The first in our Christmas 2019 series.
How do I offer Charity without undermining a person’s dignity?
Here are two words that can make a huge difference:
C is for Compassionate Curiosity
“All I want is a room somewhere…”
I hum along to the familiar tune on the radio.
And suddenly I notice the words in a way I never have before.
“Far away from the cold night air.”
Eliza Doolittle is homeless!
I’ve never thought about it. I’ve known this song as long as I can remember but I’ve never seen the situation through Eliza’s eyes.
I watched the film “My Fair Lady” years ago.
And what I most remember are her amusing mismatched interactions with ‘Enry ‘Iggins.
I’ve never stopped and seen her as a person who has suffered.
A person who has had to face the dangers and the freezing conditions of sleeping rough. Nowhere to call home. Nowhere to be safe.
What is it like to have so little that your life’s wish is to have just one room where you can be out of the cold?
To wish you had just one chair!
What Can We Learn From Henry Higgins and Eliza Doolittle?
Yes, we want to make a difference.
We want to ease the other person’s suffering. But how do we offer charity without undermining a person’s dignity?
The secret to offering help without damaging a person’s self-respect can be found in two words: compassionate curiosity.
We need a curiosity that goes beyond a scientist’s passion for discovery. We need a curiosity that is infused with compassion – a genuine desire to understand and respond to the other person’s unique situation and experience.
It’s much more than dropping a few coins into the bowl, or writing a cheque.
We need to see the other person. We need compassionate curiosity for the vulnerable people in our own communities, and also the people we see through the television screen, who may be on the other side of the globe.
We need to see the humanness of the other. We can fall into the trap of Henry Higgins mindset that we must clean them up, and make them look and act like we do.
Let’s stop. Let’s stop and recognise their need for human dignity, as well as their need for food, shelter and safety.
When we want to offer charity let’s recognise we’re in danger of seeing the other who is in need as our ‘project’ – like Henry Higgins did. He demeaned Eliza by not seeing her as a person in her own right.
Yet ultimately it was Henry himself who was probably most impacted.
It was Eliza that made him confront his own shortcomings, and the shortcomings of the system of which he was a part.
If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together. (attributed to Aboriginal activist Lilla Watson)
Isn’t it time that we see the other with compassionate curiosity – to seek to envisage life through the other person’s eyes.
And, like Henry Higgins, we often are oblivious to the systems that keep people trapped in poverty.
Power systems that replicate fear and war.
Isn’t it time we address the real issue of systems of power that seek to hoard humanity’s privileges for a limited few.
Starting From Home
I believe that the solutions start in the home and in our school systems.
It starts with viewing ourselves with compassionate curiosity rather than with critical judgement.
If I want to be a kind, connected and compassionate person it begins with being kind, connected compassionate to myself.
I’ll only be able to give to others what I give to myself.
“Charity begins at home.”
Charity in our communities will grow from having a compassionate curiosity for those closes to us; we need a compassionate curiosity for those in our care.
What is life like when we see it through their eyes?
Eliza, like so millions of others, was a victim of her circumstances.
She didn’t choose poverty.
We overlook the huge disempowering impact of the systems of society.
CAN we make a difference?
If we want to change the systems of power it starts with changing those systems in the very first environments our children experience – our homes and our schools.
So often, with the best intentions, we have a Higgins’ mentality towards those in our care. We expect them to “behave” as we think they should, rather than seeking to understand and support them in ways that are meaningful to them.
I perceive the systems of power in the world will only be transformed when we model compassionate curiosity and mutual co-operation in the very earliest interactions in life, rather than impose our agenda.
It’s an old adage, but we often overlook the potential within it:
The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.
If you’d like to perceive what this looks like in the practical day-to-day living with a young child, you will likely enjoy reading my book, “Baby and Toddler On Board – mindful parenting when a new baby joins the family”.
Isn’t our culture still immersed in a Victorian “Henry Higgins” mentality that we have to “fix” the other person, whether it’s our own child’s behaviour that we don’t like, the child in the classroom, people who’ve taken different life choices to our own or people’s situations that threaten our own level of comfort.
Higgins wasn’t able to make a difference, no matter how good his intentions were, as long as he saw the other person as a project.
He had to come face-to-face with Eliza’s humanness – and that transformed him.
My awareness challenge today is to notice when I slip into a Henry Higgins’ mindset.
So over to you, is there any way in which these thoughts on compassionate curiosity have challenged you?