Here in Colombia we talk about the Seed program being more like training for a marathon than running a 100 meter dash. Rather than Seed participants giving it everything they have for two years on behalf of the “poor and suffering” and then returning to their lives as they were, we hope that Seeders take what they have learned from their experiences here and apply it to the whole of their lives for the rest of their lives. In other words, we preach transformation.
A big part of the transformative process that Seed seeks is the cultivation of enduring and healthy motivations for the work we do – the accompaniment of communities on the periphery of society. In my years here in Latin America I have come across a lot of different motivations for this kind of work. For some, it is a commitment to justice or service. For others it is pity or guilt.
In Seed, we believe the best work done by folks with our vocation originates from love and respect for the people, the community, the culture – even the physical place – where and with whom they work. Pity, guilt or an abstract commitment to justice will only take one so far. In fact, in my experience I have seen vanity and self-righteousness far surpass the power of these latter motivations to inspire quality work.
However, love and respect for the people we work alongside and their way of life are not emotions that one can simply muster. No, they are virtues that are created by rubbing shoulders with people who demonstrate (often times unknowingly) life-giving examples of what means to be human in the day to day grind of a particular context.
To be human implies suffering. However, whether we flourish or not as human beings is in large part determined by our response to it. For those of us that come from the world of the “non-poor”, the “non-periphery”, the tendency is to disguise our suffering. We do this for many reasons, but perhaps none more so because we are the makers of it. As a result, our suffering often times becomes misery.
The “poor”, on the other hand, those from the periphery of society, are much less the cause of their suffering. They, unlike many of us, were thrust into it due to uncontrollable circumstances and so have created in themselves the remarkable ability to deal with it directly – that is to say they have developed the agencies necessary to experience both small and private pleasures and communal pain and joy. This does not diminish the fact that the suffering endured by many of the communities that we accompany is real. However, arriving to the conclusion that as a result of their suffering they are miserable is a gross error.
Fundamental to the transformation we strive for via the Seed program is learning to see this – learning to see not with pity what our partner communities “could be”, but with love and respect “what they are”. If we do this, then the places and communities and people we accompany become friends and teachers that produce a life-giving and vital tension on our being now and for the rest of our lives.
Please read our next cycle of blogs that speak in different ways to this vital tension.