Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The mentality of a savior.

A few years ago I attended a conference sponsored by National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum in Los Angeles. One of the workshops I attended addressed the issues of sex slavery, human trafficking,and domestic violence occurring in Asia and to Asian women in the States and what we could do to detect and help these abused women. As we exchanged and discussed different ideas, the leader of the group said something profound that stayed with me ever since: We should not take on the mentality of a savior when we are helping these people.

Whenever we are faced with the sordid reality of abuse, poverty, or injustice, we automatically get on the pedestal of self-righteousness and take on the attitude of a savior. When we see dying children in Africa, or sexually abused women in Asia, or homeless children in Chicago, we say to ourselves 'Here are the victims and I must save them!' Our eyes tear up, we feel genuine compassion, and our hearts reach out to them. We congratulate ourselves for being so sensitive.

I believe that in the process of registering all these emotions we lose a part of ourselves to narcissism. There is a part of us that wants to do good because it makes us feel good and superior. We establish a currency with which we subjugate the victims with our high morality. If good will is used as a surrogate for Prozac, not only do we need less fortunate people to exist, we also lose the opportunity to see these people as our equals. We may unconsciously continue to debilitate them by taking on the role of a savior and reinforcing their sense of helplessness and vulnerability. We are not superior because we had better luck. We are only their partners helping them rebuild themselves. We acknowledge their inner worth and respect them as our equals--as our brothers and sisters in humanity so when they become whole, they can do the same for others.

What really disturbs me is the naivete of some people who visit foreign countries, especially Third World Countries, hand out some money, come back and tell their heroic tales and the unfortunate fate of those whom they helped. Behind these philanthropic stories I hear, "Look what I did for these poor people. Look what a good person I am." To me, helping these people were nothing but glorified camping trips that earned them a pat on the shoulder. Their compassion may have been genuine but the attitude of subtle arrogance and lack of respect and reverence for those who suffer perpetrate ignorance and a false sense of heroism. We are not heroes. We are only fellow travelers of life that were dealt a better hand.


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