PROMPT Critical Reflection #7: Decentering Ourselves
Julia Van Der Ryn
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Illich is simply advocating for U.S. Volunteers and ‘Do-gooders’ to look at themselves before they try to help anyone else. Because the U.S. is such a powerhouse and often the ‘winner’ throughout history, there’s such a sense of hyper-patriotism whether conscious or not that’s rubbing Illich and the rest of the world the wrong way. As a nation we try to act like we’re so holy and flawless that we don’t even acknowledge nor address the problems in our own nations, instead “”Mission-vacations” among poor Mexicans were “the thing” to do for well-off U.S. students earlier in this decade: sentimental concern for newly-discovered. poverty south of the border combined with total blindness to much worse poverty at home justified such benevolent excursions.” (1) This insidious glamorization of charity is what he’s trying to nip at. Illich is clearly a social justice activist who doesn’t want pity for himself nor his people, so for the U.S. to have the audacity to ask him to speak at their convention is a major cause for his agitation. He’s challenging us to look at what we’re truly doing in each country that we’ve decided to get involved in. Illich really brings attention to this when he mentions that “ in Latin America the Alliance for Progress has been quite successful in increasing the number of people who could not be better off — meaning the tiny, middle-class elites — and has created ideal conditions for military dictatorships.” (3) It’s our military that makes us such a prominent threat to all nations throughout the world and it’s the reason why we’re towards the top of this international totem pole.

I feel as though “To Hell with Good Intentions” especially encourages me to search for understanding whenever I interact with my community partners. I never want to come from a place of pretentiousness when I’m helping out and I naturally try to affirm a level playing field whenever I sit down to a group of kids. When Illich stated that “There is an Irish saying that the road to hell is paved with good intentions” (1) is what really got me to start analyzing my behavior and my perception of the program and my level of engagement altogether. And it’s made me want to put a little more time and effort into understanding these kids which would inevitably lead to a more comfortable learning environment! I feel like this way of looking at things will help the flow of knowledge, but meanwhile encouraging camaraderie and celebrating difference!

A big message that I got from the “Green Banana” story is to never overlook or undermine things that seem insignificant because it could just so happen to save the day. In this story a plantain or a ‘green banana’ is sliced and used to plug and save the protagonists jeep’s radiator in which he was the only person unaware of the knowledge of this temporary simplistic remedy to an intricate mechanical problem. I laugh along with the people at the protagonist just because I’ve definitely under minded people before and have it come back to bite me. But with Avid there was this girl named Alejandra who would always color coordinate her notes and it wasn’t until last week that I finally asked her why and she said that it just made it easier to look at and made her continually focus on the subject at hand. I noticed that she was also a easily distracted student so I tried it just for kicks on my Tech Law summaries for a paper, and it actually made it a lot easier to keep track of the information and it wasn’t such a drag to look back at them again and I continue to circle back to it when referencing the same subject.

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