Minding the Gap
Giving across the socio-economic divide is not always easy. We need to be conscious of the roles that we assume when building relationships with each other, and should aim for interaction based on equality. By Richard Lundie
I while ago, I was challenged deeply by a story of a Cape Town church that was leading a trip to Madagascar. In preparation, one of the Malagasy pastors said to the Cape Town pastor, “Please tell your team to remember that when they speak to us, we are not stupid – we just don’t speak English well.” This highlighted to me the predisposition of South Africans to take the role of paternalistic experts who roll into a place to make it all better for “those poor people”.
The Psychologist, Eric Berne, has developed a model to explain the way that humans interact with each other. In examining how people communicate, treat each other and expect to be treated, there are certain patterns that can be anticipated. If you can identify these patterns, then you can find more helpful ways of interacting, and can improve relationships with others.
Berne’s model is based on three “characters” that people assume when interacting with someone else: Parent, Adult and Child. Depending on who you are relating to, you will assume one of these three roles and will treat the person that you are relating to according to one of the three roles. When in the Adult role, there is an objective view of the situation. You treat other people as they would like to be treated. As the Child, you lack objectivity, demand things and avoid accountability. People in the Parent role want to control, talk down to people and, in that context, believe that they know best.
The “role” that we assume when interacting with someone is going to influence how they respond to us. If we treat people like children, they will respond like children. If we treat people like adults, they will respond like adults. Think about your workplace – if your boss is “talking down to you”, you might respond by being sulky, grumpy or talking behind the boss’ back. This is classic Parent-to-Child interaction. It is not very honouring is it? You don’t want to behave like a child, but in that instance it was the most obvious, natural thing to do because of the way that you were being treated.
Let me give an example in the context of social justice. You meet someone who is in need of food or clothing. Do you treat them with honour, like a responsible adult? Or do you pat them on the shoulder, give them a smile and perhaps give some sage advice? Would you use the same tone, language and actions with a good friend? Perhaps, unwittingly, our frustrations and experiences of helping people across the socio-economic divide are because we are being the Parent, and therefore creating a Child response. What we want is adult-to-adult interaction in relationships. We want to be treated like adults, and treating others like adults is honouring to them.
So, how do we move towards adult-to-adult interactions with people from a different background and income bracket?
- Recognise that all people are image bearers of God.
- You always have something in common with someone else. Find it, and build on it.
- Listen to people’s stories and don’t jump to conclusions. Don’t assume people want something from you.
- You are not their hero. They are not your pet project.
- Ask questions – not to fill your head with knowledge, but to build respect.
- Find or build situations where you can interact adult-to-adult. You might give someone a job for the day. Why not get alongside them and paint with them, garden with them, and so on.
Before you give, stop and think about how you can relate to the person that you are giving to in an adult-to-adult way. If you are not sure how to do this, perhaps inquire about giving through an organisation that gives things in an empowering adult-to-adult way. Keep looking for ways to interact on an adult-to-adult basis. It’s the way you would want to be treated, isn’t it?
Richard works for Common Good and serves on the Eldership Team of Common Ground Wynberg. Read more posts in our Warm Up Winter series here.