For Vs. With
by Hans Mueller
As I read the chapter "Cultural Assumptions and Values," the section that stood out most to me was about activity, and how "in American society, the dominant mode of activity is doing" (159). This focus on doing leads to the assumption that the value of a person depends on how much he/she can do and how hard a worker that person is.
In direct contrast to this focus on doing is a focus on being which can be found in many other cultures. According to the text being values the "experience of humanity rather than tangible accomplishments" and that people have a "natural and given position in society" (159). This distinction helps me understand a couple of experiences I have had as a chaperone doing mission work, once in Tijuana, Mexico, and another on an Indian reservation in Washington.
On the trip to Tijuana, our leaders emphasized the importance of not only working for the people, but working with the people and being with the people; the leaders stressed solidarity. Each morning we were there we would work at laying concrete, and we would continue work a little after lunch, but then we would be told it was time to stop and to do some other activity either with the people we were serving or somewhere else in Tijuana. Many of our group did not want to stop working; they have come to serve, not to have fun. I myself did not see why we should quit work, but I went along with what we were told and benefited greatly from it.
About three years after that trip I found myself going on another mission trip, again as a chaperone, to an Indian reservation in Washington. This time our leader was a workaholic, but he stressed the need for us, the visitors, to spend time with the Native American people we were serving. The other male chaperone also had a strong work ethic. The result was that they got a lot of work done that might not have otherwise been finished. I tried to make a point of stopping work and spending time socializing, but I found it difficult to leave before a task was completed, especially when others were staying and continuing to work.
The difference between the leadership on each trip was palpable. Our leaders in Tijuana knew the people, worked with the people, played with the people, and spent time learning to be part of the culture. Our leader in Washington was clearly an outsider who was working for the people, made sure we played for the people, and wanted us to spend time with the people for the people. He loved the people he served, but he was not part of their culture; he was not with the people.
Both groups of people I experienced serving and being with placed more emphasis on simply being a human person and cared little for what one could do. I realize that I had a much easier time participating in this orientation toward my being on my second opportunity; I learned a little my first time and was better able to practice the next time. I still place importance on doing, but I realize how much importance there is on being, and, more importantly I think, I place a great deal of emphasis on being part of the community I find myself in.
Last semester, for my Introduction to Spirituality class we read a book called Shaped by the Word which had a chapter focusing on being and doing, which pointed out the importance of being in respect to prayer life and spirituality. A person who is always doing is one who intends to change others and is not open to being changed. In prayer this means that doing amounts to trying to get something from God, whereas being is letting God form you.
Similarly, in inter-cultural situations, being is letting yourself learn from the culture, whereas doing is trying to transform the culture. The leader who focused on doing had a low opinion of the work ethics of the people he served. The leaders who respected the being mentality in Tijuana respected the people they served.
St. Paul claimed to have "become all things to all" (1 Cor. 9:22), with the goal of saving them. To those who were doers he was a doer, working as a tentmaker. To those who emphasized being, he emphasized his place in society and how he was in relationship with all people. I try to be like St. Paul in this, so that I can relate to, serve and be with whomever I find myself among.
Through these two experiences and through this reading and the one from last semester focusing on prayer, I have learned much about the value of both being and doing. I grew up with an emphasis placed on what one did, and I know this emphasis still colors how I view people. I also know enough to see through my own pre-conceived values a little and respect and value people who learned to focus on being much more than I did before making those trips. I hope that I can implement in my life both modes of activity for God's glory.