It is a vexing and sometimes irritating fact that I spend a great deal of my time dealing with human resources issues. I have to make up schedules for Sabbath services, for twice-weekly cleaning of the school, for cooking duties, and all such questions are rather vexing. They are vexing because they are nested problems and because they show some pretty sharp divides among the people here for reasons that are intriguing to explore.
Truth be told, I have not had to do the cooking schedule for very long, but it’s a very political problem. Naturally, this strikes me interest to muse and think about, even if having to deal with it is rather irritating. Until a few weeks ago the person in charge of cooking schedules was a paid employee (who recently quit, hence the title of this blog). In a move that probably prompted her to recognize that she was on the way out, the burden of choosing her assistants was taken away from her and fell to me, along with a very specific edict, to choose one Lahu and one Karen for cooking duty.
Now, why would this be important? About half of the people staying with us over break right now at Legacy are Karen and about half are Lahu. The Karen are generally from refugee backgrounds that are not integrated at all with Thai society. The Lahu are one of the hill tribes people, obviously fairly marginalized within Thailand, but still a part of Thai society (unlike the refugees, who are clearly outsiders). It is amazing, and a bit sad, to see how easily people divide who could easily have common cause, since the tension between Karen and Lahu is a matter that has required a fair amount of my own time in addressing.
But it’s not too surprising when one thinks of the context. The Thai are a fairly racist people (in the same way that the Japanese are). They believe in a very stark line between those who are Thais and those who are not, and at best view those who are not with the sort of benign condescension that says, “It is a pity that you were not fortunate enough to be born Thai,” in the same way that I often feel from Texans. It should go without saying that this bothers me. Now, as an American (and a very well-educated one that that–Thais give a great deal of respect to those who are educated, something I appreciate), I don’t tend to see the disrespect as personally myself.
Nonetheless, I definitely see how the Lahu students, who are only marginally (if at all) considered as having ‘Thainess,’ view the Karen students (who lack any sort of ‘Thainess’) with a great deal of disrespect. And it bothers me, not least because the Karen are much harder working and better behaved, and do not have the same sort of entitlement mentality that I sense coming from the Thai-born students, and which I find offensive. One can sense the problems in little sniping comments and the cliquish behaviors because it’s rather rude to deal with problems directly, as it causes people to lose face.
It is striking that the same sort of divides that pit half of our residents against the other half are similar to the same sorts of divides that pit natural allies against each other for foolish reasons. How foolish we are as human beings! Do we learn nothing from history? One of the most tragic of our many tragic elements of life is that we are so easily deterred from seeking liberty and justice for all by our desire for pride and to be seen as better than some. Whether it is poor whites looked down upon by plantation elites but who at least thought themselves better than slaves rebelling against their sovereign and legitimate government for the right to oppress others without government interference, or whether it is the sad spectacle of one hill tribe looking down on another because one is judged as Thai and the other not, mankind makes the same mistakes over and over again. We never seem to learn.
And that is a major reason why the wicked prosper. The wicked prosper because of our own wickedness that is exploited by those who seek power by allowing us to give vein to our own dark desires in order to serve their interests for pride and position. We are all complicit when we prefer to look down on a fellow child of God from our slightly lofty rung on the ladder rather than giving a hand to lift them up to where we are so that we might have a friend and ally and build our own communities and social networks. Instead we allow ourselves to be pitted against each other so that all of us can be exploited by others. Why must we be such idiots as to be so gullible to the same tricks and tactics over and over and over again.
And this is why good help is hard to find. It’s hard to find good help because it’s hard for us to help others or want to help ourselves enough to put aside our own pride to do so. Our pride is always a weak spot, and easy to exploit because those who exploit that weakness always have a great deal of pride themselves. And a great deal of our problems would easily be resolved if we were not so concerned about pride or face–for example, cleaning supplies would be easier to refill if people mentioned that they were empty, and items would be eaiser to fix or replace if one could be informed speedily that they were not in good shape. I wonder if God feels the same way about us sometimes, seeing our broken state and wondering if we will ever lay down our own pride and ask Him for help, and let Him help us.