Thursday, October 21, 2010

What I Do, What I Am

"It is so easy to come to believe that what we do is so much more important than what we are", from Wisdom Distilled from the Daily, Joan Chittister

There are different kinds of difficulties, doubts, and frustrations in coming to a place like Tanzania to be of service. One of those is that despite the best of intentions, effort, and training, you may not really know much about the effect that you are having, the consequences of your being here. You may not be able to see whether you really are creating any positive results (or negative ones either, for that matter).

I think this is particularly true for those of us who are doing something such as teaching, in which we are attempting to touch and to influence the minds of other human beings. That's a hard enough task on your own home turf. But try doing that in a setting where you struggle to understand the native language, relationships and social expectations are murkily understood, and organizational behavior can be baffling.

From time to time I step back from the business of everyday work and life and routine -- as with most Americans, to me being constantly busy is what feels "normal" -- and loosen my grip on whatever it is I'm trying to accomplish. I remind myself that what I am matters as much as what I do, if not more so. It matters because it is my values, attitudes, and character that impel how I speak and act in the world, that determine what I care about and how I treat people. It matters because it is one of the few important things that I can actually be certain about and change (if I am honest with myself). And in the end it may very well be that it is not the activities I carry out that count the most but the presence that I bear as I share life with these Tanzanians. -Earl

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