The book “I Just Want To Make A Difference” was launched
at the Dirrum Festival 2020 CBR.
I spoke rather than read my short talk. This was the text for that talk.
Of all the kindly voices that might speak well of this book,
the voices I treasure most
are those from students –
the young hearts and minds who engage with this text –
especially those from within a classroom.
These are the voices with the greatest authority.
The book ‘I just want to make a difference’ is not an easy read.
It is not so much a book about ideas.
It’s a mirror written in stories
that by seeing ourselves more clearly,
we might be in the world in a particular way;
a way that brings light and life.
So let’s cut to the chase: how do we make a difference?
This is my answer.
That is it.
And after you notice
you ask a question.
A good question. Sometimes maybe even the right question.
And then you follow where the question leads.
That might sound overly simplistic, but it need not be any more complicated.
But there is a catch. This simple path from noticing to acting is full of traps, obstacles and false turns.
Unless you have your schtoof together, you won’t notice.
And if you can’t notice then you won’t ask a question, let alone the right question,
nor will you have the capacity or courage to follow where the question leads.
Getting your schtoof together
Getting your schtoof together is a lifetime’s journey. I am still working on mine and I am eternally grateful for the household I belong to for their loving, firm correction.
Getting your schtoof together has lots of names.
Jordan Peterson: get your house in order before challenging what lies beyond it.
Jesus: comically, says ‘get the flogging great big log out of your own eye before you have a crack at the speck in another’.
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi: whatever is the change you wish to see in the world, start where you are and be it.
Stories about the schtoof
If you have a semblance of your schtoof together, you will notice that one of the most profound questions is the most common:
How are you going?
But if you haven’t got your schtoof together, you might not notice it is an invitation as well as a greeting. If your schtoof is anywhere near together, you will be able to notice when the one you are greeting is not ok, and your attentive presence allows a more honest answer, a response that is more involved than the cover-all reply ‘I’m fine’.
Seven year old Chelsea lived with her family for a while in Qatar. She noticed that she was jumping into a seven seater 4WD with her father while near by a bus was crammed beyond full with weary brown people. Seven year old Chelsea ask her father, “Why? Is it about colour?”
Seventeen year old Chelsea is here tonight, and while she has not got all her schtoof together, listening to her these last few days, and that she voicing again that same question, would suggest that she is ready now to follow where that profound question would lead.
We can assume teenage Greta was in a science classroom, engaging a methodology that had proposed one hundred and thirty years ago what we are now seeing: burn stuff and gases go up into the air. And just because you can’t see them doesn’t mean it’s not happening. It is quick maths and simple physics, more atmospheric carbon means greater heat trapping means increased temperatures. Left unchecked, this means systemic and catastrophic climate change.
That fifteen year old Greta noticed enough to ask a question, “what do we do with what we know?” Which led to “Why aren’t we doing what we can?” Greta annoys people, and it is partly because her schtoof is sufficiently together to follow where those questions led, which was initially, simply, persistently, a solo Friday protest.
You might notice that it is hard to wear a mask all the time, and lock down and isolation is restrictive and really challenging. And if you notice that, have you noticed that there are hundreds of people, directly under Australia’s care, now in their 8th year of indefinite detention, with limited or no access to family, health, education or hope. And if you noticed that, you might ask, ‘why?’ How is it that some people are treated abominably, on purpose? How is it that human rights apply to most, but for some, they are actively discarded?
You might notice that prior to colonisation, this land was not empty. It was inhabited, not by one, but by hundreds of nations, who have lived, co-existed and thrived for tens of thousands of years. This land has always been multi-cultural, with hundreds of languages, cultures and lore. You might notice that now, Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander youth ‘languish in detention in obscene numbers’ and black deaths in custody is outrageously high. If we noticed this, we might then ask some questions like, “why? What can we do about the ‘torment of powerlessness’?”
If we have our schtoof together, we may be able to notice that many of us, maybe all of us, come from a place of privilege. And in noticing this, what is the next question? It could simply be, so how are we to live?
Whatever is the response to this question about privilege, the answer has a context.
The context for living
There is a little COVID bug that has made this context very clear. For something that is 10 000 times smaller than a grain of salt, something that is technically barely living and is just a parcel of fragments of DNA, everything has changed. It was always so, but COVID has made it visible: every everything everything is connected.
Life is relational.
Reality is relational.
Health – all relational.
Freedom – all relational.
And privilege is relational.
How we move from our privilege, is always in the context of others, the poor, the planet, justice and fairness.
About four years ago I met a young woman at a conference. Her presentation was about her volunteer work in Cambodia. She spoke with great passion and empathy. She was working on a road building project in a remote community. It raised the usual questions:
What previous experience did she have in road building?
Are there not people in Cambodia, in that community even, capable of unskilled labour?
Did the force for change need to come from outside the community?
What organisation facilitated the journey and how do they make money?
And specifically for the young person, “if you went to Cambodia but were not allowed to be ‘useful’, would you go and what would you do?”
I didn’t get very far with my questions. Very quickly she became defensive, and put up what is commonly heard: ‘I just want to make a difference!’
There has to be a way that we can take the energy and empathy of young hearts and minds and set them out into the world for a lifetime of working for a greater and common good, free of the traps and pitfalls that came from anything whose first three words are:
‘I JUST WANT’.
Not long after I sat in a café with artist Franki Sparke, whose remarkable artwork brings the book alive. I told her the Cambodia road building story and she looked at me and said: “so write a book”. So I did. With lots and lots of help.
To you mighty young hearts and minds,
You do not have to wait,
to grow up or finish school or get a job.
You can go about it now.
You can have your
sufficiently together to
and if you notice,
you can ask a question, a good question;
and there with courage and whatever capacity you have,
you can dare and follow where that question leads.
This is how anything, anywhere, has ever changed for the good of the earth and children yet unborn.
And if this little book has made a contribution to that journey?
Well, how privileged am I!