Was gifted several opportunities this week to share with others about what it means to me to be an activist. I turned up to deliver my messages via zoom and in real life – what a treat to be able to get the exchange of energy and feel the connections between people around me – the digital divide means lack of connectivity to me on so many levels now in these pandemic times. The real life example was at an inner city all girls school where all the staff were spending the day in retreat away from timetables, students and yet not to retreat from one another. The theme of the overall day was We will not be silent and I did get to eavesdrop on a few conversations when I asked them to greet the activist in each other. They told stories to one another about speaking up about casual racism in their families while preparing dinner together, how sometimes they have to speak up for their students to their parents where the girls are being unfairly treated, and stories about shame and compassion. There were over 100 conversations going on so I didn’t hear them all – but it was clear no one had any trouble at all at being able to share a story about a time when they spoke up and could not be silent. This is the thing: we all know how to do this, we all how know to recognise injustice, how to find words to describe what we are noticing, how to tell someone else what it looks like, why it moves us, what it calls out in us. What we often don’t recognise is our own power, how to tap into it and step into our leadership and take an action – however small – to the situation.
One of the things I talked about was the relationship between rights and responsibility, power and privilege. In my own case, I am white, very well educated, live in Australia, widely travelled, housed, employed, healthy, heterosexual – I have a significant amount of privilege and I joked with the staff that really only the white men in the room (there were very few) were more privileged than me. My privilege brings with it responsibilities, and one of those is to use my voice. I extended this to the idea of vocation and its relationship to the Christian sacrament of baptism (it was a Catholic High School). In the blessing of the waters in this sacrament, the baptised is authorised by the community to take up their power, to use their gifts, to bring love and act with humility in the service of the greater good with one another and in concert with the all the riches of the earth. This is our inheritance and we are promised, if we are children to follow that way, and if as an adult sign up for ourselves to this mission. I do not see this as a burden, although there are days when it isn’t easy and days where I am unable to make sense of what I might be called to do. Because that is what vocation is, it is listening into the call, noticing what it might mean and then responding. The call and the response in equal measure, and the response if we are all listening well, will mean acting together to bring about the change being called for. This is why it is so critical tp have space to reflect – it is not an optional extra – it is where the activism begins and where it flows in and out of.
How are you making the spaces to reflect, to retreat, to listen; and that includes hearing yourself as well. The song the school community has chosen to bind themselves together this year is the Wailing Jenny’s – This is the sound of one voice. It is a great choice (pardon the pun), to model the adaptive leadership challenge building waves of a movement. The first verse is sung by one voice and then as the call and response grows more and more voices join in – just like a movement starts with the ‘lone nut’, then has first followers and then everyone seems to join in; or even in my start up world – a crazy idea, followed by early adopters and then a majority coming along after.
In our everyday activism we are building movements or as Paul Hawken calls it blessed unrest, we are disrupting the systems holding inequity and exclusion in place, and it calls us to action, reflection, action and so the movements towards justice flow, like a river, as the ancient prophets foretold. Stepping into your own power, your leadership is not always easy, so I often turn to John O’Donohue’s voice to bless so I remind myself of my own leadership as vocation and the privileges I have, that remind me that I hold power, and therefore, a responsibility to use it wisely.
Blessing for the one who holds power
By John O’Dohonue
May the gift of leadership awaken in you as a vocation,
Keep you mindful of the providence that calls you to serve.
As high over the mountains the eagle spreads its wings,
May your perspective be larger than the view from the foothills.
When the way is flat and dull in times of grey endurance,
May your imagination continue to evoke horizons.
When thirst burns in times of drought,
May you be blessed to find the wells.
May you have the wisdom to read time clearly
And know when the seed of change will flourish.
In your heart may there be a sanctuary
For the stillness where clarity is born.
May your work be infused with passion and creativity
And have the wisdom to balance compassion and challenge.
May your soul find the graciousness
To rise above the fester of small mediocrities.
May your power never become a shell
Wherein your heart would silently atrophy.
May you welcome your own vulnerability
As the ground where healing and truth join.
May integrity of soul be your first ideal.
The source that will guide and bless your work.
from To Bless the Space between Us.