Recently I had the pleasure of attending a meeting held by the Interfaith Hospitality Network. This group does an enormous amount of good for families who have become homeless due to circumstance such as job loss, divorce and excessive debt just to name a few.
I am a regular attendee at a Quaker Meeting in my area and we were asked to participate, along with other faith congregations in the area, in a program being introduced by this group. One of the congregations has offered to open its doors to house 3 homeless families for the month of August. It will be our responsibility to make meals, host meals and chaperone over night for 1 week within the month. Sounds simple enough..right?
The evening started off with an exercise that encouraged us to introduce ourselves and provide insight to one another regarding our Hopes & Fears as we enter into this program together. I have never felt comfortable in this arena, but like any thing else the more you do it the easier it becomes.
I shared that my Hope would be that as a group the experience would empower us to do more together either within this program or in our immediate community, followed by my Fear that our judgments wouldn’t stand in the way of making this a positive experience.
Now, I said this as a reaction to a previous experience I had a local Food Cupboard. It is important to understand the mindset of guests who are in need. For instance, if someone came in for food sporting a fresh manicure, you have to put yourself in his or her shoes and not judge that their money could have been spent more wisely. That manicure could have saved that person from jumping off the edge. Sometimes lipstick and a hairdo make a world of difference. As the wise director of this program stated: “You have to learn to be poor.”
We continued around the table and it was evident that the majority of the hopes & fears were coming from a positive base well, at least until we reached 2 very vocal members of the host congregation. This is the moment I realized that Hopes & Fears weren’t as cut and dry as I once imagined. I have a terrible habit of thinking everyone thinks like me….they don’t, but life would be so much easier if they did.
One of the women, who announced she had been a member of this congregation for 52 years, stated …”I hope that there are no fights” and “I hope I don’t see a mother beating her child.” Ok, what the hell are the fears? Just when I thought it couldn’t get worse, she blurts … “I’m afraid I’ll have to call 911” and “I’m afraid someone will steal chalices from the church.” This was a game changer. Now I’m hoping I will be able to work with these people and I fear killing one before it’s over.
These women sat across from me with their hands neatly folded on their Bibles. My fear was coming alive right before my eyes. Our homeless guests were being judged before they even crossed the threshold. Umm, yea…maybe you could open that hand rest…I mean Bible and take a peak inside ladies.
The director of the program listened intently, but never flinched. Needless to say she has had her share of negative inquiries over the years. Once the women were done, she calmly informed them that in her 20 plus years in that position, she never once experienced any of the suggested scenarios, but there was always a first time for everything. Well played Ms. Director, well played indeed.
“Collective fear stimulates herd instinct, and tends to produce ferocity toward those who are not regarded as members of the herd.” Bertrand Russell
As soon as I committed to this project I knew it would be eye-opening, but I never anticipated it to happen during the planning stages. I was so moved by the effective listening skills of the director. Her contentment quickly altered the negative vibe in the room, which allowed us to continue planning with a much-needed positive outlook.
Note to Self: Never follow the herd, find a spot outside the fence and Enjoy the Ride!