Wednesday, 30 May 2007

Not the Usual Fare

I know most of you come here for tales of Moroccan life; hopefully I make some of you laugh, and perhaps think. Even if you are only here for the pictures, I appreciate your time. Today I have to write about something more serious, and I hope it will make you think. If you are a first time visitor and you came for the laughs, bear with me or flip down quickly to the past posts.

Each and every one of us can make a difference in the world. Each and every one of us can stick our necks out for someone else, for a principle, for a truth, for compassion. The proven scientific laws of physics say we affect the universe just by being in it. It is not a philosophic truth but one of hard science. We each decide every day what effect we will have.

I watched a movie last night “Freedom Writers” starring and produced by Hilary Swank. Powerful. I wish I knew a bigger word. I picked it up by accident? No, I don’t believe that. I think the universe pushes together the people and circumstances that have business to be done. Not destiny, I don’t think our lives are preordained. I think we have choices. Now I admit to the possibility it could be sheer hubris that leads me to this conclusion, the desire to control my own fate. I could be wrong. I’ve been wrong before. I didn’t like it, but I didn’t die from it either.

This movie is the true story of a teacher, her students, and the difference she made in their lives. Anyone who comes here at all often knows I hold teachers in high regard. Aristotle taught Plato. Plato taught Alexander. Alexander conquered the known world. That’s the power of a teacher. Parents are teachers they have that same power.


Erin Gruwell was a new teacher in Long Beach, U.S. The school was as bad as any prison with gangs, guns, and lack of hope. This woman made a difference. One person affected the lives of so many. Please, if you can, find this movie and watch it. I warn my friends whom I know have soft hearts, take your tissues. Easy chaps this is NOT a chick flick, not that there’s anything wrong with that, but this is not of that genre.

We who have known freedom for all of our lives, I don’t think we can know the mind of someone who has known oppression for all their lives. We can have compassion, we can have understanding and hope, but we cannot truly know that state of mind. What is it like to be condemned by the color of your skin, or the borders drawn on a map? We can’t know the terror, the constant apprehension of living with a gun to your head, be it in the ghettos of America or Afghanistan. I have been to a couple of war zones, but I knew I would be leaving. The desperation that must come when you know you can’t leave; you can’t get your children to a better, safe life.
The death of hope is by far worse than the physical death of the body.

I am fortunate and cursed in that I have seen true poverty, which is not a lack of money but a lack of hope. I have seen violence and death up close. I have lost people I loved to bullets fired in hate, and I tell you we can make a difference. I don’t know the why of it but if you read history, if you read the paper, you find people who came from the worst circumstances and made a positive impact on the world. Names that come prominently to mind are Maya Angelou, Oprah Winfrey, Aung San Suu Kyi, and Steve Biko. There are others, many who did not achieve fame.

There’s one thing about violent death you don’t see on the cinema screen, you can’t get from a book, and that’s the smell. Like cold metal shoved hard into the back of your mouth until you gag with the taste of it; like Christmas morning turned to murder. You never forget that smell. Some of our neighbors live with that every day. Our neighbors, yours and mine, because in our world of internet and jet travel and smuggled arms, Baghdad is next to London and Kabul is rubbing up against New York City.

I think every hungry child is our responsibility. We can’t feed them all no, but perhaps one? One of the best charities I know is Heifer International. They take a goat, rabbits, or a cow to a village and require that the offspring must be given to another family. Through this action an entire village can be saved. It is truly a small act that makes a huge impact. It’s what is needed, small steps that can be repeated. I rail against the grandiose plans with great war chest to end the poverty of the world. I admire the intent. I admire the actions taken to raise the money, but the real work is at the bottom of the ladder. We have to be as particular about where we give our money as we are about how much we give.


I love what His Holiness calls it – benevolent selfishness because no good act goes unrewarded. I think of Debio’s care of the young man who works for her and the hundreds of good deeds you have all done and it gives me hope. Look around, our world is in chaos. It is not acceptable to have starving children. It is not acceptable to have weapons in the hands of child soldiers. It is not acceptable to have young men and women dying in uniforms for petrol. It is not acceptable to do nothing.

All of you give me hope. I’m amazed at the compassion, care, humor and talent that are out there every day. I am asking that each of us be aware, every day of every action we take. A word spoken in anger to a parking attendant can do more harm than we know, what effect would a kind word have instead? When the cab driver doesn’t speak our language, we need to remember he may be fluent in several others. What is his history? Was he a professor who is escaping persecution? When the pushy woman breaks the queue perhaps it is a mass of years of being pushed aside herself. I choose to believe that inside each of us is a Buddha heart of pure goodness – by any other name – soul, conscience, spirit. We can become overwhelmed by acts of cruelty or neglect but that core of goodness is there. If we can remember that and see it in others before passing judgment what would happen?

Every day, every one of us can make a positive difference in the world. It is a big responsibility isn’t it? We can affect world politics with our votes, our letters, and our protests. We can eliminate world hunger by taking a small step to make a difference – multiply that by billons and Bob’s your uncle. We can change a life with a kind word or act. These are real concrete actions not some philosophical meanderings.

All right I’m done now. Thank you.

41 comments:

Omega Mum said...

Tough stuff. There's a book recently out called 'The Lucifer effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil' by Philip Zimbardo. Unfortunately hardback only. Its premise is that it's not the bad apples that cause the problem - but the barrel being bad i.e. people are good or bad according to the circumstances in which they're placed. What it does show is how hard it can be to be 'good' - and how easy to go with the flow...

lady macleod said...

I'm putting that on my list of books to get. Thank you for the tip, and thank you for coming by.

jenny said...

I agrree whole-heartedly with what you said, Lady M. I often feel that we could do more instead of people turning a blind eye to events around them. When I lived in DC, and see the homeless people on the streets, it was hard for me to accept. But people around me would scoff and say it's all an act. They go home to BMWs at night. How wrong they were! On the coldest of nights, some of these homeless people froze to death because they had no where to go. I believe in giving people the benefit of the doubt, to never react with mean words, and to smile always. Sometimes, a smile is all it takes to make someone feel better.

Thank you for this post, I hope it will stir up some emotions in everyone that reads this.

Butrfly4404 said...

First, I have to say: That beautiful little girl on your sidebar - I wondered the last time I was here if you knew her personally. I was also checking my Yahoo at the moment I came here to comment and saw her name - her parents are meeting the Pope. You were just talking of circumstances and that seemed very...I dont' know...your page is the only place I'd heard of her before. (Though googling her, I can't believe I hadn't.)

I completely agree with your post. I wish more people realized the kind of power they hold. Something as simple as a smile or as powerful as empathy and giving. Big or small, we all have the ability to change the world.

Beautiful post!

scarlettscion said...

I do find the "white teacher comes in and gives the poor black masses hope through her tireless efforts" theme a little frustrating. Eminem is helpful here (probably the only time)..one of his songs says:
"Cuz man, these God damn food stamps don't buy diapers/
And it's no movie, there's no Mekhi Phifer, this is my life "
--reference to the movie Dangerous Minds with Michelle Pfiffer. Same theme. There is almost never a success story like you see in the movies, and the idea that when it does happen it's because a white suburban chick taught poor black kids how to love poetry seems sort of disingenuous. The system of educating our poor is broken, and until we fix that, all the fresh-faced Teach for America 22-year olds in the world won't change it.

lady macleod said...

jenny

Thank you and thank you for doing your bit to make the world a better place.
Thank you for coming by.

lady macleod said...

Butrfly4404

I thank you for the kind words and your support. It is our power to use isn't it?
Thank you for coming by.

lady macleod said...

scarlettscion

I don't think by any means it is always a white suburban chick.. I disagree, I think an individual can make a difference. If the education system is broken and no one starts the process it will never be fixed eh? You can start from the top but without supporting the people doing the actual work nothing will get done. the movie i mentioned is a real story - so it did happen. Thank you for taking the time to voice your opinion. I could be wrong.
Thank you for coming by.

BOSSY said...

And here Bossy thought it was her day off. Rats.
Excellent post - and true.

Brillig said...

Wonderful post. We really do have the power to make a difference. I can't help everyone, but I can't help SOMEONE. Thanks for the ideas, and the incredibly thought-provoking writing.

scarlettscion said...

I don't mean *you* always thing it plays out that particular theme; there is however an undeniable trend of that theme in the media. I've seen or heard of many more white girl helps black children movies than, say, black woman helps poor black community movies. I know this film is a 'inspired by true events' film, I did go look at the website, etc. However my point is that a) the general theme in the media is both annoying and troubling and b) while an individual can make a difference on the small scale, the sense I have from speaking to people who have worked in inner city school is that it is really a Sisyphean effort without support and overhaul of the flawed structure itself.

scarlettscion said...

think, not "thing," it won't let me edit my comments...

lady macleod said...

Bossy

Thank you and thank you for coming by.


brillig

"we can't help everyone but we can help someone" Brilliant, wish I'd said that. thank you for coming over.

lady macleod said...

scarlettscion

I think you are exactly right. What we need now is someone in the bureaucracy to get things moving. As this is your area, I trust your evaluation of the situation. I still feel it is crucial to have that one person firmly behind it, to push the initiative through to the end.

wakeupandsmellthecoffee said...

Have you seen the film Pay It Forward? Though a bit Hollywoodized, it's a brilliant idea. One person does a good deed for one person. That person does a good deed for another person. And so on and so on. Pay it forward. We all could do that.

The Good Woman said...

It is so easy to feel overwhelmed by the extent of poverty and hardship in the world..... and then do nothing.

lady macleod said...

WUASTC

like ripples in a still pond. Brilliant! and it DOES WORK. Imagine the possibilities.
Thank you for coming by.

lady macleod said...

good woman,

Oh how true! and feel frustrated as well. that's why I was so pleased to have found Heifer Project. It is so simple and has life altering effects that will also give hope to the next generation. I think we can take the small steps and it will work. Not taking our anger out on the wrong target ( the chap in customer service when our internet is down et al)is a tremendous positive action I think. you have a small child and a family, it is not practical for you to pack up and go to the Atlas Mountains, or Tibet. IF your posts are any indication, I think you perform these acts of kindness every day.

james higham said...

...I think the universe pushes together the people and circumstances that have business to be done. Not destiny, I don’t think our lives are preordained. I think we have choices...

I agree. Douglas Adams wrote facetiously but truly of the "fundamental interconnectedness of all things" and I'd agree.

I don't believe it's random that things occur. Agatha Christie also had something on this.

I'm going to post on this and on your article tomorrow morning, Lady MacLeod.

lady macleod said...

james,

high praise indeed. i thank you.
Yes everything connected - chaos theory. If only we could sell it to the majority - you couldn't kill another person if he/she were part of you, genetically speaking.
again i thank you for the kind words, and for coming by.

mutterings and meanderings said...

I think you are a really good woman... and you write beautifully...

Shauna said...

Great post. The smallest gesture can mean a lot.

elleeseymour said...

I also agree that we should make a difference. I can't imagine anything more pointless than just existing and not leaving some kind of legacy behind.It sound slike you have had a very interesting life.

lady macleod said...

M&M

those are words that touch my heart, thank you. Thank you for that consideration. And thank you for coming by.

lady macleod said...

shauna

thank you. Yes it can, glad you are coming along with me on that!
Thank you for coming by.

lady macleod said...

elleeseymour

Yes it has been interesting! Let's just say I have no idea how to project the emotion of boredom.
Thank you for coming by.

Mama Zen said...

A thought provoking post and a great reminder that if we all wait for "someone else" to do something, then nothing ever will be done. Also, a great reminder that you don't have to be capable of making a grand gesture; just do what you can.

I really enjoyed reading this.

lady macleod said...

mama zen

I am pleased you liked the post and I fulfilled my intent of making you give the issues some thought.
Thank you for coming by.

Sparx said...

Yes, 'tis a great post indeed and very true.

I also have a ripple theory on this. If you are nice to someone by smiling or doing something for them, it lifts their spirits and makes them happier meaning they are more likely to be nice to the people they encounter afterwards and so forth. If you are horrible to someone, they'll be upset and be more likely to upset someone else and so on.

I really believe this is true and that one person smiling on the tube can make hundreds of people happier just via the ripple effect.

It's difficult though, particularly for an cynical old misanthrope like myself...

lady macleod said...

sparx

Yes! exactly as you said. Now picture a world where that is how the majority works...
thank you for coming by.

Life As I Know It said...

Great post. Thanks for the reminder and wake up call we all need from time to time.

We watched Freedom Writers last weekend. Wonderful movie.

Andres Carl Sena said...

bravo, i can say no more now, i need to think a bit.i will return. thank you

darth sardonic said...

infuckingcredible, and despite my apparent jaded view in my blog, i also believe this 100%. i believe it says "bucket of contradictions" in my about me...
keep up the good work.

darth sardonic said...

just read the rest of the comments, scarlettscion, you should check out snuffleupagus' blog. not to sound preachy or anything, cause fuck knows i am in no position for that.

pluto said...

This is a really affecting piece. And it's great to be reminded of our power (and duty) to affect the world by simple everyday kindnesses.

(And after reading this I want to see that film.)

lady macleod said...

life as i know it

Thank you. I am glad to hear the film is "out there". Thank you for coming by.


andres carl sena

thank you and thank you for coming.
later then...


darth,

I have no doubt you believe this 100%. thank you for the kind words and thank you for coming by

debio said...

I so agree with what you say re we can feel compassion but we are not actually experiencing their lives (clumsily paraphrased).
Daily I witness the labour workers being buss'd around - herded about as just another commodity. In their eyes you see the stress of imprisonment, the hopelessness, and the acceptance that this is all life has to offer them.
I try not to let my frustration show when working with people not from my culture - I try to remember that I am probably not making myself understood - I try to understand that I frighten them as the consequences of upsetting me are, for them, too easy for them to imagine and, for me, unimaginable.
Such good writing, Lady M, I'm going to print off and read to my daughter.
Thank you.

lady macleod said...

debio

Thank you, I can't think of a higher compliment.
Thank you for coming by.

jmb said...

What a thoughtful post Lady Mac, I can't think of a thing to say that you haven't already said and very well indeed.
regards
jmb

Livvy U. said...

Hello Lady M., I'm glad I came to visit. Read several posts but wanted to leave a comment here on this one because it shouts from the page. What a power for the good the internet can be/is - and how it is sometimes abused. I'm struck by how many people can be touched and changed by good, strong writing such as this, written from the heart. Good to find you.
Livvy

jmb said...

I came to leave congratulations on coming second in one of the Blogpower awards.
Then I am confronted by this post which is absolutely stunning. You have made your points brilliantly and certainly moved this reader. I have tried to live like this on the whole because I am overwhelmed by the "big picture". This reinforces the belief that even a little bit helps.

This is such a good post and you are such an eloquent writer. Well done. And look at the comments it generated. You can be very proud.
regards
jmb