The Glass Darkly

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The Grief of Being Human

I'm in mourning, Lord
For the breaks and divisions I see all around me
For the breaks and divisions I know in my spirit are yet to come.

Why can't we understand one another?
Why can't You give us supernatural understanding?
Why do you allow humans to break apart
Breaks attributed to unreconcilable differences?

I want to believe that divisions are falling.
I want to believe that, for those things that matter, you will intervene.
I want to believe that you will preserve your remnant.

I grieve for your people, Lord.
Where is the love you have asked us to share?
Why do our efforts fall short?

We need your Holy Spirit
We need your peace
We need your eyes and heart
Not only to see what your will is for now
But to accept your will for what is yet to come.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Power-over vs. Power-with

I've been doing a lot of reading lately which has helped to expand and clarify in my mind what democracy is and can look like in society. It is interesting how we as Americans think we need to export democracy to the rest of the world. I actually think there are some democratic aspects of other cultures which are rarely seen in typical American communities. I even heard one person comment that our founding fathers based much of their concept of democracy on practices they observed within Native American communities.

In my readings one fundamental aspect of democracy is power. Mary Parker Follett wrote about power almost a century ago and explained how power is something we develop from infancy based on our experiences. Basically she believed that we are socialized into the ways we use power. I think I tend to agree.

I can't help but wonder how have we lived on this earth so long and still socialize ourselves into thinking that control based on "power-over" others is best? Is it because it supports our security of living in an individualized society? Is it because it tends to be more efficient? Is it because we are more concerned with getting a product instead of following a good process? Compromise can be used in a "power-over" model, but the concept of compromise can be misleading if we only think of it as producing a positive result. Compromise means that someone will need to give concessions. Whenever humans need to give concesssions, there is no true peace as the one who conceeded usually begrudges the compromise. Agreements to compromise are often power driven. Another aspect of power-over models is that they are often fear-based. America certainly utilizes fear-based, power-over control in the world. This dominant paradigm is based on an "either/or" way of thinking. Everything is or will be either this way or that way. You are on our side or theirs. There is no room for middle ground or integration of views. Isolation or individualism is valued in this model.

Another way to utilize power is in a "power-with" approach. This can be contrasted with the "either/or" paradigm by saying this form of power looks for ways to creatively integrate or blend ideas and resources to create something new (different from compromise). This "both/and" paradigm seems to be a new concept to many Americans. In this model people are willing to look for and work toward common goals and are not so concerned with an efficient means to an end, but rather a good one ... good process. This way recognizes the human-to-human and human-to-environment interdependence and interrelatedness in the world. It values the potential power of all people and roles involved. It empowers because it sees the sum of powers as something good, potential for good change. It looks for ways to not necessarily balance power (meaning equal amounts), but rather create a functional unity by people having the amount of power appropriate for their function so that the community can work well together. Those with more power give opportunity to those with less to gather more experience which, in turn, increases their power. Community harmony is valued in this model.

I heard some Christians critique the second model as being too humanistic or based on secular morality. Those comments made me realize that, at least in reacent years, I have been socialized within in a unique Christian setting where the second model is not foreign to me. In fact it fits very well with my personal convictions of how we lead people and how we treat others. After further discussion, those same Christians did say, however, that the second model does a better job of following Jesus' command to love others as yourself or our Golden Rule version, "treat others as you would want to be treated."

But the truth is, I was not socialized to use power in this way from infancy! In fact I wish I would do as good a job at the second model in my home as I do in a workplace! I can see that we are products of years and years of training and often training ends up being context specific. Unfortunately my training at homelife as a child was not so based on democracy. Thus, I have a hard time implementing such ideas in that context. But knowing I struggle with it has made me think a lot harder about what concept of power I want to pass on to my children. Habits are hard to break and the "power-over" model, they say, can be quite addictive. What a scary thought! So I wonder, when it comes to power ... what kind of a person am I, really????

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Special Connections

The really special part of being a teacher is the privilege of getting to know so many young people and seeing how their talents and aspirations shape what they end up doing in life.

I received the below email from one of my former students, Sothy, at the university in Phnom Penh. He was part of a "Writing for Research" course I piloted his last year in the ESL program. I always felt a bit bad for that class as the pilot semester was quite rigorous and I wondered if the students were able to fully grasp it all. But he did very well and went on to apply his research and writing skills to complete an incredible senior research project in psychology. He even wrote his thesis paper in English. Because of his abilities, Texas Tech offered him a scholarship to study here in the States. Now he is in their doctoral program. I feel honored when students take the time to connect in ways like this.

Hi Dawn:

I had a really good summer this year in Cambodia. I stayed there for the whole summer. It was a lot of fun after a year away from home. I am thinking to share some pictures I took there with you. I hope they will remind you about good memories in Cambodia. Please follow this link:

I hope you will enjoy looking at them.

I could not get over the incredible photography Sothy did, so I wanted to add it to my blog. What an artistic eye!!!! If you have the time and interest, click the link. Hope you enjoy the window into life there.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The "Right Way"

A quote from the evening:
Both efficiency and effectiveness are important,
but no amount of efficiency can outweigh ineffectiveness.
Effectiveness is key.

I chuckle again as I study -- we, as Americans, are trained in the concepts of EFFICIENCY and EFFECTIVENESS. We want measurable outcomes. When it comes to productivity, we don't like to waste time, waste space, waste energy.

My Cambodian collegues used to chuckle at me when I would struggle with this cultural baggage. I struggled in trying to balance being culturally understanding/sensitive while holding different values. Efficiency and effectiveness relates to the concept of productivity, which, for example, means we monitor and measure various aspects: the way it's done, how fast it's done, how to know when it is done and how to measure its quality.

In Cambodia time didn't matter, and it was always better to double up on the amount of people energy invested as people like working together. Individualism is not valued and worrying about time over relationships is an unspoken sin. Cambodians, when confronted with these two terms/concepts, were more apt to measure effectiveness of a program in the number of people who were happy because of the program, not how much positive change occurred as a result of the program. And I really don't think many Cambodians really ever understood efficiency. In fact there is really no word native to the Khmer language which translates the meaning efficiency.

More and more Cambodians are starting to understand the difference in the Western mindset as they study abroad or work with Western organizations which run their aid/development programs based on these concepts. These same Cambodians. in turn, are asked to understand, translate and then exhibit the qualities. Furthermore, they are evaluated as employees based on these values which are foreign to them. Villagers at the grassroots levels wonder at the new language and foreign practices they hear and see in the Cambodians who work among them from the Western organizations.

The sad part to me is that Westerners often cannot comprehend that it is OK to do work without considering how effective or efficient it is. They simply see inefficiency and ineffectiveness as "wrong" and wonder when the Cambodians will just start doing things the "right way."