Education Plus

Activism and beyond

Many young people are involved in causes with the noble intention of making the lives of their community members better. Photo: M. Govarthan   | Photo Credit: - M_GOVARTHAN

This is a tale of two different kinds of activist, each passionately pursuing a cause closest to their hearts, yet their manifestations could not be starker in contrast.

Many years ago, as a student representative at an activist’s conference, I had a learning experience beyond the academic proceedings. The conference revolved around the theme of respect and fighting for equality, and many papers and discussions kindled both the mind and heart. There was a group of men and women who were very vocal in their beliefs, and the room was filled with the energy of anger and frustration. After the proceedings, the group convened for a tea break. It was amusing to watch the same group that had presented their views on lack of resources, sprint towards the last samosa and cake with single pointed attention, and their tirade continued towards the poor waiter who had mixed up an order of coffee and tea!

While inside, they had pleaded for respect, compassion and peace, their own hearts had not been touched by the spirit behind these words.

Activism in action

The community rehabilitation work we were engaged in gave us the opportunity to interact with some amazing people. A couple, who had a physically challenged son, hosted us during one of our visits. While the field work really broadened our experience, the two days we spent with the family was a humbling experience. Despite having to manage manual chores and look after their son, the couple radiated cheerfulness and peace. Never once did they make us feel like we were intruding on their space. We were absorbed into their lives seamlessly and were treated like family. When talking about the condition of their son and the battles they had to fight, the discussions always centred on fighting for something, rather than against it. Their ‘anger’ translated into working as a community to build self-reliance and respect. In the evening, we sat around the fire, and they taught us songs composed for their cause. There was no conflict between how they were as people and their own brand of activism. Both were built on simple human values of peace and true compassion.

Be positive

Many young people are involved in causes with the noble intention of making the lives of their community members better. From recycling initiatives to helping rebuild schools, young people across the globe have made a remarkable difference and added value to their own lives. As part of the process, one might sometimes find oneself fighting against the other. It can easily become a vicious cycle of finger pointing—Those who are with us and those who are against us.

While working in the field of disability, a group of us decided to visit the local banks to audit their facilities for the differently-abled. At the first few branches, the audit became a shouting and mudslinging match. Our militant like stance only raised their heckles further and neither side wanted to see reason. However, at the last bank we visited, a sense of calm prevailed. The lady at the bank welcomed us and said she was unaware of the policies that existed for the differently-abled. She gave us a patient hearing and we presented a more solution based approach and showed how simple measures could be adopted. Our whole focus was on helping the bank create a positive environment for all kinds of clients, and that common goal led to a much more open and creative discussion.

Personal lives

It is very easy in our own lives to get caught in conflict and live through that anger. Many students carry an unhealthy weight of anger and resentment and often channelize it into bullying. When we do talk to the bullies, we see that they are deeply connected to their sense of anger which blinds them to any constructive action. Unfortunately, anger has this illusory power over us. It makes us feel superior to others and in control when, in reality, we are becoming completely disconnected from who we really are.

The mind loves to work with divisions—Rich against poor, vegetarians against non-vegetarians, community against community and nation against nation. It takes just a few breaths to step back, watch the mind and see how it works. Once we see that, we can begin by resolving and creating peace within ourselves. That internal peace will bring a far greater transformation in others than anger, which will only bring a temporary relief to the ego.

For, not against

Mahatma Gandhi, in his own evolution towards freedom, would highlight that we were fighting for freedom, not so much fighting against the British. By fighting for larger universal values, the flow of energy is more natural rather than resisting and going against. A wise monk hundreds of years ago said, “Working for the welfare for the poor does not mean we should treat our rich brothers badly.”

Enjoy the journey as opportunities come for you to engage and make this universe a better place. Work with your own natural flow and watch the peace within yourself transform the very lives you touch!

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Printable version | Jan 15, 2021 11:14:55 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/education/activism-and-beyond/article6796975.ece

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