Other People’s Words

 

Pictured above, these three beautiful humans have been teaching business and leadership here in Zambezi, a group that I’m lucky to be part of. They’ve taught me more than they could ever know. They show up and shine. Chloe, teaching an almost full class of men a lesson on women in business and the instigator of the now (and hopefully beloved) class cheer. Maurie, leaning into every relationship through genuine conversation. Also literally leaning in, halfway out of his chair, always engrossed in a student when they’re speaking. Spencer, who has continuously brought invaluable lessons that get at the heart of leadership—caring for others. To the parents and people who have poured time and love into shaping them, thank you. Witnessing them in moments of passion and care will forever be a highlight of my time in Zambezi. 

The members of our class though, have taught us much more. Their leadership mission statements that reside on our walls represent the caliber of individual that exist here in Zambezi and in our classroom. I want to share a couple of them with you in the hopes that our students here can become a little more real to you. As, over the weeks they have become incredible real to us, and us to them.

“To transfer knowledge to the people, thereby developing the society with equity of all members of the society.”

“To impart knowledge and lead people to the truth”

“Ensure, provide, and promote quality leadership through creativity and integrity and boost development to help alleviate poverty and promote unity and have a healthy society through equity.”

“I want to be a leader who has the heart for the people and takes their desires for the betterment of the community.”

“I want to gather and lead people with different background and make change in their life and my life as well.” 

“To lead in order to bring the people together and do the right things. Because as we let our own light shine we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.” (sounds familiar @Kelen.. feels like you left an impact you can’t even imagine here)

The words that our students wrote attest to who they are much better than I could, and I’m starting to detest the idea of even trying to encapsulate them. This post could be about the friendships I’ve formed in our class, the personalities that show up, the tension, and the lessons. But, it’s not. That’s just honestly impossible for me right now. For starters it’s almost midnight and I’m out of chocolate O’s. Also, I still find it difficult to write and think completely about people without also considering the unique hardships that exist for them within this developing nation. Comparing people strips them of their dignity, so I won’t do that. And, to act as if I understand their problems fully would be stepping into a dangerous paradigm.

A western paradigm that simplifies the world’s problems and ignores domestic issues. A common practice that Michael Marsicano condemns in his article “The Reductive Seduction of Other People’s Problems.” He demands that young Americans stop going abroad to fix the world, and I agree with him. Specifically, he points out the hypocrisy in an outsider thinking they can easily solve a muti-faceted problem that insiders have been working on for decades. His solution? Don’t go. Stay home and work on issues that address the deep and horrific side of our country. Issues like mass incarceration, immigration, government efficiency, the foster care system, issues that we know are much more complex than they seem and that will humble you each step of the way. Or, if you must, go to listen and lean into complexity. 

In Zambezi, we’ve been steered far away from fixing. Where has that left us though? Smack dab in complexity. Our days are full of intentional connection and practice at accompaniment. Of reactions to newness or wonder that appear on this blog daily. As I’ve been with my classmates these four weeks in complexity, a reading on confusion has been somehow clarifying. The quote below from George Saunders has mesmerized me since the day I read it while laying on the convent couch early in our trip and it’s one of the last things I’d like to share with you.

“No place works any different than any other place, really, beyond mere details. The universal human laws— need, love for the beloved, fear, hunger, periodic exaltation, the kindness that rises up naturally in the absence of hunger/fear/pain— are constant, predictable, reliable, universal, and are merely ornamented with the details of local culture. What a powerful thing to know: That one’s own desires are mappable onto strangers; that what one finds in oneself will most certainly be found in The Other… 

Don’t be afraid to be confused. Try to remain permanently confused. Anything is possible. Stay open, forever, so open it hurts and then open up some more, until the day you die, world without end, amen.”

Read that again. Maybe read it out loud. Let it sink it. Feels slightly Doddian (yeah Jeff, you sure you don’t have an alter ego by the name of George Saunders?).

Each line echos a truth to me.

The idea that where we are isn’t really much different than any other place. That we are adaptable and malleable creatures. Only when pulled away from our own comforts can we settle into a new routine, as we’ve found slightly easier than expected here in Zambezi. That there are universal laws. Needs exist everywhere. Love is bountiful for the beloved. Kindness flourishes when we find ourselves free. That our desires and selves can be mapped onto strangers until we find that The Other seems to be more of a mirror than we ever thought possible.

It’s the last part of this quote that stays with me in a deeper way though. Don’t you dare be afraid to be confused, and if you find yourself certain, know that you’ve got far far astray. Be permanently confused, not because it’s a cop out, but because it’s possibly the hardest thing you can do. Believe truly that anything is possible. Don’t close yourself off to the world. Be open to everything and get ready to hurt, because it’s going to hurt, badly. Then when you feel as if you can’t do it any longer, dig deeper. “..until the day you die, world without end, amen.”

And I say, amen. 

But, Father Baraza has one more thing to add. 

He told us last week in a small group that, “We know what God wants, but God has no hands but yours.” A statement that I slightly fundamentally struggle with. My own faith calling me deeply to not assume the intention and or entirety of a higher power. But, my respect and deep admiration for Baraza pulls me into the later half, that God has no hands but mine and the individuals around our little circle. As Father Greg Boyle writes, “Everybody belongs. No kinship, no justice. We begin here.” So here I begin in Zambezi, reminded again that the power which allows us to divide and create hate is also the power that starts reform and harmony. The hands to do this work belong to all of us. 

Other people’s words all jumbled together, the best I have for you. Make some sense or dive into confusion, I recommend the latter. 

till the day I die,

Rachel Haas

 

p.s. 

Mom and Dad, there are also some words from other people that I literally brought along with me, yours. I’m sitting here holding the card you left on my desk freshman year. Your hearts are always safe with me. One short week. 

Griff, your graduation is so soon. You are in every way the best brother I could have asked for. Thank you for pushing me to be more inquisitive and resilient, I learned by watching you. You deserve all the praise and congratulations possible, I know it’s been a long four years. It’s you and me in this world, I love you.

 

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7 Responses to Other People’s Words

  1. Barbara Haas says:

    Ahhh Rachel – I feel so PROUD. I am in AWE and feel so much LOVE. Come home. Mom

  2. Griffin says:

    Thanks for the kind words Rach! Looking forward to seeing you and hearing more about the trip. I really couldn’t ask for a better sister. You’re amazing!
    Love, Grif

  3. Kelen says:

    Yo Rachel thanks for the shoutout. As I go in and out of feeling like an obsessive commenter, you then write my name in the literal post and I can’t not say anything so, hello. You sounded so much like you yet you used others to show it – quite literally ubuntu, super freakin cool. I bet you’ve grown in ways that have surprised you. You enlighten me in some way always and did it again here.

    I chatted on the phone with Eukaria yesterday afternoon and she was STOKED to tell me about your class and how much she loves it. She says “Ah, the first day I learned so so much! Each day I do everything to be there the full time because I love it so much. The teachers are so good and have so much to share with me. I am going to miss them when they go. I am so happy Debby had me take this course to further my education!” I bet she’s thanked you in her own ways, and the others too, just know that little fan girl me over here also had the privilege of hearing it. I told you that class is underrated! And to the other classes, I bet yours rock as well.

    Thanks for the affirmation and for reading my words again. Tonight as I go asleep I’m praying for any of you that may feel any sort of anxiety or restlessness as you seize the day ahead. May Zambian time and your community assure you to let go and be still.

    Peace out,
    Kelen

  4. Benjamin says:

    Ahhhh nothing better than some nice Haas thoughts on a Tuesday night. If there is one person I know with powerful hands, it’s you! I can’t wait to hear more about your time in Zambia, Rachel.
    Much love,
    Ben

  5. Loretta says:

    HI Rach,
    Loved reading your ‘words of wisdom, Let it Be”! JL
    What a trip! Story telling time, can’t wait!
    Love, Rett

  6. Brittany says:

    Rachel, you are my LITERAL queen. I’m quaking right now. Words have so much power and you wield them well. Thank you for your heart and your light and your BRAIN, you are pretty freaking smart. Enjoy this last week, I can’t wait to see you.

    Xoxo,
    Brittany

    P.S. I learned how to ride a bike, we’re both doing big things this summer

  7. Karen says:

    Rach.
    RACH.
    RaCHeL hAaS!!! (I’m having too much fun imagining this being read aloud hehe).

    You have knocked off my socks. They are laying on the floor, confused. Confused because they’re like “why am I not on Karen’s feet, I swear we were on her feet when she started reading Rach’s post” and also because they’re inspired by you and trying to make an intentional life choice to be perpetually confused at your recommendation. For real though, your writing blew me away and now I need to journal about at least 6 feelings I experienced via this artwork disguised as a blog post.

    I love this line:
    “Stay open, forever, so open it hurts and then open up some more, until the day you die” – because it’s you. This line is you, Rachel Haas. It is you, standing beneath the sky without an umbrella, your arms outstretched and palms open, looking up and saying, “give it all to me. I’ll take it all. The sun, the rain, the snow, I’m here to experience all of it.” I don’t think you know how much I admire you, particularly your incredible capacity for radical openness. You don’t try to block any part of the human experience, even the pain, because blocking that would block the sun as well. That’s something I’m still learning, and I’m lucky to have you as a role model. I know when you return home you’ll tell me all about how the people in Zambezi have shaped you, and what this experience and these relationships have given to you. But I also know, without anybody having to tell me, that the people sitting to the left and to the right of you right now – they too have been shaped by you. You are a radiant, powerful, and deeply compassionate woman, and I adore you.
    All my love,
    Karen

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