“Look into their eyes and you’ll see that no one should have to die of hunger.”
I heard this while listening to a program on public radio the other night. The author of “Enough” was talking about world hunger. I was driving home from the grocery store, with a few items of food sitting on the seat beside me, and I suddenly felt so humbled, so grateful, and some other feeling I don’t know what to call it. A feeling of distance and sadness, perhaps it is a small sense of determination in the face of vast, vast problems, that I cannot solve on my own by simple virtue of my desire to. I cried a few tears, and wanted to cry more… maybe that sounds strange, but I wanted to mourn all those lives lost unnecessarily, all that suffering resulting from poor planning, lack of awareness, criminal neglect, and pure unmitigated self interest and corruption. I wanted to let go of the guilt I feel at having been born lucky, a feeling I think of as “survivor’s guilt.” I’m not righteous about this yet, just really feeling the sadness of that violence; structural violence. Structural violence just as deadly as a war. A war that has gone on for the last several decades taking millions each year.
He described the faces and bodies of some individuals among the millions suffering of starvation. Swollen bellies and swollen heads, emaciated limbs, tired eyes… perhaps we are tired of this story? Has it gone on too long? Do we think we can’t do anything about it anymore, has it become something we accept as an unchangeable reality? This is perhaps the most insidious ill effect of poorly crafted systems; people understand them to be unchangeable, though this is precisely where change absolutely must take place. Where even small changes can be the most effective.
This is what I am starting school to learn about. How do we craft systems to serve our purposes? How do we design systems that are sustainable from every perspective; from how their people are treated, to what impacts they have on the environment, to what part they play in the broader social milieu? The question is just as important to the small business as it is to a corporation, a nonprofit, a government agency, or something like the UN or the EU. And yet it is a question that calls on us to do more than fix each of these organizations and institutions individually. I think it calls on us to envision what we are collectively in the future; to expand our sense of responsibility to an enlightened sphere that includes us all. And importantly, to let go of what we believe the possibilities to be and to open to the possibility of a future better than what we can know. I’m serious. This is absolutely what we are all called on to do, as soon as we can get there. If you feel resistance at the thought of this, that is exactly what has prevented us from transcending these simple problems in the past. And that is exactly why we must now.
With the world hunger situation, how do we look at what our goals are, what we’ve been doing, and what are failures have been, and use this information to create a new system that functions? and what happens when the confluence of interests muddles the choice of a clear aim? One of my first classes is Dealing with Complexity: The Foundations of Systems Thinking. I’m looking forward to that. But knowledge must come with the courage to use vision as a guide.
There have been thousands who had the courage to live their vision. Think about all the people who took part in the struggle for civil rights in this country, those who envisioned universal human rights early in the 20th century, Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, the list goes on. But each of these people who we look up to who changed the world sent us a message. They wanted us to know that they were human, that the possibility to create great change exists inside each of us. Why haven’t we heard that and let it go to our hearts?
If we believe in the work that these elders and ancestors did, we have an obligation to think about how we in our own ways can continue it. I think many of us have lacked the courage to pursue our vision with faith and confidence. I think most of us do have a vision of a different future. We may feel that world peace isn’t possible, but who hasn’t on some level just… longed for it. Our longing is our hearts vision. Our resistance to believing in it is the tyranny of our minds and the fear that our hearts won’t be strong enough to face the disappointment of the world as it is.
But Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King and Mohandas Gandhi said anyone can do it. Somehow I feel that vision, and the courage to walk towards it, is why we are here. In walking with faith we transcend whatever our “abilities” were. In acknowledging doubt but not choosing to let it shut down options we dissolve the obstacles blocking the path. Say yes. Try and fail and try again, but try.
Whatever your path is, this is true. Deepak Chopra said “Let us not demand of ourselves that we alone must be the agent of change. In a fire brigade everyone passes along a bucket, but only the last person puts out the fire. None of us know where we stand in line. We may be here simply to pass a bucket; we may be called on to play a major role. In either case, all we can do is think, act, and say. Let us direct our thoughts, words, and actions to peace. That is all we can do. Let the results be what they will be.”
I think the image of the fire brigade is very helpful. That line of people also stretches back in time, and we may not even live to see the fire put out (in many cases we certainly won’t). But the point is that by thinking, acting and speaking as though we know we are in a line that is putting out the fires of the present and the future, we contribute. He says that is all we can do, and I add, but that is what we must do. We must learn to think, act and speak towards the future we believe in. That is our duty in the fire brigade. And in that courageous act of faith is the promise of our vision.