The “same but different” question
What is stopping you from doing that here?
Erin and I first met in Nairobi, Kenya sometime in mid-2002. Erin was working in the Muthare Valley, one of the largest slums in Africa. Listening to this bold young woman from Italian origin, you never got that sense that Erin had any inkling of White Savior Syndrome. Erin saw dignity and honor among the people she worked with. Her projects focused on together solutions.
Erin spent 2002-2005 in Kenya working through a mission to train trainers in a community based development strategy. This was before funding was available for AIDS medications in most of Africa. Those she watched die from AIDS were not numbers, they had become names, mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers, friends. She loved her work, but when Brian showed up, we knew that her heart might take her back to the US. Sure enough, on a follow up trip, Brian showed up with a ring. Erin moved back to the US to marry the love of her life and together they settled down to build a life in Baltimore, Maryland.
Five years later, she felt lost. Her competence and leadership skills had opened consulting opportunities in nearby Washington D.C, but she missed being in a work environment where the holistic individual was valued and where their physical, social, emotional, and spiritual needs were addressed. Throughout 2010, she struggled with wanting to go back to East Africa and engage in community-based development through the church.
Erin and her husband Brian had their friends John and Mandi over for an Italian dinner one night. They served together at church, had kids about the same age, and spent a lot of time in community with them. Over a plate of meatballs, Erin was expressed her frustrations to Mandi. At one point, Mandi interrupted Erin’s diatribe with One Question. “Why can’t do you the same work in Baltimore as you did in East Africa?”
Baltimore was her city, but Baltimore was not Africa. This question gnawed at Erin for some time. She started to rethink her commute, her life, and how her passion for the church and community development could come together. “Why not Baltimore?” Instead of thinking,” I can’t wait until we get back to East Africa,” she began to think, “Maybe the Lord can use me the same way here.” Soon Erin began to learn of the significant need in bringing community based solutions to those suffering with AIDS and other crisis in the urban areas of Baltimore.
When a door opened to be an Executive Director of a local faith based nonprofit, her One Question had an answer. Her work internationally continued through board work for an international non-profit, but for 9 years, Erin found joy and fulfilment right next door. Her non-profit not only engaged but grew significantly. She was doing in Baltimore what she had done in Africa.
When decisions are complicated, the “Same but Different Question” helps clarify. Erin’s life now included family and kids and her husband’s career. Her passion and awareness of the need was a key driver but her One Question moved her thinking. Instead of solving her problem one way, she would have to became more, not less. She fulfilled her international passion through her board work, and she fulfilled her passion for serving the disadvantaged through her local non-profit.
Psychologists have long spoken of reframing as a key tool in the healthy person’s problem solving arsenal. I’ll be back with more information on reframing. In the meantime, what struggle can you reframe with a question?