This week I was in Roswell, Georgia,to present workshops to both Roswell Presbyterian Church and to  nonprofits who partner with the host organization, HomeStretch, a vital nonprofit that works with families for 12-18 months helping them learn to be stable while living in supportive housing.

At the beginning of the workshop for the nonprofits, I explained that the purpose of my work and Our Eyes Were Opened, Inc. is to enlarge understanding in order to decrease judgment and increase compassion. One man began questioning me even before I began the actual workshop with “How do you know that you have increased understanding and reduced judgment?” I explained that I received evaluations after poverty simulations where usually at least seventy-five percent of the people indicated that their understanding had increased.  That answer did not satisfy the man. He asked again in a slightly different way. I answered again in a slightly different way. I began to realize that this “dialogue” might continue for a while and therefore said, “Let’s get into the workshop and then see if you still have questions afterward.” We proceeded from there.

Nevertheless, his question has stayed with me. How do I know that someone’s understanding has enlarged? The more I thought about it, I realized that people’s comments do indeed indicate change in perspective that often reduces judgment.

I ask people who had the roll of an employee in the poverty simulation how would they respond to the comment, “If they’d just get a job, everything would be okay.” The participants say, “I had a job but didn’t earn enough money to support my family.” “I had a job but did not have transportation to get to work and so I lost my job.”  “I had a job but did not have enough time in the week to get everything done.” “I had a job but did not have time to connect with my family at all.” That’s understanding!

I take medical professionals on poverty tours in our community. Afterwards they talk about how they now understand why a patient may not be compliant with the medical protocol that had been prescribed. They realize why people may be late for appointments. That’s understanding!

I teach the concept of funds of knowledge in my workshops and people report that they had never considered that someone may not have a bookcase because they have only five books, if that many. They forgot how hard it was to wash clothes at a laundromat and so now realize why clean clothes may be low on someone’s priority list when survival is much more important. They comment about how blessed or lucky they now realize they are, how much they take for granted, or how thankful they are that they’ve had opportunities to greatly improve their lives. That’s understanding!

I am so fortunate to be able to do what I do. When someone’s understanding enlarges, they truly do reduce their judgment and increase their compassion!!!

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