Relationships in a World of Individualism

  • rWorld

    The rWorld is about more than Dale Kuehne's book Sex and the iWorld.
    The rWorld is a New England based, non-profit (in formation), that is composed of a growing number of people and organizations from many faith and ideological backgrounds worldwide. We believe that much of the fulfillment for which women and men are looking can be found by enhancing the quality of our relationships. While the individual freedom we enjoy in the West is a gift, the love and intimacy for which humans yearn will not be found in self-serving materialism or hedonism, but in a variety of healthy relationships.

    Contact us if you'd like get involved:

  • Dale Kuehne

    Sex & the iWorld

    Professor of Politics and The Richard L. Bready Chair for Ethics, Economics, and the Common Good at Saint Anselm College, Manchester, NH.

    In this blog I'm highlighting signposts of the world in which we presently reside as a means of helping promote a civil, and meaningful dialogue about what kind of world in which we wish to live. I am particularly interested in exploring how might we reconcile the individual good and the common good, and where reconciliation isn’t possible, which should take precedence and why.

    I also blog at

    [Content Caution]

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rLiving 3: Knowing the poor (Directness)

Posted by Simon on December 2, 2010

With a few friends, I’ve run a Sunday class at church for the last 18 months called the Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. We administer it but as far as possible we have the participants be the facilitators of the discussion from their expertise or interest, to help us all think through the issues in the light of Scripture and then, hopefully, change how we live. But at least change how we think. We’ve touched on many, many topics: Inequality ($$); Disabilities; Music; Giving and Generosity; Relationships and Social Capital; Suffering and Joy; Food; Healthcare (twice); Science and Faith; Education (the “reading wars”), the Arizona Immigration Law, the so-called “9/11 Mosque”. And one day last spring we started a series on “poverty”.

“It’s a lot easier to talk about poverty than to talk with someone who is poor.” (Mother Theresa)

“The great tragedy of the church is not that rich Christians do not care about the poor but that rich Christians do not know the poor.” (Shane Claiborne)

Relational Proximity Dimension #1 is “Directness”. My relationship with someone is better and healthier the less mediated it is. It can be mediated by technology or other people, which affects our ability to communicate fully. It can also be mediated, even when face to face, by dishonesty and fakeness: there’s a real me and a real you, any fronts we put up reduces directness.

Our first question was whether anyone had experienced poverty personally, or had encountered ‘it’ anywhere. Among us was a man who’d been homeless for 11 years but apparently by choice. Several of us had encountered poverty in various places such as London (the homeless), inner-city Boston, El Salvador (people living on a garbage dump), Mexico (solvent-addicted street kids), and Paraguay (financially poor but with land, food, water and shelter and no sense of being poor themselves). Then in small groups we discussed causes.

What was immediately obvious was that ‘poor’ has both relative and absolute meanings and that the experience of the poor varies enormously. This is why we need to know them personally, so that we can love them for who they are, as individuals and families. We also need to know them so that we actually do something.

If our (individual) relationship with the poor is mediated, indirect, it’s almost inevitable that we’ll fixate on ourselves (with guilt about our riches), we’ll be ignorant about the poor (romanticize them, pity them, judge them), and in the end we’ll do nothing except perhaps pay our indulgence through charity to salve our conscience. Directness – encounter relationships with people who are poor – seems to hold so much more promise in creating other-centeredness, compassion and respect, and appropriate action that empowers and liberates.

Do you know someone who is poor? Would you describe yourself as poor? What direct encounters have you had with the poor (or the rich)? What difference has that encounter made to your understanding and action?

[Click here for the introduction to this series and the five dimensions of Relational Proximity.]


One Response to “rLiving 3: Knowing the poor (Directness)”

  1. rLiving 3: Knowing the poor (Directness) « Signpostings…

    Here at World Spinner we are debating the same thing……

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