Wednesday, June 4, 2008

To my South African Friends

Watching the news on what is going on in the country I fondly refer to my second home, I am transported back to the events in my country only five months ago. I do not want to go into how similar things are to what happened here in Kenya, nor do I wish to focus on comparing the two.

What I would like to do is to share my thoughts on what I see as a bigger picture, and how perhaps I see how an individual can play a role, from personal experience.

When Kenya erupted in December, we were not alone with regards to election violence. At the time, I remember observing two other elections that were taking place concurrently, and what perhaps struck me is how each scenario played out, it I could use that phrase.

Georgia and Pakistan both went through their electoral processes in the same time frame.

In Georgia, there were widespread claims of election rigging, and it was the popular sentiment that the elected government took office fraudulently. The people of Georgia, whilst disagreeing with the outcome, did not choose to take the matter further in terms of using violence or any forceful means. (However, as of right now, the opposition in Georgia is currently opposing the opening of parliament, claiming that the government was not fairly elected). So, there is resistance, but it is a largely peaceful one.

In Pakistan, things deteriorated to an extent of which the culmination was the assassination of a former Leader.

Kenya erupted in two ways. Most people worked hard to keep things peaceful, but a small minority erupted with sufficient momentum that nearly brought the country to its knees – the country WAS on its knees at one point.

If we were to devise a scale of chaos to depict the three scenarios, Georgia would perhaps fall at one end, Pakistan on the other, and Kenya in the middle.

This is how I see it – if I step back, and allow myself to look at the planet from a distance, it seems to me that I can see certain patterns emerging. The word that comes to mind is CHURNING. It seems that there are pockets of this churning happening in lots of different areas:

In America, the country is on the verge choosing between two members from traditionally marginalized sectors of the general population. America is rallying for Change, and either a Woman or a Black man (or a near Octogenarian) will be the one to take the lead in what has been termed as one of the most exciting election campaigns in the history of that country.

China has shown its eagerness to enter the world arena on a more even playing field by playing host to the world’s top athletes, and in doing so, through sport and entertainment, to hopefully assuage its reputation in the global arena. It has already started experiencing difficulties on more than one level – first there were the Tibetan protests, which brought to the forefront China’s human rights record, and the subsequent boycotting of the Olympic flame’s journey to Beijing, and now an earthquake that almost reached the upper end of the Richter scale in its’ magnitude.

If that wasn’t enough, a cyclone of immense proportion hit an area just south of the epicenter of the earthquake, in a country that has perhaps the worst human rights record of our current time. Also, let’s face it, no-one’s really paid any attention to Burma lately despite their being ruled by one of the worst type of military regimes.

Zimbabwe was next – the fight for fairness continues to date, with the opposition choosing the option of hanging on, not giving up, and taking the battle to court, which has culminated in a hopeful re-run of their election. Who would ever have even considered the possibility of Mugabe being ousted – we all thought he was going to take the presidency to his deathbed.

The Middle East – it seems that we are approaching crunch time here too – oil has reached an all time high of USD 135 per barrel. Analysts are now, surprise surprise, talking about a new world energy order. Al Gore paved the way forward, it won’t be long before we also take that path. Except that now it may be more out of necessity than out of choice.

And finally, South Africa. The issues of Xenophobia, poverty, inequality, and the political leadership manipulating people’s insecurities to achieve their own ends are all coming to the surface (Issues that have also surfaced elsewhere in the world). What is happening is not really coming as a surprise to people, but perhaps what is shocking is just how violent the mode of expression is. The power shortages now seem to be a somewhat lame(?) cause of worry compared to the implications of what is happening now.

Do you see a pattern? This is how I would perhaps summarise it – I see the world in the middle of an opportunity for profound Change – no, I’d rather use the word ‘Shift’. Yes, that very shift that some of you may have read about – of a quantum rise in the collective consciousness of Humanity and of the planet as a Whole.

To expound on my line of thought, I would like to use the analogy of a snow globe – you know, the ones you get at a tourist concession stand – with perhaps the Eiffel tower in it, and as you shake it, all the snow flakes go crazy and you create a little storm in the globe.

The degree of the storm in the globe depends on how hard one shakes the globe. What the shaker has control over perhaps, is how hard and how long S/he wishes to shake the globe. At some point, S/he will choose to stop shaking the globe, and allow the flakes to settle. While the snow flakes are flurrying, it looks like chaos in the globe. All hell is breaking loose. As the flakes slow down some semblance of order starts to get restored.

By the time the snow has settled, it all looks calm, but with one difference – while on the outside all looks the same, each of the snowflakes has settled in a completely different place to where it was originally. The scene looks the same, but the intrinsic environment of the globe is COMPLETELY DIFFERENT.

With reference to the predicted shift for humanity, I see the planet as that snow globe. And as a result of the positive intentions, hard work and energy of millions of individuals who have worked towards and longed for this shift, or for a better world, or a different world, a snow storm has been created in this planet/ globe. And the whole planet will be affected, at some point or another, by this storm.

The nature of the storm, or the churning, as I see it, is this.

In almost every example, I see people becoming restless, people finally reaching the end of their threshold when it comes to how much they can tolerate with regards to how they are governed, asking perhaps whether they need to be governed (??!), looking around them and realizing perhaps that life is just too incredibly hard, that they have been lied to so much, that the values they uphold are perhaps not adequate anymore, that life isn’t working according to this old rule book that has been in place for so long and which they have been following religiously (no pun intended).

That perhaps there’s more to life than just accepting what they’re told – with what they’re being told is the definition of success. That even if they agree with the conventional definition of success, how on earth are they ever going to meet that definition with the numerous challenges that they face on a daily basis – if you’re not the right colour, then you’re too poor, if you’re too poor, then you’re marginalized, if you’re marginalized, you don’t even have the opportunity to pull your self out of your situation, because someone somewhere set the limit of your ceiling and made it almost impossible for you to burst through that ceiling. If you’re not poor, then you belong to the wrong religion. If you’re not from the right ‘Faith’, then you’re an infidel, a heretic, you don’t deserve beneficience even from Divinity. And on and on and around and around we go, in circle after circle.

Perhaps this churning is a result of multitudes hoping and wishing for a different world – of higher consciousness? And if what we are experiencing is the snowstorm in the globe, then the way I see it, is that what we do have control of, is how we choose to play out our roles during this churning. Do we contribute to the chaos, or are there other means of expressing ourselves during the chaos. Do we hold the space with our very firm intentions of how we want the final scene to look, and uphold and brace humanity during the chaos, through thought, action and deed, or do we allow ourselves to get lost in the chaos, and lose ourselves along the way.

Perhaps we cannot be responsible for bracing the entire planet’s churning. But consider this – what if where we are right now, is the exact place that we wish to be on a deeper level? What if, this is where we have chosen to be at this time, whichever region of the world that we may be in right now, because this is where we felt we could make the most difference. Where we are right now then, is our niche, so to speak – the area where we could influence the most, understand the most, be loyal to the most, and be the most effective in.

If that were the case, and if we are in exactly in the right place at the right time, WHAT WILL BE OUR CHOICES?

So it’s no wonder that people are standing up. It’s no wonder that people are choosing to take a stand. Maybe we shouldn’t be too quick to judge those who are resorting to violence because for them, right now, violence is the only means through which they see themselves as having the permission to express their indignation, and their sorrow, and grief, and frustration. It is said that there is no more sacred thing than human life – but what if you were one of those for whom human life has been an experience of the worst kind of misery and degradation – how could you possibly look at that and regard it as sacred? With no benchmark for sanctity, what could you possibly be limited by or hold such dear value for, if you have no mother, father, siblings, family, cultural or national identity, or a sense of belonging to either a community, country or society?

And who has done this? The rich to the poor? The government to its people? The foreigners to the nationals? One tribe to another? The men to the women? The Church to its flock?

How about we consider perhaps, that “I did this to You” – How about “ I did this to You when I acted mean-spiritedly to you, when I thought you were different to me, when I thought to choose pride, anger, jealousy, hatred, envy, insecurity, superiority, exclusivity, ignorance over camaraderie, generosity, kindness, patience, tolerance”.

The way I see it, we have at this time, a massive opportunity to stand up, take FULL RESPONSIBILITY for Who we are, Where we are, How we choose to Act, What we choose to Say, and What we choose to Think.

I read somewhere ‘Choose Change before Change Chooses You’. Change is happening, it always has, and it is said that change is the nature of the universe so change will always happen.

If we can recognize that we are now living in a time where we are increasingly affecting each other with everything we do, say or how we behave, that countries can no longer afford to operate as islands, that ignoring the needs of those around us will inevitably have repercussions on our own lifestyles and livelihoods, then we may not be as inclined to pursue exclusively individualistic aspirations. And perhaps our increasing ability to communicate with each other at the touch of a button is a reflection of how much closer we are to operating as a collective. That being the case, the opportunity that I see in front of us then, is one of taking collective responsibility.

Where collective responsibility has been applied, it has succeeded in bringing about positive change. To name a few current examples which do not even touch the tip of the iceberg - Kenya has a coalition government, the first on the continent; the ASEAN countries have successfully applied pressure to Burma, and aid is now being allowed in; America is participating in a process that is shattering stereotypes and traditional barriers and is inspiring to millions of people.

And how would we do this? Well, we can stand tall, fill up our lungs and send a message to the entire universe, and state with utmost clarity what it is we choose for our future. We can state our choices in no uncertain terms, and then accept nothing less.

And then, we can spring into action, and act out Who We Are. YOU decide who you are and what you stand for. YOU decide what it is you want to put out there everyday. YOU have an influence on every individual that you encounter, interact with, speak to, think about, work with, work for – every person that fills your gas tank, that packs your grocery bag, that you spend your work day with, that you meet in traffic, that you pass on the street , that you buy a sandwich from, that you ask to clean your house, that keeps your garden tidy, that you go out for a meal with.

You see, while you may not be able to change the world, you can certainly BE THAT CHANGE – Gandhi said Be the Change, Mother Teresa said do small things with Great Love. Why not start Now?

All my love,