When I first heard about the Charlie Hebdo attack, I immediately thought to myself — ” ugh, I’m so tired of all the bad news.”
And then I felt so ashamed. How horrible is it of me to say that I’m TIRED of merely acknowledging the atrocities that innocent people have to experience… that I’m exasperated at the distant stories of terror and suffering which people have to live through (if they’re lucky).
Oh, another plane down with over 100+ passengers gone? Malaysia wtf. How the hell do they keep losing huge pieces of airbone metal???
Oh, another group of students massacred in the #PeshawarAttack. What is it with extremists and using children? Inspired by Boko Haram?! (And I had written this days before last night’s tragedies…)
Oh, blast in Bangalore city? Only 1 person died, small amateur bomb. Let’s not get our panties in a bunch and over-panic because that’s what they want…don’t give in to what they want…
Oh, another gang-rape in India? Foolish tourist, running off with strangers because they can speak your language… (and that my friends is perpetuating rape culture).
Oh, another black man bites the dust.
I remember a time when things used to hit me. When I was that little naive, ignorant, bandwagon activist who wanted to change the world, and couldn’t sit through a documentary about the Nazi regime without being excused to go to the restroom where I just needed to cry. (Special shout-out to the classmate who noticed and followed me in… we sat on the floor and talked about the state of the world and I thought, wow, I’m not only one.)
Or when I couldn’t bear the guilt of learning about how my cellphone was contributing to conflict minerals and civil war. Attempting to hide my tears in the darkened lecture hall whilst watching the limbs of Congolese slaves maliciously cut by a machete.
When I thought to myself – “Maggie, these poor kids can’t learn without pencils and notebooks, do something damnit!” and ignorantly co-organized a school supplies drive to literally ship a box of crap to “Africa”. Did we even ask if they wanted colourful rulers and backpacks? Nope! #SWEDOW
University hit me like a brick and I was put in my place.
Forced to introspect and acknowledge an arrogant saviour complex, acknowledge that I really didn’t know shit.
Newly insecure but still fiercely determined to learn, I took on too much, became sad and useless. Burned out, and attempted to focus on this illusive ‘self-care’ and ‘self-love’ and ‘self-forgiveness’ which was really nothing but selfishness under the veil of a mental health break.
I always thought that I was just disappointed in myself for not having achieved the perfect balance of good grades, sparkling social life, and dedicated community service. But now that I reflect with a little more clear-mindedness, I think I had just given up.
Because being nominated for “most likely to build a school in Africa” (Need I get into the plethora of problems wrapped up in this ridiculous “award”?) or being told “You’re going to change the world someday!” is a whole lot of fucking pressure.
And despite having had the self-confidence and faith and martyr-like indignation to take it all on, when the ignorant bubble pops, and idealism fades…when all you breathe and learn are statistics of hunger and malnutiriton, war and systemic rape, ignorance, misogyny, terrorism, poverty, and my favourite development buzz-word NE-YO-LIBERALISM (!!) it’s easy to become overwhelmed. Overly critical. Angry with your younger self for even trying.
Under a facade of critical analysis, you’re able to point out all the structural-cultural-political-economic-systemic flaws to the point where every idea was at best futile, at worst harmful. I think that’s when I mentally collapsed. It all seemed so overwhelming. Impossible. Life no longer had a purpose. I no longer cared. I was just wasting space and taking up air.
Funny enough, what brought me back to life from this self-dug grave was the eternal wisdom from a man long gone…it literally changed my life.
I remember feverishly printing this out and posting it on my bedroom wall so I would be forced to read it every day.
“This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish selfish clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no ‘brief candle’ to me. It is sort of a splendid torch which I have a hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it over to future generations.” – Bernard Shaw
That line hit me…“being a force of nature instead of a selfish clod of ailments and grievances…” That was me! A selfish clod who only thought about how pointless it all was. How I wasn’t happy. How I was destined to fail my courses, fail at my job, fail at life, fail the little girl who once thought she could make a difference.
But I remember that moment, the little epiphany when I realized – Hey. Nope. Not letting this fire die out. Too much shit happening in this world… Can’t just stay in bed in bed forever and watch it pass.
So I put on some pants.
Decided to live for my community because it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can.
A few months later, landed in India.
Oh god, that little girl not more than 8 years old, holding a baby and tugging at my heartstrings. I bought all her flowers and stickers.
The old lady sitting on the footbridge. Used to give her money every day on my way to work.
Until I was told begging was illegal and they were all part of a cartel with the police.
Sad, but only conditioning. No one would choose to live like this if they had a genuine choice. They learned to hustle. To survive.
More heart strings tugged when an auto driver shared his story of how his two children had just passed, and he couldn’t afford his last remaining daughter’s tuition. He told me their names. Their age. Their favourite foods… Despite knowing the futility of a one-off hand-out, addressing the symptom and not the cause, I couldn’t resist but give him my crisp 500 bucks for the 2km ride… Friends said I was fooled but I didn’t really care. I’d rather be taken advantage of then not have helped someone who legitimately needed it because I was unfairly suspicious.
But now… I can feel it.
Slipping back into this narrow-minded workaholic silos. Becoming skeptical with the beggars on the street.
Shamefully annoyed when our maid asks for more money even though I’d like to give her more.
Pissed when an autowallah clearly tries to rip me off.
Angry with the news.
Apathetic with the world.
I think I need to put on some pants.
Here’s my belated new years resolution: Stop the twitter hashtag slacktivism, the overly critical, fear turned anger turned apathetic mentality.
And just DO something.
After this conference paper, mid-Feb.
Any ideas? Causes? Organizations?