Friday, August 9, 2013
Good Intentions Good Works
Yesterday I heard a simply dressed woman stand up in the audience of a large room describe the way she and others in Tamworth help refugees and new arrivals in Tamworth, a country town. There is no money, no grants, no questions of accountability, just people simply working together to help newcomers, driving them in their own vehicle to inspect an apartment, helping with needed furniture and other practical needs. There was something really wholesome and inspiring in this great example where pure intention meets good works, with no other motives. Unfortunately, this is not always practical, for example in my case I do good work, based on positive intentions, but we have chosen to professionalise the work, which means I am paid for the work and there are questions of interests, power and authority over people that report to me.
Monday: My step is light. My mood is upbeat. I’m walking down quiet tree lined streets to a trail that takes me into a little forest. The leaves are so many shades of red, brown and green. I’m not happy because I am noticing the trees. The opposite is true. I’m noticing the trees because of an inner joy. It’s the joy of freeing myself from stress about funding for the organisation I lead by moving my focus to the people I have the privilege to serve. This morning, I turned my attention back to lobbying the government for funding but my intention is not to keep afloat but on maximizing the benefit to children across this country. Thinking about how to ensure the impact is greater. I am experiencing the joy of being focused on my intentions to help others.
I feel inspired by Martin Luther King jnr’s “mountain top speech” and its focus away from self to the needs of the people he was committed to help. I used to read Moses’ speech about not getting to the Promised Land as a lament. “I pleaded with God at that time, saying. Lord, God, you have begun to show your servant your greatness…please let me pass (over the river) and see the good land…[i]”. Alas Moses’ plea is refused and he is merely allowed to see the Promised Land from the top of a mountain. In King’s speech shortly before he is assassinated he sees it differently. King tells his audience that “It doesn’t matter about me now”, he is not afraid to die because he has “been to the mountain top, and seen the Promised Land” he can see the realisation of his dream of an equal society. This is the head space I think we need to operate in, if we can. Thinking not about our own wishes or needs but of those we serve.
Wednesday: I hear a speech by Mrs. Maha Abdo, a leader of the Muslim Women’s association. I am sitting next to her on the panel at a diversity conference. She begins by asking us to close our eyes and focus on our intention for being in that room at that moment. I close my eyes and think about the networking I came to do, promoting my organisation and decide that a better intention would be to focus on really hearing what others are saying and being here for the people in this room in the discussion. Maha says that in her recent trip to a village in Yemen the normal practice before doing anything is to stop and think about intention. I love it.
Alongside good intentions is the obligation to judge whether our efforts are having an impact, sometimes using “hard” instruments, such as demands for data, accountability and giving harsh criticism to ensure this is being achieved. This is particularly true when public or charitable funds are being used.
The Torah commands the people to put judges and “police” (Shortim שוטרים) in all their gates[ii]. This has been interpreted metaphorically as a requirement for making judgements about the words that come out of our mouths as well as what and how we choose to see things with our eyes and hear with our ears. I suggest that the priority be placed on wise judgement with any harshness being carefully employed only in accordance with this wisdom.
The Hebrew word shoter שוטר , that I translated as police, has more than one interpretation. One scholar translated it as “rulers[iii]”. In his model there is a separation of powers, there is the judiciary who make judgements and the rulers who ensure that the ruling of the judges is imposed. In this model there appears to be no ambivalence about the combination of coercive power and authority. An alternative and more prevalent view is that the “Shoter” has no authority of his own and refers to “the lads” who are given very specific instructions by the judges to enforce their judgements[iv]. In the second model, force or harshness is rightfully positioned in its proper subservient role.
I hope in my life I get it right, at the level of motives, intentions and impact on others. More broadly, the Australian government’s harsh treatment of asylum seekers, and the policies advocated by both major parties during our current election campaign needs to be challenged both at the level of intention and impact. May compassion prevail and all force and harshness humbly serve justice as determined by wise judgment.
[i] Deuteronomy 3:24-26
[ii] Deuteronomy 16:18
[iii] Ibn Ezra
[iv] Mizrahi based on Rashi commentary on Deuteronomy 16:18 and Rambam Sefer Hamitzvos. In one version of Rashi he used the word “Gularion” which Marcus Jastrow explains to be a “soldiers boy”, or the most junior soldiers who typically are sent ahead in harm’s way but the credit it given to the more senior soldiers.