"Be the change you wish to see in the world."
You can't go very far, particularly in the social justice, religious, or university realms, without seeing Mahatma Gandhi's famous quote. Similarly, as I am six days away from leaving the PacNW and ten from leaving the country, I can't go very far without hearing, "Heather, the world needs more people like you."
This elicits mixed emotions. The first thing that inevitably comes to mind, with a chuckle, is, "Oh, if you only knew," by which I mean, of course, that I'm secretly an axe murderer. Joke. But really, we've all got ways in which we are beautiful human beings and ways in which we are not. I have no shortage of the latter.
The next thing I feel is gratitude, for having such supportive, gracious friends, and for having been given so much that I am able to turn into fuel for being the kind of person who may merit such a compliment.
Ultimately, though, I feel confused. I was the girl who was proclaimed "Most Likely to Join the Peace Corps" in high school, and I thought that was nuts. I still think I'm nuts as I'm headed off for a similar (but awesomer, if I do say so myself) two-year program in a few days. I'm confused because I'm just a human being, like any other, who felt compelled to find deeper meaning, like any other.
We idolize do-gooders. But you hear the response in the news all the time when so-and-so saves a drowning child from a torrential river and the media goes crazy. "I'm not a hero," he says. "I just did what needed to be done." I think Gandhi, Aung San Suu Kyi, Mother Theresa, whomever you gape at wide-eyed and think "I wish I was more like ____," would say the same thing. They were human beings who did what needed to be done, and struggled and cried and made mistakes in the meantime.
The problem begins with the "I wish I was more like ____." As soon as this is said, there is a great chasm placed between sympathy and mobilization, between the realization that there is a problem, and the motivation to address it. I'd like to call this chasm the Gandhi Divide. When we stop short of it, we reduce ourselves to bystanders who observe the problems in the world, but don't tackle them. This psychological divide prevents us from being the people the world needs. It makes us tell ourselves that we aren't good enough, so thank goodness others are.
Admittedly, this is a scary divide. It's icy and deep, full of inconvenience, apathy, fear, loneliness and hopelessness. Those people--like you and me, ordinary but resolved people--who cross it will require awareness, empathy, and courage. But they don't need to be heroes. Because a hero is created in the crossing.
This is the challenge. Be the change you wish to see in the world by making a lifetime of crossing the Gandhi Divide. The world needs more people like you. And by the way, I've been told there is hope, beauty, peace and joy, for everyone, on the other side.
"When I beheld the suffering, I was angry with God. 'The hungry family. The dying child. The warring country. Where were you?' I demanded. 'I was there,' God replied. 'Where were you?"
I want to believe that the whole world
Is my home, the field I sow,
And that all reap what all have sown.
I will not believe that I can combat oppression out there
If I tolerate injustice here.
I want to believe that what is right
Is the same here and there
And that I will not be free
While even one human being is excluded.
Saturday, November 13, 2010
I'm not the kind of person who wears rosy glasses, but despite my realism (pessimism?), beautiful things happen in this world. Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize winner and leader of Burma's Democratic movement, was released today by the totalitarian military junta that has imprisoned her under house arrest for 15 of the last 21 years. She has been freed two other times from her arrest, only to be thrown back into her home after crossing some arbitrary line, but still I say that beautiful things happen. My heart goes out to the celebrating people in Burma who have held vigil at her gates for a quarter of their lives, and to the global community that supports her. When PeaceJam was held at LMU, six Nobel laureates called for her release in my school's gymnasium. I was there to see them rallying, and I am alive to see her release. I realize, of course, as CNN so honestly tells, that no one is guaranteeing her release is permanent. But beautiful things happen, and it's nice to be reminded sometimes :).
Thursday, November 4, 2010
In preparation for staffing a carbon footprint booth this weekend at the Seattle Youth Convention, I prevent you this nifty online ecological footprint calculator, which shows you "how much nature your lifestyle requires." If everyone lived like me, we would need 3.4 earths. How about you?