Part of the Problem? or Part of the Solution?

Am I part of the problem… or part of the solution? How can I know?

I recently read something attributed to Coretta Scott King:

“It doesn’t matter how strong your opinions are. If you don’t use your power for positive change, you are, indeed, part of the problem.”

Another way saying this might be… “Those who are not for us are against us.”  Actually this has been attributed to a wide variety of people going back as far as Jesus’ time. Some variation of it has been said even before that. (See Wikipedia You are either for us or against us.) In more contemporary times… Lenin, Orwell, Mussolini, Hillary Clinton, George W. Bush, as well as well-known films such as Star Wars, Beauty and the Beast, Ben Hur, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and X-Men: First Class.

Apparently, it is something that resonates with people.

When you are part of the problem

As I was thinking about this I remembered an incident some years ago when the sponsors of a Food Pantry noticed that there was a drop in the people using the service. I happened to be present at a meeting where they invited a number of people they served to give them feedback. They were surprised to find they were part of the problem. The answer turned out to be quite simple. It was not that the local residents did not need the food. It was more to do with a change in hours. They were open fewer hours and at a time when people could not access the pantry!

This strikes me as an illustration of well-intentioned people not realizing that they were part of the problem. Fortunately, they did the most essential thing in assessing root causes: they asked questions.

How often do we fail to ask people what their goals are?

How to be part of the solution

No one wants to be part of the problem. Everyone wants to be part of the solution. The website offers an insight in a reflection on the complexities of not being part of the problem.

But I was struck by something I found on the Tiny Buddha website. It begins with a quote attributed to Jesse Jackson. “Never look down on anybody unless you’re helping him up.” It then offers an insight  rooted in the difference between compassion and pity. In short, the person with compassion enters into the world of the person in need– listens and asks questions. It writes…

I remember when I was at the lowest point of my life there were two distinct types of friends: the friends who listened fully, and the friends who interrupted me with judgments and advice before I even had a chance to explore what hurt me.

I want to be the friend who listens— the one who may not always have the answers, but intends to be part of the solution, not the problem. I suspect that starts with a simple assertion, followed by a question: I am here. How can I help?

This, in turn, brought me back to a FamVin post, “A Question That Built a City.” The post tells story of what happened when Father Pedro Opeka, CM, asked a question of the poorest of the poor in Madagascar: “Do you love your children?”

How do you approach people in need?

  • Do I have pity or compassion for people?
  • Do I ask them what they need?
  • Do I help them reach their goals?

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