Do Unto Others focuses on the Middle East, (nonviolent) social movements, and how I make sense of my place in the world. I'm currently based in Cairo, Egypt doing peacebuilding and community development.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Serving the poor (and living the part?)

A few days ago, one of my coworkers was describing the Catholic Charities office in El Centro, CA. Apparently the interior and exterior of the building have aged from years of use. The inside of the building was especially cluttered, looking as if the janitor had neglected his duties for several weeks. Upon further investigation, my coworker found that the vacuum being used was janky at best. Apparently, it was busted and had been temporarily fixed with some good ol’ duct tape. Sounds reasonable. I guess the duct tape wasn’t performing up to it’s billing, and hence, neither was the vacuum.

My coworker came down on the man responsible for cleaning the building and told him to purchase a new vacuum. She proceeded to tell him, “We serve the poor, but we don’t have to live the part.”

That really got me thinking. Serving the poor, but not living the part…serving the poor, but only until the clock strikes 5pm?

Paulo Friere would argue that serving the poor but not living the part would not classify as an act of solidarity. Freire defines solidarity as a radical posture. Serving the poor from 8-5 and then escaping to my furnished dwelling while the poor sleep outside my office is certainly not a radical posture. Serving the poor yet willfully maintaining a distinction between the poor whom I serve and myself is anything but radical.

Serving the poor but remaining socioeconomically distinct from the poor seems half-hearted. I can’t seem to reconcile serving the poor yet remaining economically, socially, and geographically distinct from them. It seems that to be in solidarity with the poor requires one’s life. Solidarity is a radical posture of love.

Living in solidarity with others is probably the single most difficult thing I have ever tried. I reflect on it to question and challenge the way in which I live. Somehow I have to reconcile that with the way the poor live.