Words can sometimes, in moments of grace, attain the qualities of deeds. ~Elie Wiesel
In starting up how-matters.org, I’ve entered into a new relationship. As in all new relationships, feelings of elation and self-doubt come up. I jump in but then move slowly as we discover each other and explore our connection. Writing is becoming my love.
Yet, I don’t post every day. I’ve got all sorts of ideas and many articles started, yet…something holds me back. For all my longing for the space and time to write about my experiences in international development and for all of my entreaties to my colleagues to do the same for organizational learning, here I am, now struggling because I’ve gotten what I’ve wanted.
Is it discouragement? (“Who’s even listening?” “My ideas will just get shot down anyway.”) Humility? (“Who am I to write?”) Whatever it is, it’s frustrating. Sound familiar?
So when the words aren’t coming out, all I know how to do is to put more words in. For me, that means less feeds, more paper. I just finished Making It Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by the Heath brothers and I’m also reading The Empathic Civilization: The Race to Global Consciousness in a World in Crisis by Jeremy Rifkin.
Here’s her passage that brought tears to my eyes this morning over my eggs. No matter what your role in bringing about change to make the world a better place, I hope it inspires you to tell your stories and to help others tell theirs too.
A few years ago, I visited a market on the Burmese border. It was a profoundly unsettling experience. I walked past frightened, impoverished people hawking Leonardo DiCaprio beach towels, dried fish, Nike knockoffs, and counterfeit cigarettes. Old women with no teeth sat behind piles of peppers or rice. Listless children lay on ragged blankets behind their parents’ stall. A skinny teenager was apprehended by soldiers, beaten, and thrown into the back of a black van, his mother running after him, screaming, pulling her hair. Everyone in this tawdry market seemed almost comatose with grief. Gradually, I realized the underlying cause of what I was witnessing: the total absence of hope.
However, one man was different. He squatted in the gutter, almost naked, selling children’s Magic Slates. As I walked by, he quickly scrawled on his display pad “Freedom from Fear,” which is the motto of Aung San Suu Kyi, who is the daughter of a former leader in Burma. A Western-educated exile, Kyi returned to Burma to work for the restoration of democracy. And while she is currently under house arrest there, her ideas have kept hope alive for the citizens.
I looked at the words the man had written on the little plastic slate and then into his eyes. He smiled at me—a fierce, desperate smile—and then he quickly erased what he had written. This man had almost been silenced. But he made a leap. He dared to make a connection with a westerner. He used heroic words to carve out a Magic Slate-sized piece of freedom, which he then shared with me. I have never felt more honored and more humbled. When I think of people writing to connect, I think of the man with the Magic Slate. I write for him.