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Monday, September 12, 2011

We imagine that which we cannot see and believe that which we can.

At Benevolent, we understand that many people imagine those who live in low-income situations through their own subjective, narrative lenses. We might imagine dirtiness, drugs, laziness, desolation, sadness, negligence, illiteracy, fault, violence, anger, resentment or more. We draw on what we’ve heard and seen on the news, in movies, and in life – sometimes it’s as extreme as what I’ve sketched out here, sometimes less so.

There’s something about the human connection -- seeing and hearing someone tell his or her own story that is so immediately moving and captivating. There’s something, too, of finding our own connection to the narratives of others. Yesterday, on the 10th anniversary of September 11th, my family and I spent the morning listening, watching, and reading. The New York Times did an incredibly good job on their entire section on the anniversary. NPR and the TV news were a bit sappier, but perhaps we needed that. Perhaps we needed to hear the voices, see the people impacted, mourning, hurting, striving, struggling.

When I think of the morning of September 11th, I am immediately transported back to my own intense fear. By phone I had reached my very close friends whose apartment was only one block from the towers. They were ok – safe in their apartment. The first tower had fallen and they were thinking they needed to get uptown, away from the devastation and danger. When we hung up, I had an image in my mind of them – a couple of bags in hand, cat in her carrier, walking down the building stairwell and out to the street-- headed away.

Then the second tower fell. That is the moment I remember – the moment that gives me chills – any time I think of that day. In my mind’s eye, Gavin and Jen were on the sidewalk, outside their building, headed uptown, just at the moment when a new barrage of building, cement, rubble, and steel came crashing down on everyone around. I was petrified beyond the ability to speak. It was hours before we got word that Gavin and Jen had not, in fact, left their apartment yet when the second tower fell. They had decided to wait a few minutes more.

So while my personal story of that day is not very dramatic or of much import really—after all, I was thousands of miles away-- it speaks loudly to the power of visualization. I was afraid of what I had envisioned to be true, in the absence of access to the real narrative. We imagine that which we cannot see and believe that which we can.

Interestingly, it’s easy to evaporate the long-held images we create, those that we have harbored for such a long time - simply by adding new narrative and images. At Benevolent, we hope to change these preconceived and sometimes deeply embedded images held in our mind’s eye –pictures of those struggling in low-income situations-- by bringing to the fore hundreds of stories, photos and videos from individuals striving to fight their own uphill battles –pushing towards a higher ground of stability and sustainability for themselves and their families.

Once the Benevolent.net site is launched, it will become readily apparent that the “needs” listed by individuals are, in fact, narratives - authentically offered in the 1st person – written and spoken by the individuals themselves. We believe the potency of these narratives and images will successfully crowd out the negative, misconceived notions we hold in our collective consciousness—supplanting them with real images of real individuals who seek our help as they move themselves forward.