Mr. Ed was a horse (of course) that gave great advice to his owner. If horses could talk, would you go to one for advice? They aren’t human and they will never have a human experience, so how could a horse possibly give advice to a human? If it’s good advice or information, does the source of your advice and information affect how you receive it?
I remember sitting in class the second year of my masters program when a professor shared his account of the work that he did in Africa one year. His team flew across the pond to share an intervention that would prevent one cause of infant mortality and sever illness in a village community. The cause was associated with a cultural practice that was handed down through many generations. The practice wasn’t needed to raise healthy children, it was just something that the mothers traditionally did for their babies. My professors’ team was there for a short period of time, so they didn’t have that much time to sell the new way of nurturing the infants to the mothers. Many times, more often than not, their education and pleadings were ignored. “You don’t know what to do with our children. You are not from here. You all are not even women.”
The return trip home was already booked and no more infants were saved from death and illness than when they arrived to the small, tight-knit community. One day it dawned on my professors team, that they needed to find at least one or two influential mothers in the community to try the intervention successfully and then spread the word to the other mothers at the watering hole. It worked. With a little word of mouth and peer pressure, the community’s children were saved from preventable infant death for generations to come.
I recalled this memory because I was in a heated discussion with someone about how I choose to handle two of my most important relationships. I have learned what to do and what not to do to keep the peace in those relationships and it has worked. However, the person I was having a conversation with thought I could do better. Now, they didn’t have knowledge of the history of these relationships and have never had those types of relationships in their lives, so I automatically shut them out when they provided their opinion. One, it’s my life and my techniques have worked for the last 15 years, two, they have NEVER had relationships like this and couldn’t possibly understand my perspective, and three I never asked them for their opinion.
Were they wrong in giving their advice? Was their advice wrong?
Just because my professor’s team came from another country and had contrasting experiences, didn’t mean they didn’t have life-saving information to share. Just because someone’s life is completely different from your own, or they don’t take their own advice, doesn’t mean they can’t give good advice. Now, they might analyzing your situation with bias (either greener or browner grass), but allowing space in our lives for insight from those that don’t share our experiences gives us a chance to see the other side. Yes, information and advice is better received from someone that you believe is familiar with your situation and can relate to you, but that doesn’t make it any more right.
I’m not going to end this saying I agree with that person’s evaluation of how I handle my relationships, but it did give me the opportunity for me to think about how I judge information based on who provides it. Don’t surround yourself with only people that can empathize with your experiences, which sometimes reinforces your current perceptions and doesn’t allow for growth, but include people that you trust to provide you with honest insight to help you grow, no matter how different they are.
I believe that interest, trust, and empathy are essential to community organizing and I rely on those elements to build relationships in my work around community-level prevention initiatives in policy/program development. My focus here is to provide you with information that will help you to overcome barriers you have in achieving a GREAT quality of life. I want you to be able to move, dance, sing, play, crochet , enjoy whatever healthy hobby you have among family and friends with sound mind, body and spirit! Twitter: @SceMPH