I’ve got bad feet.
I learned this when, at about age 30, I was determined to get more exercise and decided to try jogging. Soon my heals were hurting and cracking, well beyond the deep cracks they’d had as long as I could remember. I finally ended up at the podiatrist’s office to get my heals sanded down, and he told me I have bad feet. Actually, the feet themselves are fine, but they are connected to bowed legs. The shin connections to my feet are straight, but the legs aren’t, so the result is that my feet don’t hit the ground flatly as they should. I have to spread my legs fairly far apart to get my feet fully on the ground.
But now I’m learning that this physiognomy may be to my advantage. As someone who purports to have one foot firmly planted among the world’s poorest inhabitants and the other among the world’s richest, you could say I have wish-boned feet. That pulling apart we do after Thanksgiving dinner is the feeling I get some days. Or maybe it’s a fear more than a feeling, a fear that I will not be able to integrate the two halves of my life, that the two halves will be torn apart and have no relation to each other, no connection, no integration.
This certainly can happen to people who go on vision trips, or to any of us when we have close encounters with cultures which are “foreign” to us. World Vision just published a terrific new Vision Trip Field Guide. It includes a section about reentry and “reverse culture shock”, that whipsaw feeling when we are now back home and are confronted once again with our first-world habits, values, and lifestyle against the backdrop of our recent encounters and new friendships with the third-world* poor. The Field Guide describes three roles we can choose to adopt in response to the dissonance between the two worlds…
Assimilators act as though there was nothing to learn from the experience and do everything possible to fit back into their home turf, dismissing whatever memories makes them uncomfortable. “Although they seem to adjust well, they have actually missed a tremendous growth opportunity.”
Alienators reject their home culture in favor of all things new, alienating and often condemning those around them. “Unable to create personal alternatives, though, they eventually succumb to their home culture out of a need to belong.”
Integrators try to “embrace the tension they are experiencing” between the two halves, trying to call upon the ‘good’ learned now from each culture and recognizing the shortcomings of each, hopefully ending up a ‘richer’ person as a result. However, because they want their short-term experience to have a long-term impact, in a way they are choosing a life sentence of dis-ease, as they “grapple with how to integrate their new understanding into a broader view of life and of the world.”
Sounds to me like wish-boned feet would be a big plus when attempting to be an Integrator: the only time my feet are actually firmly on the ground is when my bowed legs are in tension, being pulled apart. So, short of reaching the breaking point (which can feel dangerously close at times), the pulling has the potential to actually make me more “grounded” than I’ve ever been!
Certainly, it is an act of the will to grapple so, when a “don’t bother me” dismissal of our memories and encounters would be much easier. Yet I feel continually compelled, even called, to stay in the struggle and to learn from the dissonance. The process itself not only gives me that “broader view of life and of the world”, but also of God’s agenda for both.
And now I’ve realized I even get a bonus: that God actually built my body to benefit from the attempt… this Wishbone Effect actually improves my balance physically as well as spiritually!
* The handy but outdated Cold War political term “third world” is now often replaced with “two-thirds world” or “majority world” to represent the portion of the world’s population who live in poverty.