You must not neglect doing a thing immediately good from fear of remote evil; -from fear of its being abused.”
– Samuel Johnson
How do you keep giving when you sometimes feel like people are taking from you?
This is a question that I have struggled with after spending time living in Haiti. Here, it’s not uncommon for someone to spontaneously ask for a “kado,” or gift—I have had friends and coworkers admire a belonging of mine, and then ask if I would give it to them as a “kado.” A child on the beach asked me for my bottle of water. A young woman at Titanyen asked me to give her the shoes off my feet. When you’re not used to this, it can be disconcerting at first—I always found myself thinking, “I have so much; surely I can afford to give this away.” But then I would wonder if that was really the best response. At the time, I needed some of those things—water, shoes—as much as the person who was asking; why did these people feel entitled to ask for my belongings, and why did I feel guilty for saying no? And did all of these people really need the things they were asking me for…or were they simply taking because I let them? How do you discern necessity from manipulation?
What I have come to realize over time is that in Haiti, many people experience a level of need that I don’t and will not ever fully understand. I don’t know what it’s like to grow up in a country where life is difficult and chaotic; I don’t know what it’s like to never have enough and to constantly worry about where I will get more. I can only imagine the anxiety and insecurity that this would instill in me, and the void I might always be struggling to fill.
When you worry you’re being taken advantage of, it’s easy to become fearful and bitter; the natural instinct is to shut down or close off to avoid being exploited or hurt. To me, the challenge is always to attempt to understand the motivations behind others’ actions, and to recognize the histories behind the individuals. In doing so, it’s surprising how often fear seems to transform into compassion, and bitterness into empathy. Yes, there will always be people that are dishonest and insincere. There will also always be people who are grateful and appreciative, and who are generous in kind. In the face of disappointment in the behavior of others, I have been asked, “Why do you keep expecting things to be different?” But I have to ask…how can we not? To feel that you have so much that it’s easy to give is, in itself, a gift.
by Katie Lawler on March 19, 2015
Be sure to check out Katie’s personal blog @http://katiemarielawler.blogspot.com/ for more regular updates on her life and work at the Saint Damien’s Pediatric Hospital in Tabarre, Haiti.