Exploring SALT visits and SALT behaviours

I would like to explore some aspects of a SALT visit (and SALT behaviours) that intrigue me and that puzzle me. To some extent this is a personal exploration, but I would be very intrigued to hear the thoughts of others.

I want to explore the power that comes from letting go of hierarchical relationships during a SALT visit. When a group of visitors merges with a group of visited so that the distinctions between them (us) fade away, the opportunities to learn from each other and to share with each other open up to a remarkable degree.

We use some grand sounding phrases for the disappearance of hierarchy. For example, we share our common humanity. But I think that we are really saying is that we suddenly understand that we are all the same, that we are all human. We cease to emphasise what separates us and we concentrate on on what links us. For some of us that means the recognition that we are not special or different or chosen. For others, it means the recognition that we have value, that we have talents and that we can take action.

But the magic is that both 'sides' gain. This is not one group doing something for another group. The opportunities and possibilities open up for both groups. It seems like a large reward for such a small step.

Here is one idea that stays with me about this remarkable event. When we experience such a process, from either perspective, we realise that all of us are capable of excluding others. And we realise that the act of exclusion hurts the excluder as well as the excluded. An act of exclusion is an opportunity lost, as well as many other things.

And for me, these gains are puzzling. I have been brought up in a world that emphasises the value of the individual. We see the Renaissance as a process that brought the individual into focus and that has led to the world in which we live today. It seems clear that there are times when an emphasis on distinctions opens up one stream of opportunities. But it is also clear that there are other times when the recognition that we are all human produces another stream of benefits. I don't know that I understand what separates these 2 streams of benefits. When does one way of looking at the world provide benefits and when does it harm us? That is a wisdom that I lack.

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Comment by Jean-Louis Lamboray on March 26, 2010 at 1:10pm

"When does one way of looking at the world provide benefits and when does it harm us?"

You have the wisdom to raise and to not answer a very challenging question!

Let me be foolish enough to try to answer, not to that question but to one that may be related.

"When shall we relate to each other as humans, and when shall we allow ourselves to behave as experts?"

In the AIDS area, there are moments when communities need experts who can provide key data to make informed decisions.

Experts must behave as experts: they do not share experience, but impart information.

Things go wrong when they have no data to share, but they abuse their expert status to direct communities

in areas where they have nothing more to contribute than their experience as humans.

I read somewhere that in the past kings used to seek the advice of wise men; now presidents seek the advice of experts.

Wisdom stems from our collective experience as humans; expertise stems from scientiifc research.

Maybe we should seek to reconcile wisdom with expertise. Maybe Universities should aim at producing wise experts.

Comment by Phil on March 19, 2010 at 5:25pm
Thank you very much for your thoughts and questions. They have helped my thinking a lot during the week. Here is where I got to.

First of all, what we are talking about here is how we see the world, rather than any absolute truth. And we are not talking about an either/or as MarieJo points out. But I believe that there is a tension between a perception of our shared humanity and a perception of our uniqueness. And the human challenge is to navigate that tension so that we lead a good life. I also believe that the the history of Europe over the last 500 years has been dominated by the exploration of that tension. (I dare not comment on other societies, but I would love to hear about them in this context.)

Rebeka's story was fascinating for me. We seek to define our individuality through what we wear or though our possessions (wealth). Our true individuality is much more wonderful and amazing than that, but we are trapped by the externals.

When I think in these terms, the SALT visit becomes ever more fascinating to me. We start by putting aside the trappings of individuality and organise ourselves to emphasise our shared humanity. And once we have done that we can begin to appreciate strengths! We begin to explore and to learn from the unique experience and achievements of the community. And that process very clearly emphasises our shared joy in learning and sharing.

We emphasise our shared humanity so that we can more effectively demonstrate and celebrate the uniqueness of the community that we are visiting. This is very beautiful.
Comment by rebeka sultana on March 17, 2010 at 2:35pm
Recently I came across with some questions on a similar issue, let me describe it:
I learned while we go for SALT visit we the visitors become one with the visiting people for better understanding and learning from each other. We even ask to dress up simple. In a recent visit one of the visitors was wearing a pencil heel with jeans, we were visiting a community that have economical hardship (in a remote district of Indonesia) . Question arised shall she put off her sandels and take a 'ordinary' one?
She replied 'even I climb a mountain I climb with pencil heels'. We agreed 'true' for her. "I can not be more myself" without this type of sandals. This was not fancy for her....and so on...
and there were questions are not we pretending trying to be 'someone' rather than 'who we are'? what we are in a day to day basis.

I have no answers on this. But it left me with much thinking................

In the same visit one of the visitors gave some money to one of the visiting community memebr... i was literally shocked! As we prepared us and all information on how to behave and what to do and not to do were shared with the visitors. The person who gave money were a 'social worker' and a wife of a high profile Govt personal. She is used to on giving away things, giving money etc.
Later I came back thinking ...........shall she NOT do SALT visits?
Later we asked her to do what she feels appropriate but requested her NOT to do this while in a SALT vsisit.

may be it does not match with what Philip is exploring but I think have some similarities some where.

In Buddhism they teach there is no self, so no one is superior, inferior or even equal to anyone, we are one ...as laurence said...interconnected .....

thanks to you all.
Comment by Laurence Gilliot on March 16, 2010 at 4:02pm
Hi Phil,

Your blog is very interesting. Here my first thoughts that are still not clear in my mind...

When I was at University, a teacher once told us about an interesting theory. He was talking about "Solidarity in solitude". In the end we are all separate, only we can decide to be happy, only we can face our emotions, our grief our losses... no one else can do this for us.

But we are also connected. This is a very deep Buddhist principle: the principle of Interbeing. We are not separate, we are connected to the whole universe. Just a simple thing: we need the air to breathe, food to eat, the sun and rain to grow the food, the farmer, etc. I am also connected to my ancestors (even just genetically) and I am connected to the people around me.

When we live in the illusion that we are separate from the others, we suffer. We feel lonely.

Mmm... not clear yet in my mind.

Comment by Gaston on March 16, 2010 at 2:17pm
Hi Phil. Your blog reminds me of the discussion we had in Georgetown, Guyana. We did the exercise "Are we human?" and the 38 people in the room started discussing. There were talks about equality and common humanity. Then Ruben said: "but we are not equal. We are very different and diverse and that's the beauty of it. We have to share some level of equality, but we are not the same or equal. Else the world would be very boring. We have to celebrate our diversity".

Don't we emphasise our distinctions by recognizing that we all have (different) strengths? Because we all have something to share and learn. These distinctions need to be emphasized, so that everybody is included. At the same time, we recognize that we are all human. Actually our distinctive strengths is one of the beautiful characteristics that make us all human, isn't it? So I don't see them as 2 separate streams.

Comment by MariJo on March 15, 2010 at 8:38pm
Dear Phil,
You just brought up a question that I have been trying to manage in a different context (or pherhaps not so different, after all). When working towards 'gender equality' this sort of question crossed my path in several ways, because, as you mention about yourself, I was educated to see things in an 'either... or' way. It is all about one having to decide if you are this or that instead of looking at things in a way that include probably both things in a sequence, as part of one and the same process.

In the 'gender battle', it is all about this or that: a man or a woman; rational or emotional; individual or social, analitical or intuitive... but then, it all came to the fact that we all are all that at different times, with different intensity, and only when we were in the right environment to express ourselves.

When I started to work on gender, I thought that there was a need to reivindicate those values traditionally linked to the feminine. And I found that was a very important first step in some way, but was not at all the end of it. It is the whole process that needs to be put in place. It was one important first step to recover some of the values that have been undervalued so leaving men and women with an important gap in our personal expression of who we are.

The process is about exactly what you are mentioning here: it is about inclusion, not only inclusion of people, groups, etc. but inclusion of what makes us different as part of our 'equal nature'. Inclusion of our special nature nature, each one being different from the next while all having exact worth.

What I have learnt, I am learning still, is that what is really important is to try to live with such paradoxes in my life, with not trying to chose but to find a way by which I can live with apparent contradictions. I say apparent because the contradiction is mostly in my head and not in reality. The contradiction appears when I feel compelled to chose one way or the other instead of just experiencing what comes along with the contradiction. the fullness of the experience without puting limits that are only in my mindset.

Including that in my life makes me feel like a fool many times, but that is part of it. Don't you think?


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