A similar path
I’m the kind of person who appreciates a good question, one that shakes the ideals upon which I stand, that inevitably leads me to more questions. Moving from rural Indiana to this densely populated Asian city, to a culture so very different from my own, has no doubt provided its fair share of good questions. But even more so has been the case in the smaller confines of relationship, among the women of Sari Bari. If I may, their voices and stories lead me beside choppier waters, they restore my questions and doubts. And I consider this to be a good thing, a refining experience. Rethinking submission, in their midst, has been no exception.
In the past, the majority of my reflections on the word submission have left it drowning in negative connotation. I have mostly believed that it is to surrender one’s will or self-expression, to burry one’s personal doubts and questions for the sake of conformity. In the grand scheme of things, I have struggled to make room for the word in my vocabulary. But recently, having sat down and reflected upon the practice of submission in this context, I have come to find that it is already very much a part of my life in this city, and ironically has so much to do with the questions I once thought it was an affront to.
In his book Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paulo Freire attempts to construct a methodology for bringing those who are oppressed to the realization of their situation. At the heart of his methodology is dialogue, “together seeking out reality.” And I believe, at the center of this dialogue, stands submission. There is a mutual submission that must take place, in trust and in love, in order for words exchanged to truly be dialogue. If I choose to speak and the other cannot find the courage, this is not dialogue. If I only hear but do not take to heart what the other has said, this is not dialogue. Over the past year, I have seen and personally felt that in attempting to communicate hope into another’s situation, it is first necessary that one submits to the other’s perspective, to their worldview, not only for the sake of relevance or hermeneutics, but most importantly truth.
In dialogue, there is the responsibility to stand beside, to patiently walk with those whose identities have been downtrodden. They must see themselves anew, and see the reality of their situation, in order to affirm what has been lost or never spoken before, as well as to loose the things that stand in the way of their freedom and restoration. When I consider the women who have come to be with us at Sari Bari, I Immediately think of the “principalities and powers” they must slowly rise above, the cultural and social constructs that have wrongly defined and defiled her. Having been lied to again and again, she must hear of her value and beauty again and again. Her partner in dialogue undoubtedly has an important voice in this matter.
And yet, in the same breath, I must say that I have learned that this partner must also walk a similar path, transcending his or her own impatience, presumption and judgment that might easily be passed along the way. One must openly and whole-heartedly submit him or herself to the other. And herein lies one of the more important truths that I’ve come upon living here, that this submission will inevitably open up the doors for self-discovery, for self-examination. What is seen, heard, thought and felt cannot be easily swept under the rug. I have many questions to thank the women of Sari Bari for, whether or not they have spoken a word.
In mutual submission, through relationship, one does vulnerably open him or herself up to the questions and pain of another. But there is fruit, both seen and unseen, when one is willing to listen, to humbly speak into the situation of another. For the woman who believes that her life has no value, there is need for a voice. For the child who knows only the abuses of herself and her mother, there is need for a voice. And for the man who believes it is his inherent right to abuse, there is need for a voice. But one must remember that there is as much a need to listen, as there is to speak. This is what the women of Sari Bari have been teaching me. Although many times my thoughts might go unheard, there is a dialogue within me that has come from their fellowship. I am changed by their suffering, as well as their strength. At one point in his book, Freire writes that it is essential “to liberate” and be liberated with the people.” I can say, without hesitation, that I am liberated, on a daily basis, by simply knowing the women of Sari Bari. And I can only pray and hope the same for them.
Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed (New York: The Seabury Press, 1970), p. 100.
Ibid., p. 84.