Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Words to Life (with Brett)

Brett:
Hey Trev, it feels like it's time we had another of these conversations. The thing that comes to mind is the idea of a Words to Life ratio. i believe words are important because they can help begin difficult conversations, they can make people aware, they can get wrestling started on necessary and important conversations. But the problem, as we can see fairly clearly in what has been termed online slacktivism, is that people can get stuck there. Jump onto the internet, have your say, click like or forward and job done. Do you have any thoughts about the kind of balance needed between writing words and changing the way you live, or at least making sure that the life you lead backs up the words you write?


Trev:
The parable of the log in the eye springs to mind. One of the most powerful images I have seen was the picture of the current, and most recent Pope, sitting on their respective thrones. I don't agree with Pope Francis on heaps of things, as I don't agree with the Dalai Lama or Desmond Tutu on everything. These leaders earn the right to words through actions which give Moral Gravitas. A big part of those actions is sorting out your own stuff first. If you live a life of conspicuous consumption, or you don't think of situations in which you need to support others in their troubles (i.e. you only focus on your own issues), then words tend to ring hollow. Some of the most heat gets spent on higher order problems. There is a lot of agreement on some of the basic things that need doing. Rather than waiting for permission or a higher authority to force everyone to do something, we just need to crack on.

Spot the Difference

Brett:
i agree with you there, although i do think words are important as well. i think action is probably the strongest way to draw other people into action, but for some people words are what start them thinking. Someone who is never going to engage with the action might be opened to it by having their mind massaged by words that help bring clarity, or invite wrestling. i think some people are also better at words and some at action, but think both should probably do a bit of both. But major in the area they are stronger in. Also, some people see to get stuck in the places where the words inhabit (like Social Media) and so it might take the words to help get them off of the chair, and out into the world where the action takes place. Needs to be a good relationship between the two. But agree with you on not waiting till we have it all together before we start doing something. We all need to be getting to the 'do something' as quickly as possible to start the momentum.

Trev:
Yes, I can't exactly write blog posts every day and then claim that I am an anti-word advocate. We can constantly refine our thinking be reading the words of others and looking for better questions. I am just challenging some of the the 'advocacy' side of things, versus writing as a collective way of teasing out catalysts and appreciation. A lot of conversation is broadcast. I wish there was a different word for 'follower' for example. 'Friend' isn't an accurate reflection, but I think the idea is to engage people. Part of why this doesn't translate into action is we get very complicated. Far from where people are. We deal with huge ideas that often get very philosophical. Very aggressive. If we bring it right back to simple things like fighting absolute poverty, and providing access to words and conversation, then the bigger problems will slowly unwind. But we need to do it.

Brett:
Simple things like fighting absolute poverty? i'd love to hear more how that is simple, unless you mean in concept. i agree with you on the 'Follower' vibe for sure as i imagine that gives people an increased sense of self-importance which is probably not all that helpful. Some kind of more neutral word perhaps. But getting back to the simplicity of fighting poverty, the word i would associate with poverty would more likely be 'overwhelming' especially in the South African context. It is just so huge and vast and deep that almost anything you do feels insignificant in terms of making any helpful contribution at all. Do you have a differing way of seeing it that you find helpful? Even the idea of 'I'm just doing my part' can be an excuse for a lot of people to not get more deeply involved, and it's certainly an expression of privilege that we get to choose how much we give to what causes, if we give at all. i have found that one of the best ways of transforming that dynamic is to bring the rich and the poor together. Once there is connection and relationship, then 'choosing to help' becomes so much more of an obvious decision and action.

Trev:
There are some people doing some great work. GiveDirectly.org (https://givedirectly.org/) sends money directly to the extreme poor. They have started in Uganda and Kenya and work with the communities to find those most in need of help. A bottom up approach. They started there because of the large populations living in extreme poverty, but with access to mobile payment systems. The transfers go directly to people's phones. I would love to see this extend to South Africa, but I also think the Global Context of looking how people everywhere are, is important. The colonial borders are random. Borders are random. Global Apartheid must fall. People will rise if we start to see them as part of us rather than someone else's problem. If we recognise what we can learn from them too. It isn't about the rich helping the poor. That is where building relationships helps. Sport helps. Stories help. Art helps. Words help. Just chipping away at the idea of them and us.


Brett:
Absolutely. My wife works for an organisation called Common Change which is one such way to meet the needs of people through relationships. One of the things i like about the story of Common Change was their understanding that it's not that the rich don't like the poor, but that they don't know the poor. For the most part, giving has been reduced to a middle man mentality via church/ charity/ non-profit and the relationship suffered. It's sometimes easier or less commitment-inducing to toss a few coins into the plate. But one thing Common Change does is it brings giving back to relationship and so instead of just meeting needs, every time a gift happens, it is the idea of someone in your group committing themselves to walking on a journey with the person in need who is receiving the gift and where relationship already flourishes (www.commonchange.com). In the South African context, it is like a more directed version of the stokvel. Another idea that i really enjoy with CC is that it encourages collective wisdom - the idea of thinking together to come up with better solutions as opposed to necessarily just going for the obvious route which a lot of time is money. So time and resources and networks all get brought into that, and the generosity becomes a lot more communal, which benefits on so many other levels as well.

Trev:
There is definitely something to consciously building more tangible communities that break us out of our bubbles. That put faces to some of the abstract challenges we otherwise outsource. It is tough though. Most of us struggle even to find time for our close friends and family. Most people I know in my bubble tend to cull relationships as life get in the way, rather than pushing themselves outside their comfort zones. They are in the fighting fires stage of life, so a few coins here or there is what they have to give. The challenge with purely financial gifts is that it creates a form of hierarchy in giving. Giver and Receiver. Most valuable exchanges are relational rather than financial. Bother parties learn from each other. Great teachers are always learning from students, ironing out their thinking. Parents continuously learn from children. They see their prejudices distilled and mirrored back when kids parrot them. I like the idea of finding ways to build respect for people. To remove obstacles, but not see one group as superior to others. People who are wealthy can learn a lot from people who are struggling financially about what the things are that really matter.

Brett:
i love that last sentence. i think we have lots to learn from each other, which given what you just said about the time and the busyness suggest that each of us takes on one or two relationships and dive more deeply into them and a longer companionship of mutual generosity (finding different ways in which we can meet each others needs - one might be money, one might be wisdom, or time etc) rather than trying to meet all of the needs. Then alongside that would come the need to try and get one or two mates to do the same and hope for a kind of Pay It Forward or exponential increase vibe. I think sharing stories can become crucial here. It's a fine line between "Hey look at me! Look at what I did!" and "Hey, look at what I did - you can do the same" and I think we need to see more of those kinds of stories which is what I love about our blogs - spaces to share the kinds of stories that will hopefully motivate others to respond with, "Oh, that's so easy. I could do that." and then find their own two people and start journeying...

Trev:
Apart from the need to turn words into action, I also think we need to appreciate the world as it is. We can get a little fixated on where we want things to be, and how to get there. The idea of progress. Of one state, age, place or time being superior to another. This sort of comparison to goals can stop us from really savouring the good stuff for its own sake. Building relationships outside or bubble isn't just a way of helping. It is a way of accessing flavour we haven't been able to savour. Our words and actions don't always have to be about moving things. They can be about recognising. About seeing. So we can start the journey, but do it so that each step matters as much as the destination.


Other conversations with Brett
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