Thursday, October 20, 2011

...And I Will Try To Fix You

Confession time. I love Glee. Yep, that's the badger. I am owning my Glee nerd-dom. But I figure I crawl out of the lame hole just a little on the basis of the fact that Western escapism is a bit more allowable when in such a rough place and I was a theater major, after all. So when face-rockingly uncomfortable food poisoning hit on Sunday naturally the only thing to do was to assume the fetal position and plug my nose into the last two episodes of Glee that Sam so kindly taught me how to download. The final song of this season's third episode was one that I've had a love affair with before, "Fix You" by Coldplay. Yes, yes, it's a little emo I know. But still. It's beautiful. And this whole idea of 'fixing' people is one that I feel expands far beyond Mathew Morrison's falsetto and spills into the realm of important development topics.

Working in different countries and with different organizations in this business I wonder, is that what development work is all about? Fixing other people. And before you get all self righteous about respecting the beliefs of others consider something like gender equality. It is an accepted pillar in  international development now that women's disenfranchisement costs the worlds billions of dollars every year. The intellectual property loss alone is a fortune many times over. If the problem of female empowerment were 'fixed' so too would many socio-economic issues that much of the world faces today. But in fixing these things we would have to address social and cultural issues that people would rather not decry. This means that someone would have to thrust themselves deep into a foreign culture and tell the people who prescribe to it that they are horribly wrong.

The most striking instance in which I came head-to-head with someone on this matter was a student in Mongolia. I think I have written about this incident before. It happened during an infamous class period in which I discovered my students were shamelessly racist against the Chinese. I got pretty upset about it. What slowed the hot blooded conversation that followed between my precious little racists and I was one girl, arguably the smartest but also the most prejudice, raising her little chin, looking me square in the face and said "Teacher, you can't change us!". Well, that gave me pause. I guess I was trying to change them, to fix them in a way. I wanted to mend up holes in their character I deemed unsightly. Was this wrong of me? Perhaps. I suppose if someone set about to change me in ways I didn't appreciate that would feel pretty wack, too. Then again how can you leave racism unchecked and unchallenged? Conversely, if you were to take the fierce nationalistic pride out of Mongolians then they would be left as such a shell; devoid of proud motherland chest thumping much of what makes Mongolia and her people so special would deflate. Their pride is such a wellspring for so much that they do. Dare I even want to 'fix' them?

This whole idea of fixing comes with it's own ugly implication that someone else knows better. This is an uncomfortable topic to broach at best, especially in the context of other people. Really though my thoughts stop here. The real rub is the idea of fixing, not supremacy or the Western Man's Burden. Though it makes for a truly beautiful song and a sweet, sweet desire, I am still rather confused about the idea of fixing you.

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