December 16, 2013

How We Are Different

Last week I traveled to Haiti with other staff and parishioners from Trinity Wall Street. The purpose of the trip was exploratory, to determine whether mission trips to the northern area around Cap Haitian are feasible. We saw villages, churches, and a college as well as schools being built and others filled with children.

I learned a lot, but I received only the smallest glimpse into what the lives of Haitians are like.

I was reminded how different the lives of Haitians are from mine in some ways.

Speaking to one young man about the minimum wage, he told me he had heard it was $7 in the United States, meaning $7 a day. He was more than a little surprised when I explained it was $7 an hour (many people in Haiti are paid $5 a day).

While there are many ways our lives are similar, with many things we have in common, I think it is worthwhile to remember the differences between us and people of other countries, cultures, and economic statuses, especially when we are trying to understand their needs and their challenges.

I say this because it’s easy to judge. It’s easy to judge a person for his messy house, for not knowing how to write a cover letter. It’s easy to judge someone for being rude. It’s easy to judge a country for being unable to pull itself out of poverty, especially from our position of privilege (many of us, anyway). When we are not struggling to put food on the table or pay for a semester of classes, we may forget the advantages we have from our culture or our education.

All this is to say that when we interact with others in our communities, when we are trying to create ministries to help those who are in difficult circumstances, we should remember not only how they are like us, but also how they are different.

How does their experience differ from ours, and what might that mean for them on a daily basis? When they do something we disapprove of or don’t understand, what is the most generous explanation? Then maybe we can see and serve them better.