Hello everyone. Thank you for coming back to my site once again to read my thoughts. I probably won't have a consistent timetable for when I write blog updates, but I am really enjoying them, so I hope you are as well!
I am back home in Canada after my 2.5 month stint in Sierra Leone and a week in France. It has been wild and there's an insane amount of things to process...some of which I will talk about today. I am definitely excited to be back home this time around, as this trip was challenging in many new ways. I truly do feel like there are some things that I am going to siphon out of myself as I move forward in growth. That can be painful at times, so I am glad I can do this back where I feel the most supported here in Canada.
Did you read the photo above? Interesting, right? I took this photo at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris just a few days ago in the Contemporary Collection Gallery. At first, I really didn't know what it meant, I just assumed it was some clever postmodern installation that Parisians were meant to admire. Plus, yellow is my favorite color. But the more I looked at this picture (mainly deciding if I wanted to upload it on Instagram or not), the more I actually got thinking about it. It is basically saying that when we define something or label something, it becomes a secondary layer to what that thing actually is. Just like these words...all I saw at first glance was that it was yellow and I like that color (sounds dumb typing it up, but actually). However, it goes quite a bit beyond that - there's such a substance to these words that my mind didn't see at first glance.
Luckily for me, the blogger, this is the perfect comparison to some of the culture shock I have been experiencing this past week. That's why I am calling this post "the 'spell' of self".
This 'spell', is a phenomenon I picked up on when I arrived in Paris after leaving Sierra Leone just last week, and it is a spell because those that are under it, truly don't notice it at first. I know I definitely didn't. For those of you who don't already know, I lived in France for most of last year, and came to love and admire the lifestyle and culture quite a lot. I thought it would be great to return back after my trip in Sierra Leone to decompress and enjoy one of my favorite cities. It proved to be an amazing and wonderful time, but it also revealed a lot about Western society that gutted me quite a bit. Now, I want to be clear at this point by saying that this isn't a "I went to Africa and had a paradigm shift" post, because while I was in Sierra Leone, I struggled internally with the same illusion I am about to describe.
Sierra Leone: a country where women and children die every day, the government is corrupt, the land is exploited...yet the PEOPLE...the people remain so forgiving and cooperative. Despite experiencing a 20-year civil war, followed by the horrific crisis of Ebola, and paired with poverty and injustice, they live with an attitude of togetherness. I became a part of that world by the end of my time there, and it was amazing. The most fulfilling thing in life there is precisely your relationships and your family. No one is ever left alone.
Now, what I really wonder is why we ("first-worlders") aren't made of the same stuff. We definitely like to pretend we are (and we praise ourselves for it), but in leaving Sierra Leone, I really realized that we aren't. We think we've figured it out and that's all there is to it, but it's not the full picture. In reality, we always serve ourselves first. It's not so much that we don't value relationship and family, it's more so that the meaning behind it only garners value when we are receiving positively from it. In turn, that leads to a lot of nasty consequences and messy intentions. My question is: Why. Why do we choose live our lives in such self-service? A cyclical chase of having a perfect external image? Why do we shoot each other when we don't understand each other? Why do we choose to live in fear instead of taking a risk on someone and loving them as they are first? Why are we willing to do anything at the expense of someone else just so we look better? Why is our primary aspiration to be known by others when we can't even figure ourselves out first?
It all revolves around self. And sure, every culture falls victim to this...but I think we, out of most places, are the most unaware. It is a mindset that sneaks up on us and holds us tight. We become afraid to collaborate in fear of our pedestal not having enough room for more than just us. We can't ask for help and we alienate ourselves because we know that people can hurt us. So what is the next best thing? Making ourselves look as perfect as possible so we give off the impression that we don't need to have togetherness... apart from those movie-scene moments that make us feel good.
I definitely fall victim to this spell with the simple fact that I grew up in a Western culture. The truth of the attitude only became obvious while I was working in Sierra Leone. Some days, when I was feeling homesick, I realized that I was mainly thinking about aspects of home that had to do with self-service. Having the freedom and means to drive where I wanted. The freedom to spend time and money on self-improvement. The freedom to ignore the world around me and isolate myself when I felt hurt or unknown. I couldn't do those things as readily in a position of service. That was a good thing, because it allowed me to actually catch myself in those moments and recognize that those desires shouldn't be a priority. In arriving in Paris right after, I realized that too many of us do make it a priority, and too often. I had to make a choice to face and defeat that weak-willed character within me and awaken the part of my heart that puts others first. I didn't realize those selfish intentions of my heart in the 'spell of self' I was under before. And honestly, I never had to face them back home or in France, because those coping mechanisms are such a part of our culture.
So now, being back home, I am watching my thoughts a little bit closer...I don't want to unknowingly fall under the spell of just serving myself again. Because it really is something that you don't notice when you're in the midst of it. It's a cover-up, so we don't have to deal with the complexities of real people and the real possibilities of being hurt by them. So, for me, no more covering it all up. I challenge you to start recognizing the same. Uncover the heart you have for those around you, even if there is a possibility of getting hurt. Forgive and love people, create an atmosphere of cooperation and respect. Appreciate every small thing. If you see the need for change, follow it through until completion. The reward will be immense if you don't run away when the hard stuff is happening.
I think what I really need to get it in my head is that true elevation only comes from putting yourself last. From humbling yourself, going slow, and serving others.We all have it in ourselves - to love our brothers. We try to pretend it isn't there because we want to hide the hard stuff. But we are causing the issue at hand. So, find your heart. Can you muster up the strength to put it into action? Can you sit with the outcast at work on your lunch break in front of everyone else? Can you take the time to get to know and serve your gay neighbor? Your Muslim colleague? Or will you live in fear and step on toes to fulfill your dreams so that you look good at the end of the day?I'm not there yet - but wow, am I challenged after seeing the immense perseverance that the people of Sierra Leone have. So break the spell! Go do something for someone. Start a change somewhere. Be a friend. Give your time. Forgive and forget if you've been hurt. The rewards will be immense and life will be so much richer.
Like in the photo, there is much more substance to life than the color you paint it with. Figure out what's underneath.
- j o s i a h.