When I moved to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation this year, I can safely say I didn’t have a grandiose idea of “saving an entire people” like I was a powerful force that could impact the kind of change that could undo generations of genocide and injustice.
There has been a history of people coming here and trying to do that. There are documentaries that don’t show you everything that is good on the Rez. There are people who come here who are supposedly well-intentioned, thinking they will show the world something that will create an impact — sometimes it does but not always a good one.
I came to the reservation to work and to gain experiences — that’s it. Take in the scenery, get away from the city and get to know people. And I just thought that I could maybe impart change in some way that could create improvement by either using the written word, creating awareness and passing on my own knowledge and experience in the area of health and sustainability. Just like anyone who feels that they want to help people, I didn’t really think I had something called a “savior complex,” which admittedly I feel I could easily say some people who make the journey here may exhibit. I’m absolutely guilty of finger-pointing when it comes to that complex when really I should be looking a little more at myself.
I’ve made the realization that being self-aware about this is for the best, whether or not I’ve made any difference in anything at all or in the future. Maybe I did or do in some small way. I don’t need to post the statistics of the reservation. All you need is a computer and I figure you have access to one since you are reading this. It also means you have the internet so get on Google or Bing. I won’t be one of the millions of other people who will blog on and on to you about the alcoholism, poverty, poor nutrition, etc. etc. I get frequent emails or comments that I should be doing some kind of documentary or a book about it all and I’ve only been here since January 2013. My time here hopefully reflects everything but the negative things, which are present in many societies. Not just this one. It is not important for me, nor necessary, to be that person.
But because of this move, I’ve learned some lessons — even in the short time I’ve lived here. And they helped me see what I was guilty of and inspired this handy dandy list of ways to get over the savior complex you didn’t think you had. No matter how big or small that complex is, it’s time to be honest with yourself.
1.) You’ve said to yourself: “If only I could just show a different way of living, be an example, maybe this will spark some change for the better…”
Ok. Get over yourself. Who do you think you are? This is the biggest example of ego I have found in myself. Sure, if you believe you have a “better” way of living, live it unabashedly but “setting an example” isn’t your job. And who is to say your example is to be followed? It works for you. Will it work for someone else? Maybe. There may even be people who will come to you for advice because they happen to like what is working for you. This is a good thing, and at that point, you have the green light to help. But ultimately you need to look at your own flaws and see what YOU may need changing.
I got over this after that lightbulb moment happened where you finally admit you can’t change anyone who doesn’t ultimately want to change. In the end everything is a choice. And you can’t make choices for anyone but yourself. Being the cheerleader to those who want that change, now that is the right way to go.
2.) Ask yourself: “Is this your place?”
This is a yes or no answer. There should be no pause. There should not be a string of explanations as to why it is your place. If you can safely and unequivocally say that something is your place — meaning truly your business — to initiate whatever movement or plan of action you think best, then by all means go for it. But more than likely if something doesn’t directly affect you, the answer is probably “no.” As silly as it may sound, my “yes” is over recycling — I choose to tote that bin to the recycling center but I ask everyone to remember to use it.
Deciding something isn’t your place is probably one of the more difficult things to change about yourself if you are knee deep into this complex. Because the act of inserting yourself into other people’s affairs, situations or lives — directly or indirectly — in a manner to create change is a major characteristic of a savior complex. Do NOT confuse this with apathy. Deciding if something is your place in this instance has more to do with imposition. More than likely this had to do with lifestyle choices you or society have deemed unfavorable.
I’m not saying that if, for example, you are aware of a domestic violence situation and hear screams coming from the house of the abuse that you don’t pick up the phone and call 911. This does not mean that if you see someone in obvious danger you should just walk the other direction. Let’s not forget about Charles Ramsey. But what this means is if, for example, you know someone has a health problem and they continue to do things that will exasperate or fuel the illness. And especially if you know they are aware of this — it is not your place to yank the poison from their hand. See no. 1 again — people ultimately do what they want. What you can do is be there when/if they ask. That’s the only thing you can do and even then you have to make a choice, particularly if it is repeat behavior, how healthy is it for you to continue to feel that need.
3.) Decipher: Is what you feel the need to “fix” for the “greater good” really going to do it?
It can — if you are willing to put in the work. This work may take more than what you can physically, emotionally and spiritually give. And moreover it may take much more time than you are willing to give up. In addition to gathering the people you will probably need to rally the real support you probably won’t get. There are people in the world who will do this. Evaluate if you are that person. Or do you expect to impact change in a mere blink of an eye because you simply will it.
I’m not saying that you can’t impact “greater good” with just your actions. But deciding that it is your crusade is often misplaced ego whether or not you are willing to admit it. Also this doesn’t mean that you don’t genuinely care about people. It just means you have some decisions to make and a plan of action to begin organizing. If you have desires and ambitions of your own for your life, believe me it will conflict with how much time you are willing to invest in the battlefield of doing the “fix.”
Guess what is good for the “greater good?” Just being a decent person willing to help when called.
4.) Conclude that all of this doesn’t make you a bad person, just human.
BREAKING NEWS: You care about people. That’s not bad. But remember what all those social-networking memes out there are constantly trying to tell you. If you don’t take care of yourself, you can’t take care of others. Throw that in with realizing that through positive intent, with all judgment removed, is you doing one step better than a lot of the world. Just keep being decent, share what you can, do what you can but never believe it is your job to save anyone but yourself.