I happened to be attending Inquiry Conference today during rem's presentation, and I felt it was one of the best presentations that I've listened to so far, and I've seen/listened to about seven or eight. The reason why I felt it surpassed some of the others was because he wasn't just sharing what he did while abroad, or what he "learned" per say, but what he learned in relation to application, and how we should rethink international development.
One of my favorite points he made was that of using a developing world's solution to a developing world's problem, rather than using a first-world solution to a developing world issue. His example was of the siolet Kweku Anno developed in Ghana that were also used in India, point being that a man who knew about the experiences of rural Ghana created a solution to a problem of rural Ghana. rem made the point that we often go places thinking we know the answers, or thinking that something that will work in one area, will automatically work in another, when this is not the case. I actually feel like a speaker earlier today at Inquiry Conference was making a similar point: cultural differences, national differences, ethnic differences, land differences all contribute to the fact that there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all solution.
I like this. I like this because it's true, and I also like this because I feel like it's ridiculous for anyone to think they know what they're doing better than someone else.
I remember as a kid/adolescent/teenager/young adult wondering why people assume that age makes them 'right.' This is rarely the case. People with experience can be right, I'm not saying they can't, but the operative word is experience, not age. I've met a lot of 50 year old's who are certain they have the right advice for me, when in fact they don't know me, and so they can't give any advice worth using. Similarly, we don't know India the way an Indian would, so why would we assume we have the answers to how to fix their problems? I think it's all well and good to go to India and give advice if they ask for it, but not before you ask them about the land they're living in, first.
I think in a broader sense we can apply this to most cultures. We usually judge other countries with our value system, just like we judge other people with our reasoning. In fact, people think so very differently from each other and it's not advisable to assume others think the way you do. If you think badly of people, it doesn't mean others think badly of people; to assume they do, is to assume their culture, their personality, who they are, without asking. Similarly, we think that just because we can communicate with someone literally, that we're on the same page. This is rarely/never the case. Words are only a small part of communication. I think what I'm saying is that we can't assume we're right, and we have to realize what we can learn from others before we have any desire to teach the little we know ourselves.