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Thursday, May 19, 2011

A Matter of Perception

I am traveling this week and my body does not perceive the clock as accurate and refuses to adjust to the time zone change. I feel a bit like the guy in today's picture.

In this jet lagged state, I got an email joke today from a friend. The joke claims that Barbara Walters, years ago, did a story on gender roles in Afghanistan. One of her observations was that women walked 5 paces behind their husbands. She returned to Kabul after the overthrow of the Taliban regime and discovered women were still walking 5 paces behind their husbands. Apparently, Ms Walters approached one of the Afghani women and asked, 'Why do you now seem happy with an old custom that you once tried so desperately to change?'The woman looked Ms Walters straight in the eyes, and without hesitation said, “Land mines.” The joke was meant as a feminist reflection I'd say- the punch line being that behind every man there is a smart woman.

It was meant in the spirit of a joke and doesn't claim to be accurate. It wasn't sent to be deep or reflective or anything other than light. But today, it made me think.

I took the joke a bit seriously I guess and considered how often in the name of helping, we actually hurt. I'm in an area right now where wild fires have been devastating and thousands of people had to quite literally flee for their lives to outrace the fire. Relief efforts are pouring in. Everyone wants to do something to help and with all good intentions everyone thinks they know what form that help would take. This is our approach to helping others. We rush in to provide what we imagine we would want or need if we were in that situation. Sometimes our perceptions are accurate. Sometimes they aren't.

When we share a common culture, our perceptions are more likely to be accurate I think. I'm not sure we have a clue when we try to rush in with aid to other cultures or try to help people with backgrounds and experiences we really can't imagine.

I get a lot of emails every day from people that are working towards a "cause" of one kind or another. Although I think the people behind the causes are working with the best of intentions and from their hearts, I'm not always sure they are helping. Truly helping someone means you don't impose your beliefs, feelings, culture or preferences on them. It means you ask what they need and listen to the answer. Listening is always the problem! What if they ask for something you can't provide, weren't prepared to provide, or just don't understand? If you really want to help- you provide it anyway. It also means that just because you think something is "broken" - it might not be. You have to ask and listen. You don't assume people want what you do.

If we were really forward thinking on this issue, we might even consider how we rescue and help animals. Apparently there is quite an extreme rescue effort going on at the moment to free a baby eagle in Victoria. A camera was mounted in a tree to record the birthing and care of three babies. It's a web cam so people are watching this in real time and are able to marvel at nature in action. Now the camera is recording evidence that one of the babies is caught in fishing line that the eagle parents used to build the nest. There has been talk of flying in helicopters to attempt a rescue. The latest I heard was that an effort was being launched to provide stabilizing pads so they can drive in a huge crane. The idea is that someone could be lifted up to the nest to free the baby. Meanwhile, both eagle parents are flying around the nest, feeding all 3 of the babies and protecting them. So here's what I'm thinking... has anyone asked the eagles what they want? Maybe they just want people to go away so they can work on freeing that baby themselves? Do they really want a huge crane to go in so humans can go up there with a pair of wire cutters? Maybe, maybe not.

In the Bach flower world, Vine and Vervain personalities are particularly driven to take on causes. This can be a very good thing. If you need someone to lobby for money, supplies, the latest rescue effort- it's a Vervain person you want. If people aren't paying quite enough attention to the cause, bring in a Vine person because they will make sure everyone complies and "gets on board"- like it or not! If the cause is noble, accurate and appropriate- this can be a good thing. When Vervain and Vine people are balanced they are powerful leaders and they really help effect change. When unbalanced though, they can be a bit destructive. Their rescue efforts may cause more harm than good.

I think we all have a bit of the Vervain and Vine personality in us. And that's a good thing. But I also believe we need to make sure we are balanced and helping where help is needed, not because helping feeds a need inside ourselves. I believe, we need to first check our perceptions. We need to listen and accept what we hear. Maybe we also need to reflect on our own motivations a bit.Hmm...

So, just because we might believe it's desirable to walk side by side, or ahead of our husbands- that might not be the case for all women in every situation. And because we might see that walking ahead as an attempt to dominate- maybe that too is not the case.

I'm not suggesting by any means that we not step up to the plate and help others in need. Everywhere you look there are disasters and situations where people need help from others. I'm only suggesting that we make sure we stop for a minute to ask how we can help, listen to the answer, and modify our approach accordingly.

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