Why We Do What We Do
Does anyone ever do anything from pure motives? I think not. Purity would require a person to know him or herself much better than the average person does, AND then to override the muddled morass of one’s feelings, biases, and ego needs. Perhaps it’s best to say we can only work to be more conscious and aligned with our better selves.
Why did I go to Kenya for the first time? I went because someone invited me to go. I went because my personality craves the adrenaline of the next adventure. I went because I imagined meeting people in “need”, and I am guaranteed to learn more about the world and myself from their mirror. I also went because power and privilege are largely indifferent to the suffering of those without power. That truth impedes the spiritual evolution of the human family.
Why do I keep going back to Kenya, and remain committed to taking others on the journey? Well, I go because I have a love affair going with our school directors and the children in our schools. I go because too many white-faced people arrived in Africa as takers, not givers. I go because every year too many tourists come without any real exposure to the plight of the average person. I go because talent requires opportunity, and opportunity requires each one of us to do our part.
How would I summarize my motivation for traveling to another part of the world, and offering myself to the needed work? I don’t know. It’s hard to summarize. It’s not really guilt. It’s not any illusion that I can save another person. It’s more a conviction – that every human being is responsible for creating a future that pulls hard for the underdog. If we ALL gave our mixed motives to that project, can you imagine how much joy and hope would be unleashed?
Not everyone believes in Christmas. More accurately, not everyone believes God showed up in human form a few thousand years ago in the Middle East. No problem.
But the Christmas story, and its message, is worth believing. Underneath the trappings, the story is about how universal and far reaching LOVE needs to be. It’s simple. Love doesn’t leave out children born to poor parents. Love doesn’t ignore those without a voice, or those without opportunity. In fact, love is a proactive force seeking out those in forgotten places like Bethlehem, Bridgeport and Kibera. In some real way, love favors those places.
The Christmas story is equally about the resilient and generative quality of love. When love goes missing in a home or community, it is always lurking – waiting to be reborn. Love is infinite. Love does not give up. Love sees ‘what is possible’. Love waits for ambassadors to realize its dream. The dream belongs to all of us.
Crossing Thresholds believes in this story. In other words, we believe in the power of love which keeps finding a way. To all of our donors and sponsors, thank you for being part of the way. To all of our trip participants, thank you for being part of the way. To all of our school directors, teachers and students, thank you for being part of the way. The way is love – the greatest proactive force in the world. In whatever form makes sense to you, choose to believe.
“If you aren’t grateful for what you already have, what makes you think you would be happy with more.”
The presence of gratitude in a person’s life is a curious thing. In the United States where “luxury” items are enjoyed by a huge percentage of the population, anxiety and depression plague countless lives. At almost every level of society, people enjoy an abundance of stuff – shoes, clothes, computers, phones, and apps for nearly everything the imagination can conjure. Thus the obvious question: why do people who have so much seem so anxious and dissatisfied?
The answer is surely complex. But one thing is sure. We have been conditioned to believe that the acquisition of stuff and material abundance are essential to happiness. If this were actually true, most Americans would be brimming with joy. They would see their relative good fortune, and wake up each day to count their blessings. Yet this kind of perspective is fleeting at best.
A trip to Kibera (Kenya) with Crossing Thresholds is one possible corrective. The experience promises to disrupt the average person’s assumptions. How can people without decent shoes, nothing but second hand clothing, no big screen TV or laptop … be as positive as they are? How do they wake up and wear a smile on their face? How are they able to express any gratitude given their circumstances? The reasons are many. However at the core, these good folks seem to understand that lifestyle does not generate joy or gratitude. Those gifts come from a deeper source.
I like to think there are many good reasons to travel with Crossing Thresholds. Near the top of my list is the invitation to shift one’s perspective. To bear witness to the gratitude of those who don’t have easy access to clean water, decent shelter or the most basic opportunities IS the chance to recalibrate one’s personal gratitude meter. It is also the chance to glimpse a deeper source.
Reflections on Purpose
I am always intrigued when a person comes on a Crossing Thresholds trip saying “I want to make a difference”. I get it. In a culture that doesn’t reflect very deeply on the issue of life’s purpose, individuals are searching. They want their day to day existence to amount to more than a random and endless string of experiences. Making a difference suggests a shift away from the self-referential to a larger world. It also implicitly begs for an answer to the question “who needs to be helped”.
So I would like to make a case for a particular mindset to guide the impulse to make a difference. It goes like this: everyone in every situation, materially wealthy and materially poor, is lacking. While opportunity is not equally distributed and some stand in dire need of getting their basic needs met, many of those in such situations are imbued with extraordinary character and spiritual wealth. At the same time, many who have had every need covered have lost the golden thread of meaning and spiritual well-being. As David Brooks has written, “We move through our excessively stimulated lives – frantic but resigned, blessed but cynical.”
Why do I go to Africa? Why should you? I like to think of it as a two-sided coin. The moral argument is straightforward – go and work for equal opportunity. By accident of birth, precious children are deprived and now await a helping hand. The world is infinitely safer and better when opportunity spreads. The spiritual argument is a bit more veiled, but no less real. We stand in acute need of inspiration and spiritual enrichment. We need to draft on the emotional honesty, the courageous resilience, the dogged faith, and the surprising hope of those who live in the world’s shadows. They will give you what you cannot find anywhere else.
Come and make a difference. The difference is of course for someone else. It is equally for you.
Crossing Thresholds, Executive Director