I have the opportunity on a regular basis to help people begin to look at their community in ways beyond what they know, feel, and think. Sometimes people are extremely grateful that they gain insights that will help them function better and more compassionately in their lives. Other times people do not believe they have anything to learn…that the ways they think, feel, and know are totally correct. Who am I to try to push them in ways other than what they already know?
This kind of work can be very energizing. When I hear people say how they thought of something that they’d never considered before, it thrills me. I love it when people say later that the experience they had in a poverty simulation, on a poverty tour, in a workshop, or reading a book I wrote, made a profound impact on them. Hearing stories of changes people made because of their willingness to open up their feelings, thoughts, and knowledge is rewarding.
This kind of work can also be exhausting. When people get angry because I give information that they refuse to deal with, I have to remind myself that all I can do is offer opportunities. What people choose to do with those things is beyond my control. When one of my volunteers gets screamed at during a simulation or is called the b-word in a written evaluation, I ache because the volunteer was offering his/her time and assistance to help improve our world for everyone. Obviously people get stressed in some of these learning opportunities but it still hurts when they lash out.
And the reality is that I can be/have been a member of both groups. I can be comfortable (stubborn?) holding onto the truths that I was raised to know and believe. I am a product of my culture…my white, educated, southern culture. I trip over long held prejudices that I am horrified to find lurking in me. I get angry when people push me beyond where I am secure. On the other hand, I get excited when I’m able to move into new learnings and new understandings of other people, cultures, and situations. I enjoy talking with and learning from people whose experiences are different from mine. Change can be great and change can be scary…really, really scary.
So that’s what Our Eyes Were Opened is all about—offering people opportunities to increase their understanding. What they do with that…well, that’s up to them.