While growing up in Pittsburgh, I had many role
models that helped me determine who I wanted to be when I grew up.
Captain Video was one of the first, but soon Tom Mix and the Cisco Kid
replaced him. As I matured, those
preadolescent role models gave way to ones that are more age appropriate.
I can recall being enamored by Lawrence of Arabia and his exploits.
I can remember seeing him riding across the burning desert sands as he
led raids against Turkish garrisons. His
daring and heroism captivated me. When
I became an adult, I read a lot about this Englishman.
Thanks to Lowell Thomas, T. E. Lawrence became a household name to Westerners. He was far more than just an Englishman in Arab dress. He was, for the Arab nations, a rallying point. At that time, many of them were disorganized and others were under Turkish control. Lawrence of Arabia, a Westerner, captured Arab imaginations by his exploits, military genius, and ability to identify with Arab people.
Although he believed in a Jewish homeland, he also identified with the Arab cause. He became so closely linked with them that he actually took on their concerns. He became a proponent within the British government for better treatment of the Arabs. Lawrence thought that the British colonial government had betrayed the Arabs, and he often took their side in their disputes with the British's mandate in Palestine and Iraq.
While this article isn't a discussion about our nation's
Arab‑Israeli position, it is an attempt to understand Lawrence's ability
to identify with an oppressed people. He
identified with the Arab to such extent that he started to think and act more
like them than a British subject. We
do not have to ride into the desert sunset with our caftan blowing in the breeze
to identify with people. However,
we will benefit from Lawrence's desire to identify with those who hurt.
The question, which should be now entering your mind, is how can I identify with those in need? Allow me to suggest several ways of doing that. Lawrence did it by first understanding the needs of the Arabs. He did not merely ride into their villages and say, "Here I am." He attempted to learn about them and what was troubling them.
He also visibly "took on" their identity. In his case, he physically wore their clothes symbolically saying that he was one of them. He gave up his Western clothing, but more importantly, he gave up his Western mindset and became one of them. It is doubtful that we can do something as visible, but we can identify with the way that person feels and thinks. We can "put on" that person's hurt. If we do, we have an excellent possibility of truly assisting people in extricating themselves from their painful problems. Merely knowing that someone is there who cares can be the secret to that person's release. This is our responsibility to help people survive in the depressive deserts of their lives.
We all need role models for our lives, but we need to move away from those of our childhood. Role models like Lawrence of Arabia would be a more appropriate role model for us as adults because they push us to reach out to others in need.
This article appeared in the Dixon Telegraph on 3/9/01.