RE-POST: Read on Atlantic Fellows Website
A moment of self-reflection
Change-maker, I beg of you a little thought. And some forgiveness. Promise to forgive me first before we venture into these strange woodlands. We might get lost, and I admit, I am a misguided hermit. In our fight, in our rage, and in our desperation for a more equal world, I beg you, please, a moment of your time. A moment away from your important work and your desperate fight for good. I beg a moment for self-reflection.
Truth be told, if all the problems we were working to resolve were indeed solved today, we’d be out of jobs. A pause is necessary. If our identity as modern-day change-makers is warped in the fight, then winning now becomes losing. Is the polarisation of the movement “for the good of humanity” simply a caricature of ideals we actually never want to achieve?
The five portraits of the modern-day change-maker tease us; not because we are wrong, but because we can fall into the trap of overestimating our rightness. Let’s follow this river of thought. (Don’t forget your gumboots!)
THE WELL THAT GLITTERS WITH GOLD
Tell the truth. Lest you drown in your own lies. A blocked seabed poisons the water in the well, bringing the entire village to ruin.
There is always something wrong with someone else, and hardly any fault with us. Any fault with us is because of what others have done to us. Our identity has become so warped by our role that we perpetuate this identity. We hide all flaws and accept all glory – even the glory that isn’t ours. We compete for the spotlight. Our voice is more important than theirs. We become so focused on our cause that we lose trust, integrity and even basic humanity. We want to be needed at all costs, so much so that we confuse our allies with our foes. We are the victims, and everyone else is here to cause us harm. Never mind the harm we have caused others.
A question. If the political and the personal is one, where then does responsibility lie when our personal corrupts the political?
TRIBUTARIES OF LOST FISH
Set the course. Or you will be lost. The crowd does not always know the way, nor must you assume that you do.
There is a way things should be done, and we know how it must be done; it is only too bad that we are not in power, because if we were we would do a lot of good. It is a mixed crowd, this school of lost fish. Yes, of course, I have what it takes to be a leader; believe my words even if I have no fruits to show. No, don’t make me a leader; but I will critique you to paralysis. Some of us subconsciously believe the fight is already lost, and so we go to where the current is warmest and nicest. There is no personal responsibility, and group identity becomes more important than doing the right thing. It is very noisy, and so words become empty mantras of righteousness, persona gains more credibility than works, and we forget to think because we believe we know the answer even before the question is posed.
A question. Are we just cogs in the system, so much so that we need the system to exist in order to validate our cause?
THE BROKEN CISTERN
Break the cistern. It is full of rot. Good can not be exchanged for evil, not even out of necessity.
There is a misplaced assumption that because we are all in the same arena, we hold the same values. In fact, we impose values on others even when we do not hold ourselves to the same standard. Yes, my government is corrupt. And no, it doesn’t matter that I use other people’s bodies to sate my needs. Horrific. There is so much inequality in the world. And no, my preference to speak only to people who are useful to me has nothing to do with it. Bonkers. It’s the structural issues causing all these problems. One can only be curious about what these structures are holding together in the first place. The big injustices are the ones that matter; ignore how I treat everyone I don’t need like a disposable paper plate. We will talk about dignity when we are at the top, and never mind the corruption along the way.
A question. Do all the “little” injustices and compromises we embodied during our path to justice suddenly desert us when we come into “power”?
THE RAGE OF RIVERS
Quell your rage. Or choose to remain blind. The weight of anger strains the dam that holds your equanimity together.
We carry the burden of changing the world, even when we burn out and trudge on like weary donkeys. The role of the change-maker does not end when we turn off the lights to go to bed. It is not a coat we put on in the morning. It is us. We are it. We have been burned before, so we don’t care if we burn while putting out a fire that destroys us in the process. We mutilate ourselves for the failures of others. There. Let us go mad in rage. Burst the dams. Lose our wits. Suffocate in the details. The sins on the street? We will clean them right up. Carry the weight of the world on our shoulders, while the world still finds a way to jeer, to laugh in mockery, and drive us even further off the edge. They couldn’t break us, so please watch dear, don’t waver. And livestream properly as we hack our bodies. Watch the spectacle; we the healers are deliberately bleeding ourselves to the death.
A question. If anger is fuel, is it a renewable resource or more like carbon monoxide seeping from a flame inside an enclosed room?
THE ISLAND OF BONES
Silence the Sirens. The voices that lead those at sea astray. The arrogance of thinking our daily actions are impotent, because we imagine “self” to be detached from the “whole”, renders our victims lifeless.
There is no greater ego than we who want to show off how good we are. It is a narcissistic craving. We have to be praised for our good; after all, we have saved many souls. Our motives make us crave that things should become so bad, so very bad, that we will look so good fixing them. We put our egotistical needs before others. We are the ones who change the world, while others look on us to bless them with salvation. We want to be the only ones making a difference, so we clear the field of allies as best we can. We judge the outcasts, the “uncivilised” and scorn the “ugly” – it’s their fault they are the scum of the earth. We put a measure on human dignity. Yes, wait a moment as we glorify problematic entities; we have to be famous by association. Oh, poor little children, bombed, starved and dying? Let me take a selfie. We must put an end to collateral damage. Hashtag #sad. This work is so hard; give us a little more praise, and don’t forget to donate, pretty please.
A question. Does perfection, and knowing it all, ever serve more than the self – and is that self any good for the greater whole?
Inequality is inequality, whether it is in the way our daily actions denigrate the human dignity of people we engage with, or a system that viciously feasts on our blood. The struggle for a better world is also a struggle that must be fought within. A bit like a hornet poking the hornet’s nest is the one who points fingers at others without critiquing the complexities that the self effects upon the political. It replicates systems of oppression. An ineffectual use of our energies. Oppressive structures must be dealt with, without question. It is an ongoing struggle for generations before and after us.
In the meantime, we must recognise the daily interactions that make us oppressors. The ways in which we deny others human dignity, and in turn rob ourselves of genuine human care (of self and others). When we become too consumed in the cause, so much that we forget the essence of the fight – humanity.
We must not be too naïve to acknowledge the power we hold. The power that can choke, mutilate and disfigure others, and ourselves, in our journey, while we hold up the flag of peace. Change-maker, do you forgive me?