Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Either I do it or it won't get done

I don't know whether the universe conspires to send us messages when we're ready for them or if they're always there and we just notice them when we're ready. All I know is that over the last couple of weeks I've been hearing something that seems to be coming through loud and clear. So I think its time to pay attention.

The message I've been hearing is captured by the title of this diary...either I do it or it won't get done.

This first came through a couple of weeks ago when I had the privilege of attending a speech by Geoffrey Canada, founder of The Harlem Children's Zone. In case you haven't heard of this initiative, 20 years ago Canada took on 100 blocks of Harlem and made the commitment that he and those he worked with would "do whatever it takes" to help the children in that area grow up healthy and strong. His work has been so acclaimed that communities all over the country are trying to replicate it and Obama has promised to include funding for such initiatives as part of his urban agenda.

Having heard Canada in person before and seen him interviewed on TV, I knew we'd walk away from his presentation both challenged and fired up. He did not disappoint. His speech was rebroadcast yesterday on Minnesota Public Radio so you can go listen to the whole thing if you'd like.

But he started off with a challenge that stuck with me. He said that just as most in this country ignored the few economists who warned us of a coming economic crisis, he feels that no one is listening when he tries to warn us about a crisis with our children. Our policies have been consistent over time..."Don't educate them early - lock them up later." And as we continue those policies, we're not only letting the children down, but we're also bankrupting ourselves and heading towards becoming a second-rate nation.

Canada went on to say that these policies continue because we tend to sit back and think that someone "in charge" has the answers and wait for them to fix it.

If you care about our children - you're going to have to save them. Either you do it or it won't get done.

The second way this message came through for me recently was thanks to a diary by Inky99 where he linked to an article by Derrick Jensen titled Beyond Hope. Jensen uses the word "hope" in a more specific way than some of us might.

I’m not, for example, going to say I hope I eat something tomorrow. I just will. I don’t hope I take another breath right now, nor that I finish writing this sentence. I just do them. On the other hand, I do hope that the next time I get on a plane, it doesn’t crash. To hope for some result means you have given up any agency concerning it.<....>

When we realize the degree of agency we actually do have, we no longer have to “hope” at all. We simply do the work.<...>

When we stop hoping for external assistance, when we stop hoping that the awful situation we’re in will somehow resolve itself, when we stop hoping the situation will somehow not get worse, then we are finally free—truly free—to honestly start working to resolve it. I would say that when hope dies, action begins.

This seemed to fit so well with what I had been left pondering from Canada's speech...the end of waiting for someone else or something else to fix things. But Jensen takes it even further. He talks about what happens inside of us when we let that kind of hope die.

When you give up on hope, something even better happens than it not killing you, which is that in some sense it does kill you. You die. And there’s a wonderful thing about being dead, which is that they—those in power—cannot really touch you anymore...You come to realize that when hope died, the you who died with the hope was not you, but was the you who depended on those who exploit you, the you who believed that those who exploit you will somehow stop on their own, the you who believed in the mythologies propagated by those who exploit you in order to facilitate that exploitation.<...>

And who is left when that you dies? You are left. Animal you. Naked you. Vulnerable (and invulnerable) you. Mortal you. Survivor you. The you who thinks not what the culture taught you to think but what you think. The you who feels not what the culture taught you to feel but what you feel. The you who is not who the culture taught you to be but who you are.<...>

When you give up on hope, you turn away from fear.

And when you quit relying on hope, and instead begin to protect the people, things, and places you love, you become very dangerous indeed to those in power.

In case you’re wondering, that’s a very good thing.

I know that some might have problems with how Jensen has used the word hope - I know that I did. But it made me think...and that's a good thing. I'll still continue to be hopeful that we can do things like create a world that works for all of our children. But the truth is... either I do it or it won't get done.

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