T.E. Lawrence (1888-1935) 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.

Lawrence of Arabia was born Thomas Edward Lawrence in 1888. By the time of his premature death in 1935, he had been an Oxford scholar, writer of numerous books, archaeologist, negotiator, spy, guerrilla, saboteur, military strategist, and visionary. He made his first trip to the Middle East in 1909 when he went there as an Oxford student to study the architecture of the Crusaders castles in Palestine and Syria. During his life, he returned many times to the Arabian Peninsula. Lawrence also worked at various times for the British colonial office. During World War I, he was a part of the British Sinai Expedition and was attached to various Arab tribes that were fighting the Turks.

Lawrence in the desert-photo 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.

We can identify with people whom we may not even know: the homeless, the oppressed, the poor, and the hurting. As with Lawrence of Arabia, it can become our cause and mission. We can look beyond our national boundaries, or we can look to those who are literally right next to us. It really doesn't matter where those in need are. What matters is that we become involved with them and their concerns.

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.


Col. T. E. Lawrence as painted by James McBey

This article appeared in the Dixon Telegraph on 3/9/01.