Stand up and be counted

Reading the book that’s currently on my bookshelf, Shake Hands with the Devil by Romeo Dallaire, I have been thinking about all the little things that we do, or don’t do, and how those choices shape the world. At first I was feeling quite despondent, probably as a result of how hard the author had to fight to get anyone to pay attention to the genocide taking place in Rwanda. I can read the book now but all those people died in the interim and we can’t bring them back. I’ve been noticing how helpless many of us are feeling just now, about everything from local traffic flow to global warming, and wondering what the solution is.

In my typical fashion, I am reading several books at once and one of them, already mentioned here, is It’s the Thought that Counts by David R. Hamilton PhD. He and many others suggest that we actually create our reality through what we think. If I were to apply that concept to empowering myself as well as to the daunting things like global change, then I imagine that the big changes in the world can only come about through increased individual empowerment. Waiting for an existing ‘powerful’ organization to do something about these changes doesn’t seem to be doing it.

You and I feel more empowered when we think differently about ourselves and our impact on our world – when we believe we make a difference. I think that self esteem is really at the root of self empowerment. If I don’t think I’m worth anything, then I certainly won’t believe that I can have any impact on my fellow human beings, never mind on the planet. If, as I also believe, we are all connected in a giant and elegant web of energy, including thoughts, and if I feel better about myself and as a result I believe that what I think matters, I am more likely to call my local member of parliament and express my views.

I could even start with something smaller than that: I could start by acting as though I matter. That would mean that by riding my bicycle to the park instead of taking the car, I do make a difference. Maybe I won’t make that much of an impact all by myself but a million of us making one choice like that a month – that makes a difference. And it’s only ONE choice.

I don’t mean my blog today to be about ecology, although it’s a worthy topic. I’m really trying to say that we need to get out of the ‘who, little ol’ me?’ syndrome. If I matter, then one person’s life lost in Rwanda matters too. If I have the right to speak up and voice my opinion at a dinner party, then I also have the right to speak up at a local community meeting. Voices in chorus are easier to hear but we can’t have a chorus if everyone is afraid they can’t sing.

I watched an interesting documentary on television the other night about a micro-lending scheme run by an enterprising young couple in San Francisco, www.kiva.org. They have made contacts in a community in an African nation. With a representative there, they were able to set up a system whereby people in the vilage who need money to start or grow their business, can present their need/proposal to a committee of their peers sitting in the shade under a tree.

The whole business community of the village gather to vote on whose proposals are deserving of funding. The details of the successful requests are then posted on a web site administered from San Francisco. The next stage involves interested lenders in the so-called first world who have a few dollars they would like to use to finance one of the African community members. They can browse all the proposals and then make one or more contributions to projects they deem to be worthwhile. When one lender, or in some cases several lenders, have fully funded a project, the borrower is informed and the money is forwarded to the rep who puts the cash into the hands of the borrower.

The lenders see an on-line photograph of the borrower and their project. They can follow the borrower’s progress and are eventually paid back according to their repayment agreement. So far, at the time of the documentary going to air, there had been 100% repayment. There are many advantages to their system but I was captivated by the personal connection and immediacy of it.

You don’t need to be a multi-millionaire to help someone on the other side of the world and you get a sense of personal satisfaction, of empowerment, when you can make a real difference in the life of another human being. There is no middle person to take a cut. The full amount goes exactly where you thought it would and then multiplies around the community.

I don’t really know why we have to go halfway around the world to do this, except that less money goes further there. But I’m sure there are plenty of opportunities for this sort of enterprising aid right in our own backyard. Helping someone who needs it opens the heart and makes us feel needed. We matter. We are in touch with our own humanity.

Tom Friedman who writes for the New York Times said in his new book that he believes that Americans won’t begin to make progress in their challenge to become more ecologically proactive until the government legislates a tax/cost for carbon emissions. He believes that Americans will only act in their own self-interest, which is measured by the impact on their wallets. The micro-lending project would suggest otherwise.

I was once ‘accused’ of being too altruistic but I have always felt that there are some things we should be do just because they are right. I don’t believe that the whole world operates on nothing but the profit motive, as much as some would like us to believe this to be so. Some people, many more than we might think, have been sitting at home and quietly wondering why we keep doing what we have always done, even when we can see that we’re heading for a train wreck. Perhaps they feel so disempowered that they don’t believe that their voice would be heard if they spoke up.

If I matter, I have to sing my own song and hope there are others who will join in. What makes you feel strongly enough to stand up and be counted?

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