Saturday, January 30, 2010

Society - Haiti

As I consider the natural disaster in Haiti this month, several things come to mind. Most of the e-mails I have received focus on the desperation of the people without any means of helping or supporting themselves, the terrible loss of life (and miraculous rescues) and the huge response of the global community in sending food and help. There have also been reports of people arriving with nothing in their hands, expecting to help but becoming a burden to others because of their own need for food, water and shelter. Fewer e-mails speak of Haitians waiting quietly and patiently in a long line at a newly opened community water source, or large groups of homeless singing together from dusk to midnight to pass the hours of darkness.

The questions I've been asking are: If I have nothing in the world, what do I really need? And what are the steps to rebuilding a society with millions of people and no means of auto-sufficiency? Haiti has a population where the average person makes less than $3 per day and only 50% can read. To add to the difficulty of their current situation, about 300,000 orphans are now dependent upon what their society can provide until they are able to make their own living.

And the result? It's obvious that it will take between 3 and 6 years to restore what was their GNP, replace all the schools, homes and public buildings, and recreate a healthy and "normal" environment for Haitians in the Port-au-Prince area. But is that enough? I am not in favor of industrialization which creates new "needs" or dependencies, but there are basic societal improvements which lead to real positive development and an atmosphere of peace, security and confidence. Haiti is on record as one of the 2 poorest countries in the world. There are several causes for that but the primary ones are poor (and overpriced) education and a corrupt government that robs the people they are supposed to care for. Public education is mostly done in French, the official language, but 98% of the population speaks Creole every day. Can you imagine an educational career in a different language? The government initiated that travesty because the French had controlled Haiti from 1664 - 1804 and the language of the elite ruling class was French. Over the last 50 years 3 people have primarily controlled the country either as oppressive dictators or as greedy and embezzling presidents.

So one of the primary concerns for the establishment of a productive and peaceful society in Haiti is education. Not an education in French, not an education in modernism and liberalism with its accompanying dependence upon government, but a real and integrated education in Truth and in the God given rights and responsibilities of the individual and the family. With thousands of orphans and many more single parent families, the children and youth of Haiti need to know their individual value, their potential for life and learning, and their responsibility to be the future of their country, people with values and commitments and respect for others. They need to know how to read and write and use the resources of their beautiful country for the good of their community. Most of all they need to know how much their Creator loves them and about His unique purpose for each of them. So with millions of dollars pouring into Haiti, who is going to really do something of lasting value, something that will do more than just provide a few meals and some medicine? The great thing is that people are doing something! Anything, just to keep people alive, is far better than nothing at all but there is a long road ahead for the people of Haiti to have real hope for their future.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The family and society

So let's think about this model a little more. Maybe the family circle is the best one to begin with. This is actually the foundational building block of any society because it is the first set of relationships that any individual has. Those relationships, for good or bad, influence the character and the values of the person during the most impressionable time of their life; and this influence usually continues far into adulthood. That is why the definition of family is of supreme importance in any society. Historically, genetically (and according to the Bible in Gen. 2:24) a family consists of one man, one woman and their pre-adult children. Any society that does not work on this premise is extinct within one generation - talk about a practical definition!!

Now we need to think about the functions of the family. The family is the first and strongest demonstration to a child of what love, commitment and respect might mean. The mother and father demonstrate these values (or their absence) in unique ways to each other and to a child. But if these are not present in the family environment, then the child is unable to function in a healthy manner and may be unstable and insecure for most of their life unless it can be resolved in another significant relationship. The proper functioning of relationships is the key to a healthy society because society is the interaction of people. The struggle for survival, control or anything else without the tempering and ennobling qualities of love, commitment and respect end in fractured relationships and a fractured society.
It is disturbing to me to see the apparent 'commitment' to peace, prosperity, love, religion, education and even generosity in the American society with the plummeting commitment to marriage and family. This is evidence that we are not really concerned about quality relationships, just ideas that also make us feel good about ourselves.

The other primary function of the family is education. The parents teach communication and language use, views on work, play and learning while discovering interests and skills. The parents are also responsible for contracting with the church and/or public education system (government) for taking a role in the educational process. This contract and the continued involvement of the parents is the foundation of the child's lifelong interaction with those larger circles of society. Parents also model and teach values regarding time, money and other resources. These are the most important lessons that a child will ever learn and affects their approach to life and learning in every way. When the parents minimize their responsibilities here, the task is left to other care givers who often have no real interest in the successful development of the child (ie. the TV).
     - It is also important to note that the family is the one aspect of society that joins with others in the formation of churches and governments. Without the family, they do not exist!

The Bible has a lot to say about families, with good and bad examples, but there is only one of the 10 Commandments that addresses family interaction, "Honor your father and mother". The command is not to love but to honor. Sometimes loving is hard. But honor has its place, even when the object of honor is not honorable by any means. Honor is the giving of worth which, by definition, comes from someone of worth. So when children honor their parents, even deplorable ones, they show themselves to be worthy and honorable. Sometimes the honor given is actually received by the parent and begins to work a change on their broken, hard or malicious spirit!

There is obviously much more we could discuss: the changes in family structure forced by the society, the challenges of children forced to emotional, physical or religious slavery by the family, and the list goes on. But I will close with a quote from Albert Einstein: Everything that is really great and inspiring is created by the individual who can labor in freedom. This is the ideal goal of the family, to create, nurture and inspire the individual to greatness in a setting of intimate relationships and loving devotion. Honor your parents and strive to be honorable yourself and I hope that you find great freedom in the commitment of healthy family relationships!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Society part 1

I've been thinking a bit about society as a whole during the Christmas vacation - what makes it work and what leads to collapse. It is interesting that the 10 commandments actually lay out rules for a healthy society, one that honors God first, parents/family second, and then others.

A Ven Diagram is a good visual tool for teaching and we could use it here. Think of 3 large circles which overlap a bit but are mostly distinct.
Notice that each circle is made up of individuals. And in fact, every individual in society actually plays a part in all three circles. The scope of circles may overlap a bit, but no one circle controls or overrides the other two. When they work together, they balance each other and support each other.

I would like to note that there is no circle/community in a healthy society which primarily honors SELF. The individual is very important in a healthy society but he or she always exists in a community where God, parents/family and others are honored. In the honoring (love and respect) for others, the individual and his/her relationships thrive.
The difficulties come in two forms. 1. Instead of following the "Law of Love" (Matt. 22:37-39 summarizes the 10 commandments), we follow the "law of self" and all relationships break down. 2. Instead of balancing the rights and responsibilities of the three primary parts of society (family, church, government), we give one far too much power. When one group has too much power, the other groups cannot function properly and either die or fight viciously instead of working together and honoring the roles of the other groups. Maybe we will think about this model some more in future posts...