Monday, February 09, 2009

Thought Experiments and New Years Resolutions

It's been a good year for change.

My New Years resolution list was long but I've managed to make some of the changes stick. Healthier, cheaper eating has made its way into my life for good; I can't imagine going to the store and buying a loaf of bread now. I love my wheat rolls and the smell that fills my house on bread making day. Fruits are now the staple food in the house. I think the days I eat at home, I'm spending about US$ 3 a day, more or less. That's a dollar per meal. Not bad, not bad!

Another resolution was peace. Inner peace. Not stressing out about things. Being a compulsive list-maker and worrywart, this should have been difficult, but I've been in a state of zen-like-calm since I returned to Brazil. Part of it is perspective, but I think a lot of it has to do with two really important decisions I made:

--not allowing disrespectful actions to pass without comment. I can't change other people's behavior, but I can let them know that it is not appreciated and won't be tolerated (or at least, ignored). When I do so, I feel better. And they tend not to do it again.

--taking a stronger position about free time. I had been letting work duties encroach on my non-working hours, writing emails or so forth until the wee hours of the morning. No more. If something comes up on a weekend, or a holiday, it has to wait until the next real business day. My internet usage has fallen dramatically, and with it, my late nights. I now go to bed early and wake in time to see the sunrise. Sometimes.

Now I'm adding two more things to the list, "thought experiments" if you will:

-- Radical Honesty. (Note: strong language but interesting) Well, in a way. I don't want to be completely cut off from polite society! But I do notice, especially with working among the poor, that we are pulled into tiny lies to simplify life and relationships. It's really awkward to have to fend off questions about how much my plane tickets cost, or why I won't bring a new set of clothes for everyone on the streets, or why I won't let people use my cellphone to make calls. Why no one from the streets is going to live with me in my home, even though I live alone. And so forth. Sometimes, it's just easier to let a "maybe later" slide out of my mouth than it is to offer up a potential relationship-killing:


"I don't want to."

"That's not something you need to know."

I run into people on the street and they invite me to their churches for an all-night service or that kind of violent street evangelism I hate. Maybe they want me to teach English classes or voice lessons, bring something back from the United States or just make them a batch of brownies. I've found myself using "can't" (often a lie) instead of the more honest, "won't." So I'm trying to be more honest, even if sometimes it has to be brutal.

--Being a person with a mind that loves analysis and critical thought processes, I've recently been told that my critical tends to swerve way off course of being constructive. So I'm trying the "no complaining" experiment. But as that article (warning, some rough language there!) notes, we need to qualify our definitions of complaining. For me, that means that all frustrations or complaints or criticisms have to be followed up with a decision to change the current situation. That could be a decision to understand the other person's point of view and let the insult slide. It could be a decision to take steps to avoid the same thing happening in the future, or to confront the problem in the here and now.

Being radically honest with myself and others forces problems to the forefront, where they can be dealt with and placed in the past where they belong, which seriously impedes the momentum of criticism. At the same time, it encourages more vulnerability and openness with others, bringing even greater intimacy and strength to relationships. And hopefully, good transformative change, especially for my homeless friends. Because I love them, but I'm not going to do things that enable them to live the kinds of lives they live.

As the pastor said last night at church, one of the most important words in the Bible is "mas...but." It's an interjection of change, a tiny word that says,"things were this way and now they are going to be different." It's a critical word, but one imbued with the kind of criticism I'm working on. The kind that changes the landscape of reality.

"I was blind, BUT now I see."

Rather than being defeatist and static, such language tells the truth about the reality of our world, a world which is fluid, flexible and creative for those who are willing to see a little differently. Some might call this prophetic imagination, some might call it "believing six impossible things before breakfast," some might say it's foolish. I tend to think it's all of the above...but especially, that this kind of thinking is the best kind of foolishness there is!

1 comment:

LeAnne Hardy said...

Good luck on your New Year's resolutions, Jenna. Changing your thinking is a big challenge. It is so easy to slip back into the ways we have habitually responded. These sound like necessary changes if you are going to avoid burnout. May God give you strength to live with both Grace and Truth.