A plea for descriptive and inquisitive intervention

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May 24, 2012

In my last post I was pushing towards more care in how we articulate possible notions of faithfulness tied up in practices intimately linked with having a social awareness and engagement.  So how then does one articulate and engage the world when it is of course possible to undermine any given expression?  I think part of the shift is to not 'over-code' a given situation.  Simply living in the 'hood and buying 2nd-hand and organic does not itself imply goodness.  How do we describe and articulate the network of relations that are at play in our actions?  Let the theology, if there is any, emerge from the material of our life and not impose the theology on it.  So the task, in my mind, becomes more descriptive and attentive.  This is not to say neutral or objective.  But open-ended or reflexive descriptive and inquiry will allow for ongoing modification and development.  What does this mean in specific situations.  One approach is a sort of journalistic posture.

I was walking home yesterday when I saw something that stood out.  A car was stopped at an angle in the middle of an intersection.  There were no other cars around so it did not look like a crash.  Then a saw someone helping another person to their feet.  My initial response was that someone had fallen and the driver stopped to help the person up.  The person being helped up looked a little frail and perhaps had a slight disability or something (though this of course could have been the result of the incident).  The driver then hopped back into her car and drove away.  I was not prepared for how to respond to this situation.  I asked someone afterwards if the car actually hit the woman on the street.  The person said yes.  I was initially not prepared to believe this or allow for it as a possibility.

Now in what follows I want to be clear that I am not advocating for a response and posture of authority never mind superiority that leads us to believe we know what is best in a given situation.  Rather, I am advocating for a sense of responsibility and insight.  So what would a descriptive and inquisitive intervention look like?  Well, it would begin with description and follow with inquiries.

I see this woman has fallen.  How did that happen?

Perhaps this seems stupid to make explicit.  But the reality is that I am a relatively confident person who has intervened in other awkward situations in the past.  But in this instance I did not.  What was the result of my not being able to simply make an observation and ask a question?  The result was, likely, yet another of the near infinite forms of how power is abused.  The driver (I am told) hit the woman.  A car driven by a white person with visibly more wealth hit an older woman of a visible minority in a neighbourhood with a high immigrant population (I of course need to speculate because I did not directly observe or inquire).  The driver then came out and helped the woman up.  You can walk so whatever happened was not toobad.  The driver got back into the car and drove away with no visible information shared (contact information and license plate number).

The wealthy know how to defend their property at all costs.  Just think of the intense scrutiny of a vehicle after the smallest fender-bender.  They then filter this through channels of insurance to make sure maximum compensation and protection is possible.  The woman in this instance was bodily struck.  She likely had little concept of our legal system and if she did the shock may not have allowed her to process this in the moment.  So the one in power aided the more vulnerable to her feet in weakened state.  This tends to be intervention of power and privilege.  We help people to their feet but in state that is weaker than they were before.  We strike them, not intentionally of course but they just sort of get in the way, then when this happens we feel bad, help them up, and carry on in our original goal.

My hope is that a descriptive intervention would have shown the woman who was struck that she was a neighbour deserving to be loved and also that if necessary the one in power can be held accountable by community who values one another.

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The scenario you describe is all too common in our neighbourhood. I've been witness to several such incidents, yet almost all of them ended the same way as you describe. Interestingly, though, in each of the cases, the victim insisted on NOT sticking around. This doesn't relieve the driver of responsibility, but let's consider that they, too, are in shock. Hitting someone with your car is highly traumatic. So they may not have been thinking clearly either.

In addition, as the cases I saw were also visible minorities having been struck by white drivers, this dynamic also is complex. In a recent incident, the victim was a refugee from a very politically unstable nation. While the driver didn't make the connection, I immediately saw the terror in the victims eyes when the police were mentioned, as police were NOT authorities to be trusted. In another incident, the victim said off-handedly to me as they walked away that, being Aboriginal, the cops would likely find a way to blame them any way. In both cases, the victims were firmly insistent that the police and/or ambulance NOT be called, that they just wanted to leave. Would forcing the issue have been an abusive of power?

I don't share this to argue against your point or mitigate responsibility, but the point to the very real complexity that complicates matters and makes these circumstances tricky to navigate.

Thanks for pushing back on these issues.

Right. Good examples. So again the hope would be a general posture in which the best possible 'space' is created in which to make those decisions. I also wonder if the church needs to think more creatively around justice. I remember hearing about Harry Lehotsky putting up the license plate numbers of 'Johns' in our neighbourhood. This is of course a path full of danger but hopefully if discerned within the context of church and community there can be ways of upholding the dignity and justice of others.

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