenges” = “she is a good person.”
And although we almost never say so directly, needing help is almost, well, immoral. (Which is exactly why, in my opinion, Nicholas Kristof can write with a straight face that boozing and whoring is what keeps Africa poor).

That, and a person's/religion's/country's sense of moral superiority naturally lead to a sense of entitlement, but a very different entitlement than we normally talk about: we're ***entitled*** to give - it's a right - and it is selfish of people to refuse our help. When I read that thought, I realized that was part of what I felt anytime someone had turned down my assistance while blaming it on Jesus.

Confessing my own weakness a little more, there was someone once upon a time who I found really annoying to serve because anytime I did, the person immediately turned around and gave me some trinket so that s/he wouldn't feel indebted to me. I compare that to one of my best friends: we were major supports to each other and both gave and received compassion, meals, time, ears and tears, and a few bucks once or twice, all the time feeling that we were receiving more from the other than we could ever give back. And being thankful for that.

In part thanks to those experiences, I've tried to move my inner reason for letting others serve me towards a notion of expressing love in a way they would accept as love. It's deuced hard to figure out, though, so a lot of people end up with casseroles, lanyards, and ***stuff I don't need anymore*** (file under culture of DI). And then there is the difficulty of being a home teacher who wants to love families who won't let him help with anything when we constantly teach that love is grown through service and vice versa.

Your thoughts? As giver AND receiver?

For more reading: then-CES Commissioner Eyring on the gift of being a good gift giver, where he learned how to give gifts by receiving.

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