This morning on Al Jazeera one of the journalists started a story by saying, “A couple decades from now your job will likely be done by a robot.” Yeah, good luck with that.
There would be a lot of advantages to being a robot in what I do. Caring about the people around you would not figure into the equation. That would make things a whole lot easier. As it is, I’ve needed to train myself over the years to not think about certain things or at least not dwell on them. I have seen so many people crumble or at least make horrible decisions due to excessive emotional investment in certain aspects of their work. One example is that you would end up keeping people on staff even if you don’t have the resources because they so desperately need the income, and in this context it will likely impact not only the immediate family but also the extended family as well, all living off one person’s salary. It’s a brutal decision to make but sometimes you simply need to.
“The best people possess a feeling for beauty, the courage to take risks, the discipline to tell the truth, the capacity for sacrifice. Ironically, their virtues make them vulnerable; they are often wounded, sometimes destroyed.”
It’s not to say you should be devoid of empathy. By no means. If I ever lose my compassion for the people we serve then I need to get out. It happens a lot unfortunately. I see them in meetings from time to time. You can tell rather quickly. They are often people that were filled with compassion when they started and over the years the challenges we face in doing this work just beat it out of them. From time to time I draw inspiration from a friend of ours in Tanzania that is doing some incredible work getting a school going (I think the kids are all orphans). He’s faced ridiculous opposition, obstacles and greed on the part of the government time and time again (no good deed goes unpunished). He just keeps going. He’s an amazing guy, driven by his faith in God and his compassion for what he’s doing. Most people would have given up long ago or at least become so cynical that they are rendered useless.
So I try to keep one foot in the idealist camp and the other in the cynic camp. If I lean too far in either direction I’m doomed. I have to believe that we are making a difference in people’s lives. But I also realize that human greed will often thwart the most venerable of efforts. Just as I said in the previous post that I’ve seen courage beyond belief, I’ve also evil in humans beyond belief. Both help me understand the context in which I work. I do love what I do but I’m also very aware that humanitarian work is not always pretty.
Today is the first full day without my family. Yesterday morning they “relocated” to Rwanda for security reasons to join most of the rest of my international staff who are already there. I heard quite a bit of gunfire late last night and early this morning and it tempers the sadness of missing them. They don’t need to be here for this. It sucks but I can’t complain. I’m not a robot and I’m fully aware that the tens of thousands displaced by this violence don’t have anything close to the support that we have.