Connecting local responses around the world
When I entered the van, I scanned the group and was slightly shocked and disappointed. I saw him, someone I totally did not expect to be coming for the outing. “Oh no!”, “Why did he come?”, “How are we going to do this with him there?”, “What do I say?” “I don’t even know his name.” These thoughts were working inside of me and I was not sure how to feel about it or how to reconcile them. He had long ‘rasta’ hair and wore those dark glasses that made me slightly uncomfortable in the past because I was not sure what he was looking at. However I always smiled at him in the past and said hi with a nod. Here and there I did have minor conversations with him.
The men I highly expected to be there were not, and the men I totally did not even think would be there were. I wanted to turn back to my colleague and ask her, “how did this happen? What is he doing here?” But it would have been rude, so I refrained from it. I also was very conscious that I needed to keep the spirit high in order to get through the day well, so I had to, very quickly, psych myself up. I put on a genuine smile (as I was truly happy to be going on this outing with our men), turned around and stimulated some discussions with the men about why the others had not come and so on.
To be honest, I am now ashamed to say that I totally ignored ‘him’ and spoke to the rest. I could sense some tension in the van, perhaps because the group was not sure what we were thinking and feeling? Or perhaps because they were unsure how a day with us would be like? However, the appointed and obvious leader of the group kept the spirit high with us and we managed to joke a bit.
The long journey allowed me time to reflect on this person and on myself, and how I was going to choose to treat him as an individual, and him within this group. In my mind, he was not part of the group but it became clear to me that the group had included him, and I needed to be open-minded too, and put my preconceptions aside. I needed to get to know him as a person, as a human being. And so, when we got to the beach and settled down, I asked the simplest of questions to the group, while ‘he’ was walking back from the sea towards us, “What’s his name?” I feel this gave everyone the opening to allow us to ‘include’ him. They told us that they call him “rastafarie” and that he is a real one too, as he does not drink one drop of alcohol. By that time, he had reached the group, so I turned to him and asked him for his name.
“Lindsay” he said. It was then that this man became human to me. Just his name normalised him and opened something in me that really made me curious to get to know who he was. We stimulated various conversations with the group and with Lindsay that allowed us to discover that there were no real ‘rasta’ in Mauritius. He chose to become one about 4 years ago, but he was born a catholic. He was the father of one of youngest primary-school going child in our village who was always the keenest to study. This made him the partner of one of our most participative mothers. My mind could not wrap itself around that thought somehow. I write this now with a smile, because the realisation that I still had these presumptions about him showed me how much more I needed to grow and change to become more SALTy.
SALT makes us reflect on the question “What makes us human?” and usually answers such as respect, love, accepting the other, and so on, are given. But hardly ever do people mention ‘our weaknesses’ as part of being human. I become increasingly more aware that my prejudices and other weaknesses does impact the work I do. As a helping professional especially, but also as a human being, we need to be conscious how our weaknesses impact our responses, interactions and relationships with others. It is only then that we can grow from an experience, unpleasant or not, and become a more ‘human’ person.
Here my greatest lesson was that once I decided to leave my preconceptions aside and get to know the real person, I discovered someone with amazing strengths and a beautiful person. However the first step in doing this was the acknowledgement that I had such preconceptions to begin with.
That wonderful day at the beach with the men changed everything for me with Lindsay (and the other men) and I can honestly say that it was a real privilege for me that they opened themselves, their lives and their gathering to me.
"If it's Truth we're after, we'll find that we cannot start with any assumptions or concepts whatsoever. Instead, we must approach the world with bare, naked attention, seeing it without any mental bias - without concepts, beliefs, preconceptions, presumptions, or expectations."
Author: Steve Hagen