Am I a "globally compassionate" woman? Hmm. I need to think about that for a few minutes before I can give an answer. I know one thing: I definitely wasn't a globally compassionate middle schooler...
As I walked down the hall of the same school I had attended since kindergarten, my fresh identity as an 8th grader was exhilarating. I had waited so long to achieve this rank! The self-conscious thoughts running through my mind fixed my focus on my external appearance and being accepted by others. Did I say the right thing? Did that look uncool? Looking back, these thoughts most likely occupied the majority of my waking hours. Who am I kidding? They probably occupied my dreams, too!
Having grown up in church, and participating in a teen program for girls about global missions, I did have an idea of what it was like for girls in other parts of the world. However, this knowledge mostly provoked thoughts of sympathy, and (I’m ashamed to admit)…pity, for girls with a lifestyle and culture different from my own. I saw images of dirty children with tattered clothing surrounded by the color brown—brown dirt, brown huts, and little brown faces. I'm ashamed to say this, but I translated these images of children with a skin color different from my own to pity.
I did not understand, at the time, that I was born into the privilege that comes with white skin and a middle-class upbringing. Not realizing these things early on damaged the lens through which I viewed people in a different social class or culture than my own.
My first international travel experience was pure vacation—among other mostly white, mostly affluent travelers. I was in my early 20s, and although I enjoyed the trip, and I learned about other cultures, I did so from a typical American attitude: Why can't the hotel rooms be bigger? Why can't I find the food I'm used to eating? Why doesn't anyone speak English??
I'm telling you all of this to illustrate how long it took for my perspective to begin to shift to a more globally-minded perspective. In order to do that, though, I first had to examine and begin to understand my own privilege. I believe I had early opportunities for this. I don't think, however, that I had teachers and leaders who understood their own privilege to guide me through this. They unintentionally taught me about other cultures from their unconscious perspective of white, American superiority.
So, am I now a globally compassionate woman? I would say I'm definitely working on it. It's often difficult to maintain global compassion when you're immersed in a culture of abundance and excessive intake of that abundance. I'm not actually sure when the shift from viewing other cultures through the lens of pity, and from a "white savior" perspective, happened. I've done the internal work (through prayer, study, reflection, and talking with others of different races) that has helped me gain a broader perspective. Since my first international travel experiences, I've had the opportunity to travel to several countries. I think those experiences, along with the internal work I just mentioned, and personal maturity, have all helped me to be more compassionate in general. I had to become a more compassionate person in my everyday life before I could become more globally compassionate.
Volunteering in the US is one of the greatest ways I increased my compassion. Doing things like helping out those who were suffering from loss during Hurricane Katrina in the south, and volunteering to serve people who are in different life circumstances from me, has definitely helped. Learning from people in my own country who have a very different life experience than me, simply because of their skin color, has been extremely eye-opening and has deepened my level of compassion.
So, once again, am I NOW a globally compassionate woman? I would say mostly...yes. I don’t think of “compassion” as a destination at which I will one day arrive. I believe there will always be room for more. More understanding. More love. More action. That’s compassion.
-Leslie McDaniel, guest blogger