It’s been a difficult weekend – I spent it at the memorial for the wife of one of my best friends.  I was at their wedding almost 12 years ago, and the reality of the situation has not set in for me at all.

Every once in a while, though, life hands us a particular event through which we can suddenly see much larger issues more clearly.  This weekend certainly gave me that.  When I finally saw my friend on Friday, the first thing out of my mouth was the largely useless phrase “how are you?” – no matter how sincere I was, I know enough about loss to know that there is no good answer to that question.  Yet somehow he came up with one: “Better, now that you’re here.”  I’ve known him long enough to know that this was a sincere response, and I found it deeply moving.

Ever since, this exchange has been eating at me – it is one of those lenses through which I can see a much larger issue in my life.  How many times do those of us who work in aid and development really ask “how are you?” to those we work with/work for when we get out in the field – how often do we really let people participate in our programs and projects by telling us how they are and what they need, versus giving them the right to agree (too much “participatory” work falls under the latter heading)?  And how often could they honestly say, “Better, now that you are here” to us if we were to ask?

Maybe, just maybe, this is an informal metric we might use to evaluate our efforts in the world . . . are things better, now that we are there?  If not, what can we/should we do differently to make sure that people do feel that way?