Posts Tagged ‘mindshift’

Mindshift Part 2: Dialogue and “the Poor”

A friend of mine is looking for a job. She has a wonderfully diverse background but, for various reasons, has spent years living around the poverty line. Recently she was asked to interview for a job in line with some of her prior education (law school). To me, it had all the earmarks of a calling.

I find vocation fascinating, because it’s such a wondrous process. Elements of your background fit together in a way no one could have predicted. Something triggers a yearning you never knew you had. A passing remark illumines a pathway for the next stage of your life. I think I see that happening with my friend, and I told her so.

She was having none of it.

In no uncertain terms, she expressed her impatience with talk of vocation. When you know poverty, she said, you’re not focused on some ethereal call; you’re looking for a job. Something that puts bread on the table and keeps body and soul together till the next paycheck. This friend of mine consistently seeks God’s will for her life, so the notion of calling is not foreign to her. But her concern here was more immediate.

See the key words in the previous paragraph? When you know poverty.

I don’t. I never really have. My one brush with poverty lasted only a year or two, and even then I always knew where my next meal was coming from. By bringing me up short, my friend shed light on an entire frame of mind that I had never even considered.

I need a mindshift. A big one, as I mentioned in our previous post.

This particular mindshift is essential for people of faith in general, and middle-class (and up) Christians in particular. The Bible is rife with evidence of God’s concern for the poor; some theologians call it the single most important message therein. The Magnificat, Mary’s glorious prayer in the Gospel of Luke, expresses this elegantly:

(God) has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He has put down the mighty from their thrones,
and exalted those of low degree.
He has filled the hungry with good things;
and the rich He has sent empty away.

Churches can serve poor people without knowing them intimately—through financial support, for example. But if we stop there, I think we fall short of God’s call to stand in solidarity with the poor. That requires something deeper: face-to-face encounters, together with the mindshift in which we set aside our preconceptions, our experiences, our whole ways of thinking, and listen intently to the experience of the other.

If we do that, our eyes will be opened and our perspective expanded. We will stop thinking of “the poor” as a monolithic group and see the diverse humanity therein. Our approach to social issues surrounding poor people will change. So, in essence, will we—toward a more open heart, hand, and mind. All due to a mindshift that prepares the soil of our soul for authentic dialogue.

Dialogue, Crosswords, and the Big Mindshift

Somewhere along the line, someone gave me a book of New York Times crossword puzzles from the 1970s. It, in turn, has given me culture shock. Take this clue:

114    Kin of N.Y.S.E. and Amex

First, you have to realize that this Amex does not refer to American Express, but to the American Stock Exchange, which always made the nightly news in the 1970s but doesn’t even exist today. Then you have to discard the first thing that comes to mind—NASDAQbecause NASDAQ had just started in 1971 and was not a major player at the time. The answer? OTC, as in over-the-counter trading.

Examples of this abound. The answers to some clues are trendy words that no one uses anymore. The whole style of Times crosswords—the clues they use, the way they integrate themes—was different back then. There’s an implicit assumption that most puzzle solvers had learned at least some Latin.

In other words, working these puzzles requires a thoroughgoing mindshift back to the seventies. If you want to understand these puzzles, you have to enter the creator’s world.

Right there is your window on some of the hardest work in dialogue.

It’s one thing to dialogue within our frameworks; it’s quite another to sit down with someone from a different framework entirely. I can talk with my ex-Marine neighbor about the Afghan war and know that, even if we disagree on policy, we can pretty much grasp each other’s mindsets because we share so much: a common language, cultural background, socioeconomic status, etc. If I’m talking with a refugee from Vietnam, all that goes out the window. The work becomes much more difficult.

If I want to understand her, I have to enter her world.

Doing so might help us connect much more effectively with people who are very different from us. What makes this essential today is that most of the world is very different from us, and we come into contact with those people more and more. As a result, a straight, white, middle-class, Christian framework—which would have served me famously in the 1950s—will not get me far in understanding Muslims building an Islamic center near Ground Zero, or gay Americans who fear violence from anti-gay activists, or the struggles of low-income people to make ends meet.

By making the mindshift, we can connect with our wonderfully diverse neighbors. By connecting, we lay the foundation for dialogue. With that foundation in place, we have a way forward when the inevitable conflicts and misunderstandings arise. The difficult work is more than worth the effort.

Have you ever tried talking with someone from a very different background or point of view? Were you able to make the mindshift? Your stories can help all of us, so feel free to share them here.

Note: I’ll be hosting my family for a reunion in a few days, so there’ll be no post next week. Watch this space around September 3 for the next post.