Friday, May 4, 2012

Asking the right questions

There are those lightbulb moments you have, where you realise you've had it wrong all along and only now the penny has dropped.

The pennies have been showering down on me lately. I've been in a self-induced paralysis of sorts, paralysed by fear of the future, nostalgia for the past, chronic dissatisfaction at my present situation. I've been battling hard with myself and my own first world problems, or is more academically correct 'Global North' problems as you would.

Here it is, for what it's worth. The pennies, that is. I came back trying not to lose sight of what I learned over in that big epi-centre of thoughts that is Europe. I kept asking myself - How do I go back to normal life? How can I relate to people like I used to? Where do I go from here? What am I doing next? How can I get out of there? How soon?

I've been asking all the wrong questions. My issues with my own situation reflect the attitude I've had towards the bigger problems going on in the world and how I perceive them. See I've been having a lot of interesting conversations lately with like-minded people and reading a lot of blogs and going to interesting sessions on development, community organising, aid and all the issues implicated in this business of 'doing good'. I'm writing a research paper on the promises and failures of Neoliberalism, Development and Microfinance. I am constantly learning from the many jading but invaluable experiences of those older, wiser and more experienced than me who have gone before me singing the song of idealism and youthful passion. And just as I've written on this space before that I've been moving away from the notion of 'Saving' or 'Changing' The World it is because I've realised quite a lot.

The World needs less saviours, protectors and martyrs and more listeners, connectors, innovators. Less glamorous titles that are inclusive, not exclusive. Because my change-the-world crisis had been about asking all the wrong questions. How Can I help? What Can I do? What's the problem? 
Instead of asking... What's right and good? How are they helping themselves? Do they need my help?
And an even better place to start would be the harder questions... What's my role in creating or facilitating the problems I'm seeking to address? 

Just like in any personal situation too often we ask for the quick way to get out of the mess we're in, instead of asking how we made it in the first place and how not to do it again. We just want a band-aid, a bit of reassurance and a clean up job. We make a big fuss about the symptom and do nothing to address the cause.

And the reason so many of us fall into this trap of asking the wrong questions is that it takes more effort than we're usually willing to commit to understand a problem so large it paralyses us. Either the problem feels too big to solve we become overwhelmed and give into the prevailing cynicism and escapism that nothing we do changes anything, anyway. OR we jump in full force, we rally the troops, become shamed into passionate action without knowledge or skill set or educating ourselves. We do all this when we should be investing time in the less cool, more tedious side of Doing Good is knowing how to do that, understanding how it all works, and how it doesn't. Then going from there.

It's hard to constantly find out you've had it wrong all along. It takes a lot of humility, which I think our world, our leaders and ourselves would benefit from greatly. What keeps cropping up is that being courageous isn't about doing things in spite of everybody else, it's about making yourself vulnerable, being OK with vulnerability. Asking questions (even if they aren't the right ones), listening to the answers (even if they're not the ones you were hoping for) and readjusting the way you think accordingly (even if you have to admit you were wrong, even if you have to admit your own ignorance or arrogance or whatever noun is impeding you from cracking open your thought process).

It's those pennies, they just keep dropping.

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