My neighbour, Lawrie, budding political activist and environmentalist, protested at the recent APEC summit in Sydney. His was an anti-Bush, stop global warming platform, a peaceful protest that at the time he felt was worthwhile. Now he is not so sure. Recent news reports from around the world have left him reeling. Monks being brutalised in Myanmar, children dying in Darfur, and closer to home, the unenthusiastic response by the Australian government to the proposal to build a wind farm in outback NSW, and Tim Flannery’s recent report that greenhouse gases are at a higher and more alarming level than expected.
As Lawrie enters adulthood he is having to face what we have all had to face as we go through that door that leaves childhood behind forever – the realisation that the world can be grim, bleak, brutal and unforgiving. All at once. We put our ears to the ground, hoping to hear the cavalry, but all we hear is a collective moan of anguish.
“I’m frightened that what I’m doing is a waste of time, that what I’m doing won’t make a difference,” says Lawrie. “My Mum says that being too idealistic means setting yourself up for disappointment. She says the big corporations control the world now and that one person can’t really make a difference. She says if big business and government can’t make a buck from things like wind farms then they won’t back them. She says that what is wrong with the world is that the people with all the money control everything. The small person doesn’t get a look in. I’m frightened she is right.”
I think Lawrie is more frustrated than fearful. He is beginning to learn that with regard to the big issues in life each step forward means two steps back; that capitalism is in fact, a dirty word, and should be banned along with G-strings worn with low-rise jeans (you know what I’m saying,) mobile phones on public transport, and heiresses with record deals.
Getting off the point slightly – I classify myself as a professional eavesdropper. You wouldn’t believe the conversations I have been privy to…. Anyway, on the bus the other day, I overheard the conversation I have been waiting for. It went something like this.
Boy on bus wearing a very smart dark blue pinstripe suit with white shirt and striped tie. (What a smart looking young man, I thought. I bet he has the girls falling all over him.) “I think we should try it apart for a while,” he said. “It’s not you, it’s me.” EUREKA. People actually say that! I thought it was an invention of Jerry Seinfeld’s or the writers from Sex and the City. You don’t know how long I have been waiting to hear it in the real world. It’s fantastic!
Back to Lawrie, despondent over his green tea. I decided to hit him with an Oprah moment. “One person can make a difference, you know,” I said. “If we all believed it was pointless, nothing would get done.” I’m not being facetious, I do believe that. I am inspired every day by people I truly admire – Zac Goldsmith, Richard Dawkins, Bono, the Dalai Lama, Helen Caldicott, Fred Hollows, Martin Green (Australian solar energy scientist,) my neighbour three doors down who ripped up the imported Italian terracotta tiles and outdoor spa in her garden to install two water tanks, a vegetable garden and several compost bins. “Every little bit helps,” is what she believes. I believe that too. I have hope. I have faith. But sometimes with all the filibustering from the powers that be I get sick of it. I feel we are wasting too much time debating the issues and not enough time actively doing something.
“Accept that at times you’re going to get fed up,” I said to Lawrie. “But don’t give up. The world needs people like you, and less idealistically, people like me need people like you. I need to know that the generation coming up behind me actually gives a damn about what’s going on instead of being obsessed with ringtones, hip hop, My Space, binge drinking, brainless celebrities, hair extensions and spending their parents money.”
Sometimes all you want to do is hold your head in your hands. Sometimes all you want to do is throw your arms wide and rejoice. Life has a funny way of keeping you on your toes, and of dredging up grains of hope unexpectedly. It’s only natural to be afraid, Lawrie. It’s only natural to occasionally feel your efforts are futile, but you mustn’t give up. You have to feel the fear and do it anyway.
I would like to finish with a quote by Richard Dawkins, scientist, humanist, which appeared in Zoe Sallis’ wonderful book Ten Eternal Questions. Wisdom, Insight & Reflection For Life’s Journey (Duncan Baird Publishers, London, 2005.)
The question was – What advice or words of wisdom would you like to pass on to those close to you?
Richard Dawkins replied –
” I would like to say to people you are fantastically privileged to be alive. Make use of the eyes that you have been given, the ears that you have been given, the brain that you have been given, the hands that you have been given, to discover, to apprehend, to understand as much as you possibly can before you die; about why you were ever born in the first place and about the place in which you find yourself. And while you are here, do all in your power to leave the world a better place than you found it.”
I agree wholeheartedly, Mr. Dawkins.