Tuesday, September 27, 2011

14: Choice

One of the non-academic high points of my 2009 was getting to meet some interesting public figures. One of those was Baroness Caroline Cox, one of today's prominent anti-slavery and social justice figures. At many points during the interview I felt as though I was living in one of those documentaries where they edit all of this one person's best quotes into a seamless voice-over, because every word that she said was interesting and profound and thought-provoking. To me, at least.

One comment that has stayed loud in my mind since then was on giving aid recipients "the dignity of choice, letting them know their voice matters". She gave some examples, concrete items that communities had said they'd needed that were very different from what would otherwise have been given. Picture, for instance, a village asking for supplies and help to raise food crops. Picture also the outcome of their receiving what they'd asked for, instead of a huge delivery of writing chalk for an already well-supplied school.

I remember that this is how the Baroness and her organisation choose to work, by getting to know the people they're helping and finding out what they most want to receive. I think that we could learn from them in our routine interactions with others.

How many times have we been approached by a friend who wanted no more than an hour's worth of concentrated listening, then disregarded that wish only to bombard them with unwanted and irrelevant advice?

What do we offer the senior citizens in society who don't have the resources to choose their own pastimes: line dancing and bus excursions? The company of other elderly folk with whom they share only two things: being poor and old? Would you want to hang out with someone just because she was born in the same decade as you and earned the same salary?

How often do we try to buy out our guilt with a coin or two for the smelly man sleeping on the street corner, when what he really wants from us is eye contact and an affirmation that he is also human, also deserving of food, shelter, companionship, all the creature comforts we assume to be our birthright?

I detest this about myself, that by default I would give what's easy and convenient. The advice, the contribution to bus rental, the coin. But that isn't my only option. In understanding that even society's lowest have (or should be given) choices, I'm shown that I, too, have a choice. I can see this as the way things have always been and always will be. I can view myself as too small to push against the well-worn convention that society has walked down for centuries. Or I can choose the messier option of seeing the human beings behind the labels, of breaking down demographics until I meet with faces. By fighting my complacency in order to bring choice to those who otherwise had none, I'm choosing to live as more than a complex atomic structure out to gain the best for myself and my own. And I hope that means I'm choosing, truly, to live.

No comments:

Related Posts with Thumbnails