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By Yudelis Rodríguez
When you visit Cuba you notice one thing right away: Older people are everywhere you look. That’s understandable, we are an aging country. People walking everywhere. From the early morning to late at night, people are walking. You walk to go to work, you walk to go to school, you walk to the beach. You see mothers walking with their children, fathers returning from work, young people going out, and elderly walking. There are not many cars and only a few buses, so most of us in Matanzas City get from place to place by walking.
But walking can be tricky for older people. Whether you desire to go out and sit in the park, need to go to the doctor or to the market, walking is no easy task. Cracked sidewalks, holes and uneven pavement and surfaces make for a potentially dangerous obstacle course – one you pray you will make it through without falling.
It is easy to talk ourselves out of things when they become too difficult (or dangerous). Like scars tattooed within, you don’t easily forget a fall or injury. This is, in part, why it can be so hard for elderly people to thrive in my city. Elderly people are willing to walk, but sometimes they merely need a companion to walk with them, to extend an arm for them to hold onto.
The arm of a companion can be the difference between having a meal, seeing a doctor, or getting outdoors and having a conversation with a neighbor in the park – essentially a small act of preserving the humanity, health and dignity of some vulnerable friends. This is a sample of the work we provide in Matanzas City.
Read more about our work in Cuba in The Economist
The hurricanes of last summer tore up a broad swath of destruction from one island to another, and all the way along the Gulf Coast. In an era of more frequent natural disasters, there’s a whole industry of recovery “experts” just waiting to appear with their clipboards and walkie-talkies. When we are in the position of perceived weakness, we are often at the mercy of these outsiders and the resources we believe they will devote to our cause. But what if we flipped the script and entrusted the resources directly to those who seem to be most vulnerable? What if we believed that the resources they possess simply by knowing their own needs were the most powerful tool towards recovery? Those same communities that appear devastated have faced the devastation of different kinds before, and with a strong rootedness in their sense of “home,” have done what was needed to rebuild and carry on.
In much the same way, a person facing the internal hurricane of mental illness may know what he needs before anyone else can bring a diagnosis. He may have lived through generations of stormy weather, his personal history shaped by the waves and winds of family devotion in seasons of uncertainty. We cannot always rescue other people, and many times we need someone to throw us a lifeline. But often, those who seem to lack the most help can be the most attuned to what they really need.
Sometimes the curious ask will open up doors of possibility that we didn’t even know were hidden behind the faces we see each day. Sometimes if needs don’t seem evident around us, it’s not a matter of searching out a different set of people, but perhaps finding a different set of questions. Jerry was intrigued by Common Change; he had caught the vision and started to believe in the disruptive power of relational abundance. There was just one problem – he didn’t think there was anyone in his life who had the kinds of need that he imagined would require such radical generosity. Not that affluence and excess surrounded him, but no one was coming to him asking for real help. He attended a Generosity Dinner and was challenged to look at his life shaped by different questions. Questions can often seem intrusive, but the real magic comes in a simple and consistent presence. Jerry knew the places and people that were a regular part of his daily life, so he just needed to find new ways of getting behind the same old pleasantries that defined their interactions. It may not be standard business practice for a business owner to broadcast his needs, but regular customers can come to feel more like family than a sales transaction. Jerry began slowly but eventually, as one question led to more profound and more engaged conversation, he discovered a need buried not too deep beneath the surface.
Action: Think about your regular interactions and listen for the little bits of information a person shares that can be transformed into compassionate follow-up questions.
How does that make you feel? What are you looking forward to?
You see the traveler standing at the intersection asking for spare change. The guy in your neighborhood who walks around with his two kids in a too-small stroller asking for help buying baby formula for his youngest child. A co-worker’s friend needs bus fare to travel 200 miles to attend her son’s funeral. The instinctive reactions for many of us go something like this: I wish I could help but what difference can I really make? Maybe I could give a few dollars here or there, but is that person’s life really improved? How do I really know the need is real?
But what if you were connected to a group of friends who were willing to approach these challenges and opportunities together? What if the common affinity was a belief in pursuing a different way to share and multiple gifts? With combined resources, perspectives, and empathy, the impact could be magnified. When we act together, not only is our own scarcity transformed into communal abundance, but we also find an antidote to the same isolation that resonated in those stories of need.
Could you take one small step in this direction? Contact Wilmina for a straightforward way to join a community of empathy, storytelling, and compassion.
Common Change is a community of people who seek to get up close and personal. We hear the news, but we want to look behind the curtain of headlines and click-bait. We push beyond the sensational to find the sacred, often hidden in the faces of those in need. Those rich stories hidden within ordinary lives belong not just to strangers far away, but also to our neighbors and co-workers, and friends.
We see the pictures of immigrant families in distress, and we cannot fully imagine the depth and scope of their needs. But if we meet these families in another setting, they are our neighbors, co-workers, fellow church members and suddenly the stranger is much like you and me.
If you’re wondering how to move beyond the headlines or curious to what it would look like to be a part of this community, we are here to help, drop us a line at email@example.com
A woman is totally exasperated because just as she thought her child-rearing days were over, she suddenly becomes the caretaker of a young child. A young woman flees an abusive situation and must pay for the same harm from which she escaped. A family sacrifices the familiarity of home for the risks of a border-crossing in order to save their lives and seek a better future. The tears in their eyes, their shoulders drooping. But to be lifted up by the hands of those they do not even know can allow them to tap into reserves of strength and fortitude to carry on.
Sometimes, the best thing we can offer is friendship. There may be financial needs and physical needs and needs we simply cannot meet. But a gentle, compassionate, curious question can deepen our relationships. The question “How might I help?” can give us the eyes to see and ears to hear tangible needs between the lines. Suddenly we see that even in our gentle inquiry, there are even more people beyond ourselves who care. “Can I share this need with others who may be able to help?” There is a light, a comfort, a newfound courage in knowing we’re not alone – even if it means we’re not alone in thinking about the needs and challenges we face.
When we are invited to act on behalf of others, we are acting with compassion and empathy that illuminate the Creators hope for reconciliation. And when we join hands with others who care, our lifting is strengthened – when my arms get weak, I know I am not lifting this friend alone.
Common Change cultivates a culture of compassion, empathy, storytelling, and belonging — a culture inspired by the words of Greg Boyle who teaches, “compassion isn’t just about feeling the pain of others, it’s about bringing them towards ourselves.” If you desire or are curious about this community that helps one another, drop us a line.
We couldn’t do it without you.
We’ve made some big impacts in the past year. Common Change supported elders in Cuba (featured in The Economists), contributed thousands of dollars to help with the recovery from many of this year’s natural disasters, engaged 2000 participants with The Hive in Cincinnati Ohio, witnessed deepened engagement among South Africa’s nearly 200 members, developed new partnerships with Looker and Google, and became established as an official UK charity. We continue our impact because of people like you.
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