I have a problem…

I do loads of public speaking and one of my standard opening stories goes something like this: 

I was having a conversation with [insert name] the other day.  As part of our discussion I asked what they considered to be the two greatest problems in the world today. After some thought, [insert name] shrugged their shoulders and said: “I don’t know and I don’t care.”  My reply goes “You’re right! Ignorance and indifference are the two greatest problems in our world today.

Now in the context of speaking I always ham it up, frequently pick on someone in the audience, usually a leader, and make it clearly obvious that the audience knows all too well that said leader would never actually respond that way.  It gets people thinking, and it gets the point across.  There are times, things, world events and relationships in life, we’d simply prefer not to know about, not have to deal with and certainly do not want to be held responsible for.

As I write this blog I find myself reflecting on current world events; some have ‘celebrated’ the centennial milestone of WW1; the bombing of the civilian MH-17 flight and escalating conversation between Russia and everyone else; civilian casualties in the perpetual conflict between Israel and Gaza; execution of Christians in Iraq by ISIS and so we can go on.  Will there ever be a time in our world when peace triumphs, when humanity truly respects humanity? To be honest it’s a bit overwhelming and I know there are times I don’t want to know and I don’t want to care.  

But I have a problem…I know too much, so I cannot plead ignorance.  I’ve travelled to the Middle East, sat with underground Christians persecuted because of the faith they hold, I’ve been to developing countries and seen firsthand the brutality of human trafficking and I’ve worked in environments where I’ve heard personal stories and know the global statistics of those in child labour, bonded labour and those exploited for personal profit and political power.  I know that my consumer choices about simple essentials like chocolate, caffeine and clothing makes a difference indirectly to those faced with such life circumstances.

So my problem becomes…do I care enough to allow my indifference to be unruffled?

To face up to my own selfishness, my own pride, my own feelings of disempowerment requires courage, it requires acceptance. Courage to be true to myself, my values, and inner beliefs about the world I’d like to see. Acceptance that I’m flawed, that I fail, that I can be selfish.

It means owning my own sense of helplessness around global events and my own indifference about the plight of those in the midst of such conflict.  For me, avoidance and denial isn’t an option. not if I want to grow as a person, as someone who exhibits values of compassion, respect, of being other-centred and not self-centred.

“Love is the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth… Love is as love does. Love is an act of will — namely, both an intention and an action. Will also implies choice. We do not have to love. We choose to love.” 
― M. Scott Peck 

And that’s where I have a problem.  Because it’s not easy, and to be honest, at times it’s bloody uncomfortable! I suspect that much of the world’s issues, politics and economics aside, come down to our own inability to give of ourselves when we feel uncomfortable. Perhaps that’s why divorce rates are so high and mental health issues dominate western culture, and why families are so fractured and dysfunctional. Perhaps we choose indifference over caring and we choose self-protection over compassionate action because it’s actually easier?

Before I share a final thought with you I feel it’s important to lay some cards down on the table. So in the interests of self-disclosure. I hold a Christian faith and recognise this shapes my worldview. I detest simple answers. I dispute spiritualising everything. I dislike those who suggest and imply that only those with faith can make a difference in our world. I do not hold to a dualistic separation of the physical and spiritual realms. I do seek to wrestle with integrity over issues and integrate spirituality into daily life. I pray. 

This prayer is something that I often close my public speaking with.  It’s both a comforting and confronting prayer. It’s a big part of why I have a problem!

May God bless you with discomfort…at easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships; so that you may live deep within your heart.

May God bless you with anger…at injustice, oppression and exploitation of people; so that you may work for justice, freedom and peace.

May God bless you with tears…to shed for those who suffer pain, rejection, hunger and war; so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and turn their pain into joy.

May God bless you with enough foolishness…to believe that you can make a difference in the world; so that you can do what others claim cannot be done to bring justice and kindness to all our children and the poor.

Anonymous.

To face my own ignorance and indifference requires going deep.  To go deep one requires an anchor. What anchors you in this life as you with courage and acceptance face up to your own problems?

Being the change I want to see.

What happens to our humanity if we switch off to the needs of those around us?

I’ve worked as a travelling roadshow salesman of causes for over a decade. In that time I’m guessing I’ve spoken to in excess of 100,000 people in community groups, churches, and schools across Victoria and Tasmania. I speak about issues that relate to us all, about our shared humanity in our global world.

I sell ideas of a better world. I wake people from the slumber of ignorance, indifference and mediocrity. I’m an advocate for those who have no voice, those who can’t be heard, of those we don’t want to hear about.

I connect people with meaning. I seek to be an authentic voice of purpose. I give people a grip on reality and handles of hope for a better tomorrow. I invite people to action. I encourage people towards a wholistic spirituality and a more compassionate humanity.

I am a change agent. I am a prophetic mobiliser. I am your proverbial pain in the butt.

But right now, as I read and hear about the cries of children far flung across this small world of ours, I grieve. For I have no answers, only questions. I find myself asking, what’s the point? Can I really make a difference?

I find myself pondering the enormity, complexity and seeming endlessness of the problems across the globe. In my own mind and my own heart it’s creating a philosophical tsunami that swamps my own sense of meaning, purpose and hope. I find myself asking: can I with integrity, with congruity, and with confidence continue to be a voice for the voiceless?

Yet as I reflect upon this intrinsic tension I find myself unable to walk away. How can I do anything else?

A famous scholar once said that when all is boiled down, faith hope and love remain. He says that the greatest of these is love. The Black Eyed Peas sang “where is the love?”

God knows the world needs love, to see love, to receive love. Not merely a nepotistic patronizing romantic love espoused in movies. Rather, a robust, sacrificial and other-centred love. The most influential historical figure this modern world knows, Jesus, came to show love, to demonstrate love, to be love. (This is in no way suggesting that love cannot be found, experienced nor expressed outside of Jesus – simply naming my own worldview).

To be change I must change. “The most powerful agent of growth and transformation is something much more basic than any technique: a change of heart.” Heart surgery is delicate, deliberate and directed. It is also bloody uncomfortable. If I choose to ignore or overlook my own prejudices and frequent (mis)perceptions around conflicts, causes and conversations within my own communities, work spaces and families, am I truly any different? Do I have the courage to confront my own humanity, my own heart, as I seek to speak about the inhumanity of others?

So against the odds, against the grain of my own self-interests, against the comfort of acceptance and popularity, I continue to front up, to face up, to stand up, to speak up. I choose to front up to my own limitations.   I choose to face up to my own fears and insecurities. I choose to stand up knowing that I’m in the firing line. I choose to speak up knowing that there will be those who won’t listen. I choose to not stay silent. I choose to be a change agent.