Thursday May 21, 2009

Thought for the day: “Make the most of yourself, that is all there is of you.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

What is development work, really? And what are we here to help China, a civilization and a people group many thousands of years old, develop into exactly? These are questions that have been running through my mind throughout my time here. In addition, who are we, as outsiders, to think that we have something of value to offer here?

I am often struck by the stares I receive on the street. I cannot tell how most people feel about my presence here. The reality is that most people probably do not give my presence a lot of thought, but still I wonder: “Do they think I am just another foreigner coming in, trying to impose my foreign ways upon the? And am I? I appreciate the philosophy of Global Volunteers, that we only go where we are invited and only stay as long as we are needed.

In my time here, I have seen that child protection laws in China are not nearly as extensive as they are in the states. This has caused me to wonder how culture affects the development of and expression of universal human values. When I get to know Chinese people, though, I feel that the differences between us are only superficial, and at a deep level, we are all the same.

Chinese people understand as well as anyone that it is good to protect the small and weak members of society, and the protection of the weakest members is something with which all societies struggle. If there were not a human tendency for the strong to overrun the weak, then there would be no need for child protection laws in any country. I wonder at what point without societal development laws protecting weaker members tend to emerge. Does a society have to be at a comfortable place in its own economic development in order for the government to take on the cause of all of its weakest members? Many children certainly fall through the cracks in the U.S. system, as well. Whatever the problem is, it is one of degree and not one of a kind, because it exists in all societies.

Can we ever overcome our selfish inclinations to look out only for ourselves: Probably not, but maybe there is still something good that can come out of development work. In the grand scheme, of course we hope that development work benefits those whom we come to serve, yet I cannot help but be struck by how greatly I find myself changed and benefited by the work. Perhaps this feeling of personal change and growth is part of what we are seeking in an experience such as this one. It’s not entirely altruistic, but no human endeavor ever really is. And maybe that’s not such a bad thing, after all.


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