2. HELPING PEOPLE BELIEVE IN THEMSELVES
published in Vidyajyoti August 1987, pp 356-362.
See also the leadership course
Many people are convinced that material conditions determine a person’s fate. If we possess land, money and influence we can dominate the world. If we live in slums and have nothing, we are doomed to misery and dependence. But this way of looking at things proves to be quite wrong. In reality, just the opposite is true. Mental and spiritual factors are more important than material and external ones. History shows that people who adhere to high spiritual values and who believe in themselves, will come out on top. Those who are blocked by frustrations and inadequate ideas about life, will lapse into poverty whatever their previous condition was. Understanding these processes is very important for priests, who have to be the spiritual leaders of people. In this section we learn from history and from what Jesus teaches through St. Mark’s Gospel.
In recent years much study has been done on the question: what makes one nation poor, another nation rich? Obviously, all kinds of factors play a role. But the object of this study was to identify the main cause. Many were inclined, at first, to believe that the difference lay in the availability of resources. If a country had many natural resources, like fertile land, minerals that can be mined ,etc., such a nation, it was thought, would be the most likely to become rich. The surprising result from careful studies was, however, that resources are not the main factor.
What emerged, in a nutshell, was that far more than the material resources, it was the mentality of the people that mattered. This “mentality” includes: spiritual values, people’s approach towards society and the world, the skills people have acquired. It is this “mentality”, this spiritual treasure house of values and talents, that has been proved to be the determining factor.
The primary source of wealth creation in the Western countries over the past one hundred years, for example, has been the increasing efficiency with which resources were used, rather than the growth of the resources themselves. In other words: it wasn’t really the land, the capital, or labour that grew, but the productivity (the growth of output per unit of input). This productivity growth occurred because of improvements in the quality of the inputs (more skilful labour force, new technology), the increase in markets and the removal of trade barriers. One hundred years ago most people in Europe had a level of income that was equal, say, to what the majority of people in a Third World country have today. But by a better utilization of internal forces, the average income level now lies much higher.
Economists tell us that this is a very important conclusion, “because so many Third World countries seem to feel that if only they received a massive injection of capital, their economic performance would be transformed, that increased capital would automatically bring with it increased efficiency, growth and prosperity” (B. Griffiths). “Emergence from poverty… does not require large scale capital formation. It requires changes in attitudes and customs adverse to material improvement, readiness to produce for the market instead of for subsistence and the pursuit of appropriate government economic policies. Much of capital formation is not a pre-condition of material advance but its concomitant” (P. Bauer).
This economic principle can be proved by many case studies. West Germany was almost completely destroyed during the Second World War. All its industry was bombed, its cities lay in ashes, millions of its finest men had been killed. Yet now, forty years afterwards, it is again one of the strongest economic nations of the world. The same applies to Japan which was defeated by the United States, but which has become its greatest rival in the world trade. The Jews are building flourishing estates in parts of Palestine that were just deserts for the Arabs. In Nigeria the Ibos are far more successful than other tribes in creating prosperity. In Malaysia the Chinese have proved to be far more enterprising than the Malays. In East Africa the Indian immigrants have shown more resourcefulness than the indigenous African population.
An interesting example is the case of the Sikhs. Many of them were moved to the Punjab after partition in 1947. Farm production increased rapidly. Major new initiatives were taken in irrigation and local organisation. In the 1960s there was an enormous upsurge in agricultural output: wheat production trebled between 1966 and 1970. The rice crop increased during that same period from 280,000 tonnes to two millions tonnes. Researchers attribute this success to the attitudes and spiritual beliefs of the Sikhs. “Sikhism broke the fetters of the caste system and provided an equal opportunity to the oppressed and the downtrodden to attain human dignity. It liberated people from the ancient Brahminical system which looked to the past for its golden age, The new faith promoted dignity of labour and exhorted its followers to earn their living by manual work. Above all it gave new dignity to agriculture which was declared the best of professions” (M S .Rahandhawa).
THE LEGACY OF HINDUISM
We live in an age of dialogue. As Christians we have come to recognise the many valuable points offered by other major religions. In India the discovery of the rich philosophical and cultural values of Hinduism will have to be taken seriously by the Church. In the future – I am sure – many such deep- rooted religious values will find their legitimate expression in a genuinely Indian Christianity.
But this genuine esteem for everything that is valuable in the traditional religion of the people should not make us blind to the great mental block which Hinduism has put on many people’s minds. Christ came precisely to liberate people from such obstacles. As his spiritual successors and the prophets of our own age, we have to recognise the enormous psychological and social damage done to people by certain Hindu convictions. Perhaps, we might compare this to the Old Testament. In order to receive Christ fully and to become free children of God, Jesus’ contemporaries had to reject certain ideas of the Old Testament before they could become full fledged Christians. The same applies to certain important elements of Hindu religion.
I am thinking here especially of the enormous sense of inferiority experienced by Indian Christians, particularly by those belonging to the underprivileged communities. There is no need for me to describe this in detail. Its characteristics have been indicated by research done on Andhra Pradesh in previous years. It is what people say all the time: “We cannot change our situation. We need help, but nobody comes to give it to us. Whatever we do is useless. See how miserable and poor we are. Why do not more people come forward to give help?”, and so on. They lack all confidence in themselves.
This is a most disastrous state of mind and, without any doubt, the greatest obstacle to real economic and social development. The attitude has been fostered by Hinduism, as even Hindu scholars frankly admit “In the light of the results of our analysis it can hardly be doubled that Hindu Culture and Hindu social organisation are major factors in India’s slow rate of development. It is not only the lack of capital resources or skilled manpower which impedes the process of economic growth but non-secular and pre-technological institutions and values such as the hierarchically organised caste system, the limited or static levels of aspirations, moral aloofness, casteism and factionalism – to name only a few of the major barriers… A lasting solution of the problem of economic development can be found only by a gradual but systematic transformation of India’s social system, of her world outlook, and levels of personal aspirations” (Vikas Mishra). “The religious attitude pervades every sphere of life in India, and tends (as it has invariably tended, in all ages and climes, when it has governed secular life) to engender rigid traditionalism and conservatism, and to present unreasoning opposition to every innovation, however enlightened and humane. Religion excludes the economic motive, and replaces it by the ideas of custom and status. The difficulty of breaking down religious opposition to material social progress is greatly accentuated in India, as compared with the West, by the actual content of prevailing religious beliefs and by the specific type of social organisation to which those prevailing beliefs have given rise” (R. K. Mukerjee).
Some key ideas of Hinduism are: people are not equal; life is determined by a fate one cannot change; external reality is only illusion and thus material progress has little value; salvation does not involve the whole person but only the spiritual soul; and so on. Christianity is one of the forces that can liberate people from such depressing and enslaving notions. We are, therefore, engaged in a battle of the mind and the spirit.
JESUS’ LOVE OF HIS HOME COUNTRY
If we now turn to the Gospel, we find that Jesus teaches us the happy and liberating truths that can set our people free. I don’t know if you ever have been struck by the theme of ‘Galilee’ in Mark’s Gospel? When Mark composed the Gospel in 65AD, he was probably doing so for Hellenist Christians in Rome and other world cities of the time. Perhaps, they had never heard about Galilee. If they had, they knew it was a rather unimportant part of Palestine. The real Jews, who considered Judea their motherland, looked down on Galileans. They referred to that northern province as “the Galilee of the Nations”, meaning a country full of pagans. Throughout the Gospels we find traces of how Galileans were despised by Judeans.
But Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee (Mk 1,9). And from Mark’s Gospel it is quite clear that he worked most of the time in Galilee itself, for his own people. “He proclaimed the good news in Galilee” (Mk 1,14). “His name spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee” (Mk1,28). “He went all through Galilee, preaching and casting out devils” (Mk1:39). In fact, Jesus performed practically all his ministry in Galilee. He only went a few times to Jerusalem and eventually died there. But – and this is the most remarkable thing of all – Mark tells us that after his resurrection he returned to Galilee. Jesus himself had said: “When I will be raised up, I will go to Galilee ahead of you” (Mk 14,28).
“The angel in the tomb said to Peter: ‘He is going ahead of you to Galilee’ ”(Mk 16,7).
There is a very deep theological statement in this. Even though Jesus was to become the saviour of the whole world, he did not despise his own country. Rather he saw his part of the world as the area in which he himself had to establish the kingdom of God. Jesus had faith in his own people. He knew that they might be poor, illiterate and confused. But he knew also that they had enormous potential. It is as if Jesus is telling us “Your own place is the most important spot on earth,. Here the word can become flesh once more”. Perhaps, he is telling us: “Be proud of what you are. You are precious in God’s sight whatever other people may think of you. Allow yourself to grow so that your true greatness can be seen by all”. Are these not the thoughts we should have ourselves? Are they not the things priests should tell their people?
JESUS’ FAITH IN SMALL BEGINNINGS
Considering the enormous revolution Jesus was going to cause in world history, we would have expected him to ‘think big’. We would have thought that he might have spent more time on planning the expansion of his kingdom throughout the Roman Empire. We might have thought that he would take time to learn other languages, such as Greek and Latin. But Jesus’ philosophy was different. He believed that true progress could only come by a qualitative change. He believed in small beginnings.
That is why he is so fond of the image of the seed. The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed which is the smallest of all seeds. It can hardly be seen. It is just a speck on the hand of the sower. And yet it grows out into a great tree (Mk 4,30-32). The good seed that falls in fertile soil produces a wonderful increase: some thirty-fold, some sixty-fold and some a hundredfold (Mk 4,26-29). It is as if Jesus is saying: “Don’t worry about the future harvest. Concentrate on the seed. Make sure you have the right seed and that it falls in good soil”.
Jesus had interest in ordinary people. He did not court the friendship of those who were rich and influential. He did not send ambassadors to meditate with powerful people such as Caiaphas, Herod or Pilate, Rather, he took ordinary children in his arms and blessed them. (Mk9,36-37). He said that the kingdom of God was for people like children (Mk 10,13-16). He was kind to the Syrophenician woman (Mk 7,24-30) and the sinful woman who anointed his feet (Mk 14,3-9). And when he looked for helpers, he chose them from ordinary people such as fisherman (Mk. 1:16-20) He told them they should remain ordinary people (Mk. 10.35-44) but their reward would be “a hundredfold” (Mk10,30).
Thus by his actions as much as by his words Jesus gave us the great spiritual principles that offer liberation for ordinary people everywhere. “Wake up the kingdom of God has come to you! You may feel small as a child, but you are precious in God’s eyes. Don’t be discouraged because you are beginning in a small way: with me you will grow out a hundred-fold! Don’t ever think, ‘My village is no use’. It will be the place where my Father and I will dwell. It can become a centre of the kingdom. Don’t say ‘things cannot change’. The old has gone, the new has come and what you never believed will prove to be possible”.
BUILDING UP THROUGH AFFIRMATION
What does all this mean for us in practical terms? I believe that for priests it is extremely important to learn the art of proclaiming to people, both in words and in actions, a very positive and Christian view of life. To undo the inferiority complex that has been laid on people through ancient religious traditions, priests have to instil a new sense of self-dignity. They have to help people believe in themselves. Priests have to make them discover that they can change their lives; that, in spite of adverse conditions, they are just as valuable and capable human beings as any other persons.
In order to pursue such a deliberate policy of building up people’s international concepts and feelings, they may have to adopt the educational strategy recommended to parents who want to educate their children to self-dignity. I will give some examples from a classical hand book on the topic (by S. Johnson).
This is how he says he treats his own children. His advice can easily be adapted, it seems to me by pastors looking after their flock:
“The best way for my children to believe they are winners is for them to see themselves winning. So I look for opportunities in which they can succeed. I create such opportunities for them so that they can discover their own worth.”
“I provide loving discipline as a gift to my children. When I tell them off, I want them to feel bad about their misbehaviour, but good about themselves. So I tell them when they are wrong but do it in such a way that they know I love them and appreciate what is good in them“.
“The best way to get my children to listen to me, is for me to listen to them”,
“There is a big difference between being loved and feeling loved. I am not afraid to share my feelings with my children”.
“I help my children realise they are already winners. I catch them doing something right and praise them for it”.
“What’s important is not what I think about my children. It’s what my children believe about themselves. So I try to make them grow in their own self-respect. I don’t want them to remain children. I want them to become adults : independent and autonomous persons who know their own worth.”
If priests want to improve the condition of their people, they should recognise where the real problem lies. It is not first and foremost, the lack of material resources. The hub of the problem is peoples’ poor self-image.
This can correct this by an intensive programme of education. This should include ordinary schooling as well as training in special skills. But above all it means instilling into them the conviction of their own self-worth. It means giving them new spiritual values that liberate.
Some books consulted in this section:
B. GRIFFITHS, The Creation of Wealth, Hodder and Stoughton, London , 1941.
M.S. RHANDHAWA, Green Revolution in the Punjab, Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana 1975.
V. MISHRA, Hinduism and Economic Growth, Oxford University Press 1962.
R.K. MUKERJEE, Economic Problems of Modern India, 1938.
E.G. BANFIELD, The Moral Basis of a Backward Society, Free Press, Chicago 1958.
S. JOHNSON, The One Minute Father, Columbus, London,1983.