Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Positive Side of the Negative

One of the most interesting things I’ve been learning over the past few years is the value of negative experiences and events. Usually we have a very narrow view of these things, seeing them only in the limited terms of their negative impact. This is especially true if we’re intimately involved in them, if we’re the ones being impacted!

My change of perspective was a long time in coming and is still not totally consistent, but I’m learning :) It actually started a number of years ago when I realized that “blessings” in the biblical sense were not necessarily positive in nature. They could also be negative in nature, but still considered a blessing because they ultimately had a positive impact.

Sometimes, the positive impact of a negative event or experience just happens and you can see it and rejoice (though it often takes time and is only visible in hindsight). Other times, you have to make an effort to harness the positive value. That was probably my first real experience in this domain. I was going through a very emotionally intense negative family experience and realized that if I didn’t find a positive outlet or a way to harness those emotions constructively, they would eat me alive. I ended up pouring them into speaking opportunities and presentations, where they enabled me to speak and present with a passion I could never have manufactured on my own.

Over this past year, I’ve seen two more instances of potentially negative events having a positive impact (of course, whether or not something is negative or not depends on which side of the fence you’re standing). One involved the national Bible translation organization here in Burkina and a local language community initiative called the Kusassi Association. The latter wanted the help of the former to teach and help them run a language project themselves. The former wanted the latter to get out of the way so they could go in and do the project their way, and they tried all kinds of strategies to achieve their end. Naturally, this distressed both me and the Kusassi since we believed that ownership and sustainability would best be achieved by local language communities taking charge of their own development.

However, all attempts to sideline or by-pass the Kusassi Association only served to strengthen it and enhance its reputation and connection with the community! The association, by its own efforts and limited resources, could never have accomplished what outside pressure and opposition has done for them. I told them that they should at least write a letter to the national Bible translation organization, thanking them for the positive impact their actions have had!

The other instance of potentially negative events having a positive impact happened just this past week at our organizational conference. A faction in our group had determined that it was preferable for us as a group to relinquish our organizational charter, thus giving up any right to directly govern ourselves at the country level and handing this responsibility over to a body at the regional level. They cited greater efficiency of personnel and resources, and a lack of sufficient personnel and interest in self-governance as the prime rationale, and sought by all means to convince a majority of our personnel of this.

But rather than achieving their objective, their efforts resulted in exactly the opposite. It was as if people who had been taking things for granted and waiting for others to do them suddenly woke up! They realized that unless they stepped up to the plate and were willing to help swing the bat, they were going to lose their right to make decisions that directly affected their future. An overwhelming majority voted to keep our charter and a sufficient number stepped up to indicate their willingness to serve on our internal governance body.

This is the group I am now going to lead. What a great time to step into this position! There are going to be challenges, difficulties, and problems for sure. But overall, things are looking good :)

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