A couple months ago I was working with the leadership community of a local church who were thinking about their place(s) of engagement in the wider world. We had some great dialogue about our desire to solve other people's problems -- often without really listening to understand whose problem it was, really -- theirs or ours. Nathan sent me this link to an excellent article by Courtney Martin discussing this challenge. She describes this challenge as "the reductive seduction of other people's problems." Martin suggests that this reductive seduction is not malicious (i.e., people's motives are in the right place), but it may be reckless.
"First, it’s dangerous for the people whose problems you’ve mistakenly diagnosed as easily solvable. There is real fallout when well-intentioned people attempt to solve problems without acknowledging the underlying complexity."
"Second, the reductive seduction of other people’s problems is dangerous for the people whose problems you’ve avoided. While thousands of the country’s best and brightest flock to far-flung places to ease unfamiliar suffering and tackle foreign dysfunction, we’ve got plenty of domestic need."
She says lots of other really good things, then concludes with:
There’s a better way. For all of us. Resist the reductive seduction of other people’s problems and, instead, fall in love with the longer-term prospect of staying home and facing systemic complexity head on. Or go if you must, but stay long enough, listen hard enough so that “other people” become real people. But, be warned, they may not seem so easy to “save.”