According to the dictionary attention means – to take notice, to regard, to deal with, to take special care.
A child who feels ignored with go to great lengths to be noticed.
A person with an opinion will speak loudly in order to be heard.
A humanitarian cause will be promoted so it will be dealt with.
A tragedy will be shared so that special care can be given.
But, how do we give the child the attention without rewarding the bad behavior? How do we listen without encouraging the shouting? How do we deal with the cause without making matters worse? How do we give special care during great tragedy without wasting precious resources?
So many of us would do all that we could do if only we knew what to do and how to go about it.
One thing I know is that desperate times call for desperate measures and desperate people take desperate actions. Then, of course we all shocked and horrified at the desperateness of it all. “How awful!” We exclaim. “How sad!” We bemoan. “How wrong!” We protest. And then we all discuss what should be done to stop and help and change. Sometimes an effort is made. Sometimes an intervention is attempted. Sometimes a prayer is prayed. But, sometimes we wonder if what we did really made a difference and what to try next?
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately myself. This week there have been two desperate newsworthy events. One was an earthquake. One was protests sprinkled with riots in a major American city. I’ve tried to read and understand a bit about what is happening and how it is being handled. I practically had to avoid social media for all the frothing, twisted faced comments that spewed from both camps concerning the protests.
It was crystal clear to me that many people took this moment of publicized desperation as their opportunity to prove their point, whatever their point was. I quickly found myself wearied of those who kept repeating that there was a problem and then looking for someone or something to affix the fault to. Nobody, or certainly very few, took this an an opportunity to look beneath the tidal waves of emotions and resulting acts of violence to determine why these people were so desperate. It was just so much easier to declare them bad, wrong and the problem itself.
I had a lengthy discussion with my three middle children who are 15, 15 & 14 about this matter. I was interested to hear their thoughts and discuss options and possibilities. My girls came to us at 6 & 7 from a situation that would be beyond what most of us could fathom. The street they lived on as small children was so volatile that the police would only come on the street in atleast two patrol cars for backup. The girls were taught to fear the cops and by the time they came to me, my oldest daughter would throw up at the sight of a white man in any kind of uniform.
Now, please understand, that I understand that were taught wrongly. But, the girls believed what they were told and what they saw. What they saw was people being arrested and children being ‘taken away’. Of course, they were too young to understand these were the right things being done. They only remembered the desperate moments, screaming mothers, crying children and sometimes guns being involved.
So, my three teens and I considered that street, less than an hour away from where we live now. What could we do, what could others do, to make a difference in such a place. We talked about how children still went hungry because the resources that were suppose to feed them were misused. We talked about how pointless passing out money would be. We talked about how few would take the opportunity to leave or change.
Then we talked about how the people on that street weren’t so different from us. Making bad choices, repeating mistakes, struggling with relationships, feeling overwhelmed at times. Here is our conclusion. The only way to help a place in such a desperate state is to help an individual person. To really make a difference, it must start there, in that place, with the people who are living it and experiencing it.
So, that being said. We believe that real social healing must be from the inside out. Real cultural change must begin in the hearts of individual people. My prayer is that it will begin in me. I pray that I won’t be quick to judge and wag a finger at a person who is in a place of desperation that I can’t begin to imagine. I pray that more people will go into neighborhoods that are struggling and interact with individual people. I am proud of the Dream Centers that our church has in place for just this reason. I plan to go and be a part and take my children so that they too can be a part of the solution. I will continue to participate in the service group that ministers to the women and children of a local shelter. What will you do?
For more info on the Birmingham Dream Center – http://www.birminghamdreamcenter.com/