I was young when I used to believe we could change the world step by step. I was radicalized by reading because then I’d learn about things we seldom speak about at home. Well, my mom’s boyfriend did, but he was aggressive, too, so I didn’t like the things he said. It’s funny to see a grown man talking about abuse and freedom and then seeing him do the opposite of his words to his partner and the kids that lived with him, but that’s a story for another day.
Men are weird like that. They like authority, they are socially authorized to keep it, yet they are the first to question it.
Sometimes, I think the very same people who talk about social issues do so to inadvertently gain power and legitimation for themselves. Are the ones who do bad things openly wrong? But of course! Yet, I believe there is something of deeper treason in those who claim to fight for good and freedom yet turn out to be not so different from those they criticize.
I enrolled in studying social sciences notwithstanding the mixed opinions of my family. I landed a good job on my own merit, despite some of my classmates (now, ex-friends) telling me I only got the work because if better people had been present, I wouldn’t have a chance.
As you grow up and develop your own interests, you get set apart from others. It must have been around those times when my high school friends stopped including me in their outings.
It’s funny because according to some right-winged friends of my family, I was a lost cause: aleftist. But, according to some of the people I met in college, I was a closeted right-winged woman. You can never please people. Do you want to know where the joke is? In some aspects, my right-winged family members weren’t very different from my supposed leftist college mates: money, trips around the world, expensive clothes and recreational drugs. I’m not criticizing their lifestyles, it’s just that I don’t like to have the very same people who criticize me and the system (‘because they give too many stimulus checks’, ‘because they are too repressive’, ‘because they focus too much on minorities’) benefitting from it at the first time.
Talk about repressed issues and white people clichés.
Anyways, despite all the disenchantments and loneliness, you discover when you are in your mid-twenties, with a degree and a new job, I was still trying to have good expectations about what was coming.
My job was of a delicate nature: in a governmental institution concerned with indigenous populations. My activities included travelling with anthropologists and social workers to indigenous reservations, talking with them and seeing how we could help with their issues. The national administration wasn’t exactly generous with their money and we were terribly criticized for our performances.
Because we were too slow.
Because we could have changed some details in our plan designs to achieve different results.
Because we were too fast.
Because some calls were too late.
Because the bureaucracy was too complicated.
As I said above, you can’t please everybody.
And yet, I still believe it was better than doing nothing.
Changes weren’t immediate. People gave odd looks. Anthropologists would say I was too by-the-book. Social workers would say I was too slow handling paperwork.
It’s hard to get along with your coworkers when everybody has their own idea of how to save the world. And may luck save you if your outlook of things is different from them or you missed a detail!
Sometimes, the people who are supposed to be on the good side judge you worse than the ‘bad guys'.
I’ve read too much about pressure and violence among people towards their own groups. That’s what I’ve seen working: gender violence justified by people saying ‘it was their culture’ despite women being perfectly capable of understanding and communicating what was wrong. Struggles and divided opinions among members of the same community because an Oil company was interested in working on gas extraction, promising benefits for the reserve. TV and Radio propaganda talking about ‘order’ and ‘progress’.
Colleagues giving side-looks to me and others and speaking behind our backs because they didn’t like each others’ procedures, because they felt odd because they sometimes just like to be offended at something.
Prejudices are hard to fight. The issue with social justice culture is its purity: you are given more standards and mistakes are severely punished. Because if you are on the side of the good, then you have to do things perfectly. Pressures among colleagues are the worst. Same with the competition.
We were given small amounts of money by the national administration. We tried to do the best we could out of it. Yet, it was terribly hard to choose what to do.
Educational courses? Welfare? Better roads? Water access?
There is something deeply upsetting about making suggestions to your colleagues and receiving derisive answers and ‘social murder' after that. Sometimes, people would give the cold shoulder for weeks.
At this point, I can’t help but wonder if this was about the indigenous people we tried to help or about them. There is this annoying social recognition and Romanticism in social fights. Everybody wants to be the hero. Everybody wants to be the saviour. Everybody wants to be the good guy there.
So much goodness covers dirtiness and cynicism.
The Oil company deal was a huge mess. The community was divided: some members were emigrating because it was hard to find jobs. Others chose to stay at the chance of finding jobs within the Oil company.
They needed archaeologists to make impact studies before the Oil company started working there. They needed lawyers and advisors to mediate. They wanted to make the choice for themselves because letting the government workers intervene would be paternalist. The idea of archaeologists working there was promising because if the scientists found something, then it would help tourism, right? There were talks about museums and the TV news. The community had their own hostel for visitors. It was another way of making money.
Real-life is complicated. People are forced to make choices. I’d strongly advise against accepting the deal, but then, it was me forcing my opinion on others.
Some feared pollution. Others feared the promised amount money would be too small in the long run. Some were excited at the promise of getting jobs. Others desired progress in their living places.
There were negotiations. Mediators. Ugly looks. Distrust. Negative feelings. Hope. Illusions. Cynicism.
The provincial administration was pushing for the deal. They would receive a lot of money in taxes. The native opinions were divided. My colleagues would distrust one another.
One day, I decided I could take it no more.
I was bitter. I didn’t know if I could find another job.
I was told I was a coward, I was weak, that ‘they always knew’ I’d give up. I wasn't made for the job. That I was made for better things. That I was underqualified. That the future would be good.
Naturally, those were the opinions others had of me. When I talked about my feelings, they all interrupted me or refused to hear my words because ‘they could understand without me telling them’.
How can you understand something before hearing the participants?
Prejudices and preconceptions are the worst. People believe they know me, my beliefs, my circumstances better than myself.
In the end, I gave up. Sometimes, the saviours are equal or worse than the groups they criticize. People are greedy, evil and without empathy. Add it to centuries of exploitation and racism in communities from other cultures: so far yet so close to us.
Solutions are slow. They are not easy, despite what neighbours, co-workers and others like to say under their guises of superiority and sufficiency.
Sometimes, all you can do is try. And sometimes, it won’t be enough.
What is an institution? Their people, their intentions and aims and history. But sometimes, enough is enough.
Because there is corruption and internalized racist ideas inside the saviour conceptions. I don’t like it when judgemental people end up being not so different from those who cause harm in the first place.
Sometimes, ‘good intentions' are just not enough. ‘Good intentions’ hide things, too.
There is no objectivity in social sciences: we are ideologically charged, too. Gender violence. Violent childhoods. Poverty and discrimination. I can't forget those who were ignored or dismissed in their calls for help. People can feel bad and sad and isolated within their own original groups, too.
I was young when I used to believe we could change the world step by step. I still believe it, too. It’s just that I don’t believe anymore in the institutions that are supposed to do it. We can’t fully change them fast enough to see the desired results. And often, those desired results speak more about ourselves than the people we are trying to help.
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