in·gra·ti·a·tor·y* /in-ˈgrā-sh(ē-)ə-ˌtȯr-ē/ a. tending to ingratiate, ingratiating
in·gra·ti·ate /in-ˈgrā-shē-ˌāt/ v. [f. L in gratiam into favour + -ATE, after It. Ingratiare, ingraziare.} 1. v. refl. Get oneself into favour; gain grace or favour (with); make oneself agreeable to). 2. v.t. Bring (a person or thing) into favour (with someone); make (a person or thing) agreeable (to). 3. v.i. Gain grace or favour (with)
When I was twenty-three and living back home in New Orleans, I began working for a community center that offered a coffeehouse with pastries and coffee a couple of times a week for homeless men. This was the first time I had real conversations with people who were living without a home, instead of encounters in passing on the street. Through them and through Unity for the Homeless, I learned more about what they were facing, where they came from, why it was near impossible for many of them to hold down a steady job and residence.
I also learned about the different places around town that provided services for homeless men and women, and I learned the different expectations that came with those places. At more than one place, the men and women who sought shelter and food were given it only after they attended a spiritual service, for whatever denomination was there. They were emphatically told they were sinners and to repent. And it was only after sitting through this condemnation. “Sermon for your sandwich,” the guys told me. Many would rather go hungry than go there.
In my experience, people who are homeless, who are addicted, who have committed crimes, who have estranged themselves from their families—hell, people, like me, who have messed up in anyway, have the knowledge that they have messed up. They don’t need a reminder of the ways in which they are flawed or the damage they have done. Most often, they need the hope that healing is possible. If all you have known is brokenness in your life, how are you to even begin to believe that wholeness is something that can be achieved? No wonder your behavior is to continue to break, to break with, to behave in ways that shatter your self or connection to other people.
And to begin to heal oneself, one’s primary concern cannot be the needs or desires of others.
This is not only because one needs to take care of oneself, but because one needs to be real about who one is while making oneself whole. People need to know that they, as they are, are worthy of rich, fulfilled lives, and they don’t have to act a way they are not, believe something they do not believe, or ingratiate themselves to others to do so.
When I was in my mid-twenties, I continued working with homeless and low income people in San Francisco, for St. Anthony Foundation, a Franciscan based organization in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood. The reason I was attracted to the organization was largely due to its mission statement. Part of this statement was that every human being is worthy of dignity and respect just by being.
I don’t mean, by this post, to undermine the reality that people make awful mistakes and cause wounds that are sometimes so difficult to heal. But I do think it is important for us to remember that all of us have the capacity to make mistakes, to fuck up in ways we would never think possible. And because we all have that capacity within us, we also have the responsibility to offer grace to those are hurting whenever we can, not because they can do something for us but because they need it and we are in the position to give that grace.
*I am house-sitting right now so this word was not selected from one of my home dictionaries but from this one:
The Newer Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (Thumb Index Edition), Volume A-M 1993