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August 10, 2012, Friday

Question about doing nothing

A favorite quote of mine is by Mother Teresa, which reads: “We can do no great things, only small things with great love.”

In my piece, “Some things I have learned from Turks” (Aug. 7), I emphasized that particularly people from the West can learn from Turkish ways. Westerners, especially those of us from North America, can fall into the trap of thinking that we always have all the answers and must act. The art of “doing nothing” -- that is, in the right situation -- can be a good thing.

I would like to share what one Today’s Zaman expat reader has written based on her years of residence in Turkey and having a Turkish spouse:

Hello Charlotte, I am an anthropologist living 20 years in this country, 19 years of it married to a native Turkish citizen. I cannot endorse your generalized idea about the Turks. I could not understand what you learned from them! For example, did you learn to do nothing from Aristotle or from the Turkish people? The problems they show do exist in almost every culture. I do not see the point of where Turks are doing nothing! As far as I see, people in Turkey are always busy doing something, even if it seems as if they are doing nothing. I think the elite in countries all over the world are the best examples of people who are doing nothing, because they already have so much. They do not feel ashamed to work only some hours a day, because even playing tennis or golf is considered work, as they sometimes make big deals then! Many people in Turkey are ill, using the wrong medicines, are undernourished on bread and tea, and still are doing something: working in construction in the blistering sun, washing dishes and clothes at the village water pumps. Furthermore, they are always busy avoiding conflict in their family, lineage or tribe. And they are always busy performing their duties in rituals and customs. And I’ve never visited or lived in a country where you can express your views so openly and discuss so vividly as in Turkey. The Turks may not agree with you, but they accept your opinion when it’s build on facts they all know. In that aspect, they are like Germans. All you need to know is that Turkey is a very diversified place on Earth with a very complex and intriguing history. You should learn or know how to show respect to their historical sensitivities. And they will respect you. And you will learn that they all have their mature personality. From: Zonazonaro

Dear Zonazonaro: I hope this piece helps clarify your point in question. Also I want to pick up on your very insightful note about how many people in Turkey are ill, using the wrong medicines, are undernourished on bread and tea, and still are doing something. You are so right about how we need to be doing something to help others who struggle and have not had the same opportunities as the more fortunate. Thank you for your comment.

I want to share about one of my dogs, Ginger. She is a very empathetic little dog who has only partial visibility. In spite of this disability, she in her innocent doggie way tries to show concern for others that are in danger or hurt. If she thinks anyone (be it human, bird or cat) is upset she tries to comfort them by pawing at them or trying to lick them. It makes me wonder what kind of trauma she had in her life before she became my dog. At times she will lean her whole body against me or drape herself over my lap if she thinks my day has gone badly or I’m upset. She has been known to crawl up on a friend’s lap and snuggle and gaze up at her with soulful brown eyes if she thinks the person is upset. It is Ginger’s way of saying “I care.” Naturally Ginger has no way of knowing what is wrong, but she senses when someone is hurting. She is upset when someone cries. Ginger does this in her own way.

This is perhaps what our Today’s Zaman reader implies in her letter. Nowadays, wherever you live or go on holiday, every time you go out you’ll see some needy soul or see some disturbing situation. It used to be that people would stop and help another in trouble but sadly, it is not so common. People are afraid to get involved.

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” Dr. Seuss, “The Lorax.”

Note: Charlotte McPherson is the author of “Culture Smart: Turkey” 2005. Please keep your questions and observations coming: I want to ensure this column is a help to you, Today’s Zaman’s readers. Email: [email protected]

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