Community Development

Journey to Believing

Meeting people where they are and being on a journey with them from an underground space is an art. It necessitates a safe atmosphere, not forceful.

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Hope had long turned to despair after two weeks had passed. At the San Jose gold and copper mine, a tunnel collapsed on August 5, 2010, blocking the way out for 33 miners. Further collapse two days later cut off air shafts. After 17 days, a small shaft was drilled down to the men where tapping, a note, and eventually video confirmed they were alive. Knowing the men were alive and getting them some life-preserving supplies brought some peace, but the work was far from over.

The rescue was believed to be made no sooner than December, meaning the possibility of another four months of entrapment. How could it be possible that the 33 miners trapped over 2300 feet underground could survive such a long period of confinement? Thankfully the rescue tunnel didn’t take as long as anticipated. On day 69, the men were brought one-by-one to the surface by way of a metal tube system.

Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, the impact of the extended entrapment was far-reaching. In the months and years that followed as hero status dissipated, many suffered ongoing mental health struggles. Some managed their PTSD with alcohol and drugs. Some family members believed their fathers and sons would never be the same.

Life can collapse around people and communities instantaneously or over time. They become locked into a difficult and dark space. It is an external and an internal reality. Infusing them with the opportunities and resources needed to move forward isn’t always enough. This lack of progress can be odd and unacceptable for those who don’t understand the nature of belief and the human being. You can be rescued from the collapsed mine and still be in a dark cave in your mind and heart.

A light came on for me one day when I was mentoring a class of behaviorally challenged middle school students in a difficult neighborhood. Our planned conversation was about self-control. It just so happened that there had been a fight at lunchtime, and two of my students had joined in. When I asked why they chose to step into that fight and face the consequences one of the boys immediately answered, “Cause my mama told me, ‘You was born in da hood, you ain’t neva gettin outta da hood, so you might as well learn to survive in da hood.’”

That mom’s challenged  ability to believe in the possibility of a different and better life for her and her son is what we are talking about here.

In this “underground” space of deeply challenged belief, an atmosphere must be cultivated to develop the capacity to believe that a better future is even in the realm of possibility (Figure 1 below). We are on a journey with human complexity, not with instantaneously reprogrammable robots. Trauma and tragedy, generational poverty, belief-crushing crises, and innumerable barriers can convince a person or community over time that better can’t happen. There can also be the fear if better does happen, it will eventually be lost or taken away, so why go there? “Been there, done that, no thanks.”

Breakthrough can happen if we meet them where they are and are willing to journey with them through the “dark underground” full of unknowns. Not forcing, not demeaning, not driving with our expectations, and never giving up, but with understanding and gracious support, the ground can be broken to believing. What follows is an attempt to map that underground space. I’m not attempting to solve the problems of the underground here. I aim to cultivate our awareness of some realities regarding the journey to believing.

At this underground level, they don’t even know other possibilities are there. Even though other possibilities exist, they are unaware of them. One might assume that because you know, they know. Don’t assume. Information in your sphere of existence does not equal that information being in their sphere. Have you ever said, “That thought hasn’t even crossed my mind?” It’s much the same idea. Not crossing a mind is very much like not knowing.

Knowable isn’t just based on options existing. There has to be some level of exposure that makes a person aware of that existence or to think about it. Once known they have the option to believe. If no one in my family or surrounding influencers has ever been a nurse, I don’t have being a nurse on my radar screen of options. Don’t assume your list of options onto another person.

Getting information to people is typically easy. However, the revelation of information may not lead a person to believe it is for them. Knowable to me does not mean doable for me.

At this underground level, they are not sure they can explore those possibilities they are now aware of. Doable here is about personal capacity. The lack of ability, real or perceived, can show a need for more education and training, or the presence of a story from the past playing in a person’s head. Exploring learning needs and opportunities is easier than processing a person’s inner world.

Sometimes self-confidence is the main barrier to believing something is doable. The past can have a significant impact on confidence. It could be a voice in someone’s head of an authority figure who cultivated a sense of worthlessness through words or actions. A person’s past attempts and failures can create mental and emotional barriers to navigate. “If I wasn’t able then, why would I be able now?” School may have never gone well for them, so why choose a known source of misery? Fear and anxiety can influence a person’s belief about their capacity even if the source of that inner turmoil has nothing to do with the opportunity. “I can’t” doesn’t typically lead to forward movement.

If a person does know of possibilities and sees some as doable, are they allowable and accessible? Again, these are not necessarily current barriers. Perception is powerful.

At this underground level, they don’t know if they may explore those possibilities. A person may think, “I can, but will they let me?” Who is “they”? This question is sometimes from an old wound that continues to fester and is being passed along. It is an internal atmosphere based on a real-life story, not an assumption. Deep trauma is difficult to process. That trauma story may be a non-stop voice telling a person or a community, “You are not allowed.”

It is not a fair expectation to say, “Just shake it off and get over it.” We human beings don’t just get over our past life experiences. This can be some of the most difficult internal work for a person to endure. History has had seasons of the color of a person’s skin, what side of the tracks they live on, or what kind of work they do being the determining factor for being allowable. That treatment creates deep, abiding wounds and pain. You have neighbors with those wounds. Respect them, walk with them, and help them heal.

At this underground level, they see barriers to entry. They see the opportunity, they have approached the opportunity, but there is a canyon in between them and that option. This is usually a resource issue, such as childcare, transportation, and getting the education needed. The common denominator is often money. We try to help, but our funding and strategies continue to experience shortfalls for myriad reasons.

Accessibility is often like quicksand, where every move takes you deeper and farther away from solid ground. You know the “gap” challenge. Government support has a maximum, self-sustainability (or resilience)[i] has a minimum, and the distance between the two is too large of a canyon to jump. If you enter the canyon you might have even fewer resources than if you remain on government support systems. “Why try?” See the challenge?

Thankfully, there are survivors with stories to tell of success and a newfound belief in possibilities!

I Believe!
Belief is the ground-level foundation for building a better life. Here, a person or community believes that possibilities are knowable, doable, allowable, and accessible to them. At this point, they are ready to engage the possibilities of life in a hopeful, vision-fostering, life-creating way.

“I believe” doesn’t always mean, “I have a dream.” They still need help envisioning where they want to go. However, navigating in the light above ground is a lot easier than the dark of the underground. Also, if you have navigated the underground journey with a person or community, you have developed a quality relationship and learned much about them. These will all be very helpful as you move forward.

Journey to Believing.1

Figure 1

 Safe Atmosphere
The journey to believing isn’t a perfect science. Walking with people from this underground space has an art to it. Inflexibility on your part will lead to something breaking – you, them, or your relationship. As I work with people in this space of believing, the picture I have in my mind is one of coaxing a deer out of the forest and into a lush field of clover. That is an atmosphere of safety. Creating that safe atmosphere takes patience, awareness, and willingness to risk your perceptions being challenged and your feelings being hurt. Guess what? You will change too.

Action Points

  • Over time, and with an open mind and heart, invest some time observing a person's or community's life in this “underground” space. Journal what you learn.
  • How can you adjust to meet people and communities where they are for their journey to believing?
  • Do you make people and communities with whom you work feel safe? Cultivate this capacity.
  • What if your foundation or non-profit had a life coach on or available to your team? What could that coaching experience and expertise bring to the success of your team and your clients/neighbors?
  • What is the state of your belief? Are you living in the underground? It is difficult to help people out of the quicksand when you are in it yourself. Get some help.

[i] Zolli, Andrew and Ann Marie Healy. Resilience. New York, NY: Free Press, 2012. Zolli and Healy suggest shifting from the “sustainability” descriptor to “resilience.” They note that “Resilience-thinking…can provide a broader, more dynamic, and more relevant set of ideas, tools, and approaches.” (p21)

Do you desire to strengthen your CharityTracker or OasisInsight network to new levels of collaboration and impact? Reach out to Chuck today to schedule your conversation:

ED645C80-CA25-41C2-8B6E-A6E7FA346EC1_1_201_aDr. Chuck Coward serves as Community Impact Specialist for Simon Solutions, Inc. Chuck has invested over 35 years in fostering human and community development from a variety of places and roles, including as a pastor, non-profit Executive Director, Director of Development, businessman, consultant, university professor, The Struggle Coach, and the founder of Entrusted Foundation. Serving to make people and communities stronger is his great passion. Chuck is the proud husband to Anita, dad to four, and granddaddy to eight.

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