Bezaleel – The Powerful (Part Two)

Bezaleel means “under the shadow of God” and is the name of a school in Guatemala where Galen Lehman did volunteer work in July, 2008. #2 in a series of posts on what he learned there.

Last week, I wrote how Guatemala’s indigenous people are mostly poor and often discriminated against by wealthy landowners of European descent.

But, there’s another group adding to their suffering. It’s me, my family and my friends! As it turns out, many Guatemalans believe that the economic, military and cultural power of the USA is tearing at the fabric of their lives.

Here are some examples of how this plays out, given to me by my Guatemalan hosts:

  • The Free Trade Agreement destroys locally-owned industries by allowing the free import of mass-market goods. NAFTA has been much maligned in the USA, but our hosts told us that the detrimental impact on Guatemala has been much, much worse. It empowers American corporations with tremendous influence over Guatemalan government and policy. Many people in Guatemala believe that the machinations of American corporations helped cause the 36-year civil war that just ended in the 1990’s. They also pointed to new Guatemalan laws that make the maximum penalty for copying DVD’s harsher than the maximum penalty for manslaughter.
  • The US military has rights to enter Guatemalan land, air and territorial waters for drug interdiction. Can you imagine the US giving such rights to any other country? Years of paramilitary atrocities by local right-wing militias have terrorized the people. Our hosts told us that just seeing US military maneuvers on their soil hurts Guatemala’s chances for democracy.
  • The US cultural influence is over-whelming. The value systems of America’s R-rated movies are replacing traditional values even in remote villages. I saw amazing evidence of this in my travels and will write more about it more in the future.

The Guatemalans I met were welcoming and friendly. They know and love the American people. Unspoken in their warmth was a simple question: “Why do the kind and gracious American people allow their government and corporations to behave in this way?”

They even had ideas on how to help things improve.  For one thing, they begged us to shop locally. They believe the big multi-national corporations are too powerful. By encouraging small family-owned businesses in our neighborhoods and communities, we undermine the powerful and help bring stability to the world.

And of course, this is a big election year in America.  There are many important issues at stake. We have our own economic problems, a health care system in shambles, and a war in Iraq that it increasingly seems no one wants. They asked me to add one more concern:  Remember that the decisions we make in November may affect them and other people in ways we cannot imagine.

What I learned in Guatemala is that I must live my life thoughtfully and remember that lots of good people in many places have a stake in every decision I make.

Next Week: Read about the tug-of-war between traditional values and modern culture.

Click here for more information on Bezaleel.

Learn more about Mennonite Central Committee, a non-profit relief organization.

Learn about Guatemala.

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15 years ago

Your comments were ;”Why do people behave this way?’ [ in a way that hurts others} and ” I must live my life thoughtfully and remember good people everywhere have a stake in every decision I make.”

Both hit the nail on the head and went to the core of all the problems and solutions to those problems that our world faces today.

Why do people live in a way that hurts others? Simplified it is human nature which is basically bad of itself. People by their nature have warred and killed, been morally impure; idolators, selfish , greedy, murderers, thieves, adulters and liars since the time of Adam and Eve.

Most people in our modern culture would say I haven’t done any of these things. But being honest we all have to admit at some time we have had wrong thoughts about someone or fudged on the income tax to cheat the government or maybe lied to keep from getting in trouble.
It starts with little children . They will lie rather than face correction for something they have done. The human nature of people is not good of itself. What we see in the world today is human nature carried to extremes inflicting hurt on others for material gain for self. The bottom line is human nature is basically selfish.

To live ones life thoughtfully and considerately of how our decisions will affect others takes a change from within. It literally takes a change of heart and mind. The focus of the person changes from selfish ambition to concern for others. Making money is no longer an end in itself but a vehicle to make this world a better place for all of its inhabitants.

A change in heart is to change human nature to a higher nature that some people call God. If every leader and every individual of every country had this nature there would be peace on earth. Nations wouldn’t strive to control other nations. They would live and conduct their lives for the benefit of others as well as themselves.

We as individuals can have change take place in our selves and conduct our lives in a way to reflect that change. We can’t change anyone else but ourselves. All of us are accountable for our own actions. Whether others do right or wrong is out of our control. We do have control though in how we treat others. We can change from a way of getting selfishly to a way of giving and caring.

Then as Galen said we will live our lives thoughtfully realizing our decisions affect others, whether family, friends, or people half a world away.

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance. In other words we will love others and treat them as we would want to be treated.

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