I noticed the more the person spoke to the gathered group, the more I became irritated. So much so, I had to take a quick reflective check to see if I could determine what was going on that was causing me such annoyance. And then it hit me as the speaker went through a long litany, each statement beginning with “I”. While the topic was about racial injustice, the speaker (a white religious leader) spent the entire length of the program talking about all of the great work they had done, and suggesting the rest of the crowd needed to get onboard.
One of the greatest tragedies that has been articulated to me by a number of individuals who belong to a body of people who have experienced great and prolonged injustice is their experience of being co-opted by others. Those who are not a part of said body of people adopt the issue as their issue, and in many respects are continuing to yet again oppress others. Often these are well intended forks who just want to “do good” but the impact is quite the opposite. It is also the case that, as a one of my wisest elders consistently reminds me, our intended “good work” is actually an avoidance of doing our own deep work that we need to do around the particular issue.
Hear Paul’s words to the faith community in Philippi “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (2:3-4) I have found these to be one of the best metrics for my actions at all times and in all places. What are my interests in this circumstance, issue, with this person or persons? Am I here to listen, learn and be supportive? Or am I here because of my needs, my own interests?
I was recently reminded yet again of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s question “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’” Is my presence and participation about others or about me? My interest or others? Seem to be particularly good words to be pondering these days.