The Shift in Mutuality

Written by: Randy Evans

     One of Walking Tall Wilmington’s core values is mutuality. Mutuality is defined as “the sharing of a feeling, action, or relationship between two or more parties.” In other words, it is people taking care of each other on a deeper level. We experience this in our families, friendships, and workplaces; it’s what makes communities successful. In the summer of 2013, a movement was established as a response to the deaths of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown called, “Black Lives Matter.” After the movement took over the media, many people became defensive, with slogans like, “Blue Lives Matter” and “All Lives Matter,” as an alternative to include everyone. As I pondered this, I started to think to myself, “Do all lives really matter, and if so, who could be capable of putting this way of thinking into action?” Can everyone truly say, “I don’t see color, I only see the person” or “Everyone bleeds red?” The more I thought about this, the more I was convinced that it’s impossible. Our color, socioeconomic status, gender, and religion all play into who we are as people.


Then I began to connect this idea of thinking to individuals experiencing poverty. Is the person on the corner begging for food the same as you? A person who is living under a bridge, suffering from addiction – is their life worth the same as yours? Are the people who have not taken a shower in three weeks, reeking of alcohol and urine, matter as much as you do? I ask these questions with the hopes that I will not receive the same rehashed jargon. I want to challenge you to think deeper, in a more critical way, which leads to a productive and life-changing dialogue.


With mutuality, all lives do matter and it is demonstrated by action. When mutuality is added, a relationship is formed. It’s not just an anonymous deed like most charitable acts. Mutuality is often lacking when we interact with those in poverty. It becomes an Us vs. Them: We serve, they eat; we give, they receive. Mutuality basically tears down that wall of power. Instead of serving, we eat together. Instead of giving as a one-way street, it becomes a two way street through conversation, where we learn about the person and their situation.


For instance, most of society thinks individuals who panhandle are drunks or drug addicts. With thoughts like these, cities have created campaigns to encourage the community not to give money to panhandlers, but to local charities. What if a campaign was created to tell the local community that no one should give money to the local charities, but only to panhandlers? Neither one of these campaigns would work well because there isn’t an ounce of actual mutuality involved! It’s much different giving money to someone you know than to a total stranger. How do we shift this way of thinking and dismantle the power structure that is not working? The answer is mutuality. Another example of situations lacking mutuality would be the way we treat those experiencing poverty in regard to basic necessities. Mutuality would suggest that you wouldn’t give someone in poverty anything less to eat than what you would eat. One of the sayings you will hear in the city of Wilmington is, “No one who is homeless should go without anything to eat, and if they do, it’s their own fault.” How many of you have taken the opportunity to eat a meal at a local soup kitchen? There are quite a few that take the time and effort to prepare a good and healthy meal; however, there are just as many that simply throw something together with less than optimal food. One meal that I happen to partake in was spaghetti that was only tomato paste with beef, brown salad (with chunks of the core), garlic bread (which was rock hard), and an undercooked peach pie. I thought to myself, “If this had been a local restaurant, this place would have been blasted.” I wouldn’t serve this to my friends! This was not addressed because these individuals are “homeless,” and they should be “happy” with whatever they get.


I wonder what would happen if we all started showing the same mutual respect to those in poverty as our co-workers, family, and friends. Imagine the shift that would happen in our local community! What would happen if we were intentional about building relationships with the most vulnerable in the city? How could we bridge the gap between those experiencing poverty, and deconstruct the social norms that are continuing to divide us? The answer is mutuality.


Here at Walking Tall Wilmington, we have found that mutuality helps drive who we are as an organization, and sets us apart from the run-of-the-mill charity. We don’t have clients, waiting rooms, intake sheets, statistics, steam tables, serving spoons, or campaigns to prevent panhandling. We offer safe spaces, love, compassion, opportunity, radical hospitality, a listening ear, and a shoulder to cry on. Mutuality is only achieved when we put in the work and are intentional with our time, resources, and relationships. It is not something that happens naturally or just falls together. It takes effort and consistency.


Through the month of March, I challenge you to find a way to interact with those experiencing poverty and get on the same level. Have dinner at a local soup kitchen (notice I said, have dinner, not serve dinner). Invite someone you might know in poverty out to eat at one of your favorite local spots or even meet for a stroll down the Riverwalk. Create space in your life to find ways to relate to those who are the most vulnerable in Wilmington. This is where you will start seeing things in a completely different way that will change your life for the better.









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