I was listening to NPR (I believe), and they were interviewing an Iraqi refugee who’d been a translator for American troops. The troops appreciated him so much they made sure he was brought stateside to avoid the inevitable death he would have suffered by remaining in Iraq from being known to have helped the Americans. When asked why he risked his own life and family’s life to help the Americans (since he was a well educated, bilingual, successful businessman), he said basically that “We (Iraqis) who are well-educated have a duty to our fellow countrymen. It was my responsibility to do what I could to help improve my country” – and he saw that working with the Americans to bring basic necessities of food, infrastructure and security to his countrymen as the best way to do that.
This one powerful quote really captured a lot. Do those of us that are more well off, more educated, more disposable time/income/talent see ourselves as having a duty to share that and improve the lives of our fellow man? This guy was also so unattached to the idea of ‘patriotism’ that he could really look through the fact his country was defeated, in shambles, and use whatever gifts he had to act towards the real good of his fellow countryman. What would we do if a mid-east country took over the US? Would we have seen it that way if the roles were reversed? I think this is the difference between good patriotism and bad/hijacked patriotism.
This all came up for me as I’ve been pondering a lot of the disasters happening: New Orleans, the mortgage collapse, California wildfires, etc. There’s a big part of me that has been frustrated by the lack of listening to warnings and not using one’s head to realize you’re living in a notorious fire break, that you’re living below sea level, or not doing enough homework to know you’re getting into risky financial dealings. I found myself shrugging a lot and asking why these folks, who took on added risk, didn’t realize it requires one to mitigate that risk with more expensive preparations (insurance) or the knowledge and acceptance it might go sour and you’ll be left holding the bag. Why all this complaining about the federal government not fixing things when there is a good deal of personal responsibility to be accounted for as well?
But there is a flip side. As this Iraqi saw, one should take a real step back (and a major step out of oneself) and think along the lines that everyone in my house, my neighborhood, my commute to work, my city, my country – are one large family – and some of us are given the intelligence to see and manage things better. Just as some of us have the gifts of being doctors/nurses and healing, others to grow crops, etc. These individual things aren’t to be overly proud or self-serving with – but to recognize that our human family as a whole needs all these elements working together to work at all. Yes, some of these abilities and gifts require a lot more work/effort to develop and perform in a much more visible/lucrative way in our current socio-economic structure – but when it comes to looking around again and thinking ‘family’ – well, I’ll argue that starts making things look different. It goes beyond just mere humanitarianism, or patriotism, or the like. Instead, I’d argue that patriotism, humanitarianism, and other efforts flow from *that* core value of knowing we’re in a family. And as a Christian, a certain view and value of each human person. That looks a lot more like the Iraqi – using the gifts of financial planning, foresight, and put our education/skills to the use of helping others that are not given that gift. This does not necessarily mean bailing folks out wholesale from dumb choices (I’d argue that it doesn’t actually help to always bail people out), but maybe it means putting up the structures or helping educate. It might mean giving financial advice and counseling to others that might not have that education.
And the core of all this requires a relationship with folks. Especially relationships with folks that need it – who (I’ve found) aren’t the folks that are normally in our social and friendship circles. This requires working on something called ‘community’ which is nothing other than building relationships of whatever levels with each other. And that requires putting ourselves into places and with people we normally wouldn’t spend time with to learn what it is they are, or have been, (or working with to help them see what they can) contributing all along. Which is my next sticking point. It seems we are increasingly becoming isolated in our relationships – and more and more rarely interact with folks way outside our own circles. And it makes sense; I know how hard it is to reach across that divide and struggle with misunderstanding or differences. For all technologies’ advancements in sharing communication – I see us becoming increasingly isolationist. My observation is that people in public places don’t talk to each other; they text their circle of friends on a cel phone or play a purely individual handheld game. I find this an extremely worrying trend. Without relationships with others – a constant flow of new and different relationships – it’s very easy to start seeing others, or classes, or groups, not as people who have something important to contribute to the whole family – but as pointless or even obstacles or hindrances to what we want. Ever felt that?