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Sunday, April 11, 2010

On demand (again)

Twice on Friday, we encountered the disgruntled and demanding.  This is the season of "Child Health Days", a spread-out-from the hospital into the community push that is designed to top up all the immunizations and public health prophylaxis that keeps us from preventible death.  World-wide, neonatal tetanus causes 7% of deaths in the first month of life, making it one of the top killers of newborns.  But I have not seen a case in over five years, which is certainly the result of immunizing young girls and pregnant women.  Measles epidemics are deadly in the malnourished and displaced, but our last one here was over a decade ago, thanks to immunizations.  Great stuff.  So it was discouraging to hear the staff return from their first school-based outreach to complain that the teachers at the school refused to assist them at all.  Why?  Because said teachers were DEMANDING a cut of the action, a greasing of the palm, a little something in payment.  The assumption of everyone is:  the government wants us to do these outreaches, so money must be allocated, so I deserve to get some of it, and if I don't, it's because someone else is "eating" it, and I'll never see a shilling unless I make a demand.  As it turns out, there are no funds for teachers to participate.  And once people were convinced of that, their attitude changed.  Second example:  later I heard that the football team were complaining that their usual perk of an extra egg and chapati a day (after all they train for a couple of hours every evening on rather minimal calories) had been dropped.  I'm sure they also assumed that someone was "eating" the money designated for their goodies, and if they did not push for it, they would never get it.

This culture is fueled by demand.  From the time a child is born, it is his duty to cry in order to be fed, to ask and grab for what he needs.  It is the patients' responsibility to ask every six hours for their injections on the ward.  It is the employees' responsibility to file endless paperwork and make endless trips to personnel in order to be paid.  It is the wife who must throw a tantrum to get a dress. It is the inlaws who must haggle goats from the bridegroom.  It is the right of any relative to ask for whatever is needed from those who have more.  The up side of this is that people are in touch with their desires, and that parents/teachers/supervisors feel relaxed and free whenever someone is NOT in their face, they aren't necessarily mind-racing ahead to the next good thing that COULD be done, but more content to wait until it becomes imperative to do it.

The down sides are also there, however.  The malnourished lethargic kid who does not cry for food can easily be neglected.  The zealous missionary who takes seriously every request (and then also thinks ahead to self-imposed potential duties) becomes exhausted.  The average person can't assume that anyone in a position of responsibility will spontaneously do their job, so there is this constant push and pull of disgruntled demanding and passive-aggressive threats.  

And our culture most surely impacts our view of God.  The demand culture, I think, leads to honest and constant prayer for every need, which is Biblical.  But it also can paint God as some cosmic disinterested being from whom we must demand attention.  Do we have to push for everything we need?  Not in my experience.  Rather, we are bowled over by the extravagance of His grace.  Is that just our culture, where plan-ahead duty-driven self-push is the norm, or at least the ideal?  Or is there a deep truth to mercy?

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