Wandering around an old Cotswold church during a delightful Sunday excursion on our tandem bicycle a Christian Aid poster of a destitute Kenyan woman from a Nairobi slum caught my eye. The wording said, ‘I pray for change. I believe in change. I believe in having the heart of a fighter. I believe fighters expect change.’
It unsettled me. Of course people living in poverty deserve help. But it did make me wonder about the feasibility of such enormous change considering how unstable our world seems to have become.
The next day I experienced a similar feeling when looking at a terrifying photograph in The National Geographic of Mexico City sprawling over hundreds of thousands of acres, without a tree or a green space in sight. Much of Mexico City consists of slum dwellings, whose occupants, like the Kenyan woman on the Christian Aid poster, are no doubt determined to create a better life for themselves.
It’s impossible, and even insulting, to compare grinding third-world poverty to being short of money in a prosperous country such as the UK, which automatically provides social security to those in need.
I have never been on the verge of starvation, nor have I lived in a slum.
Even so, I do know what’s like to be on the bread-line, and how hard it can be just to pay the rent. I have also experienced very dark times in my life. Possessing the heart of a fighter too, I prayed fervently for change, often forcing things to happen before they were ready, or taking action without thought of the consequences.
This gave me fleeting moments of relief – enough to gather my strength and believe I was back in control. Until, of course, the next traumatic event hit, and I would be once again desperately trying to change my life.
With time, I began to see how fighting for change kept me focused and gave me hope. But I hadn’t got a clue what to do with the aftermath of change, or how to turn it into an equilibrium that could enhance my life. So I kept on fighting for yet more change.
Actually, I think this is how many people across the globe are now coping with the frantic pace of modern life. I know we can’t progress without change. And, as the Christian Aid poster indicates, much of it is unquestionably necessary. But, rather than seeking Buddha’s Middle Path, we seem to have become obsessed with radically overhauling everything in sight, believing that doing so will bring us money, status, celebrity, and even, perhaps, the promise of everlasting life.
But these are 21st century delusions, incapable of giving us the emotional and spiritual stability that we will need when we are forced to face the consequences of how we have raped the earth of its resources, over-fished our seas, and destroyed the environment.
It also makes me wonder how the presently affluent West will deal with the disappointment, bitterness and resentment that will come when our vastly over-populated world wakes up to the fact that it’s impossible to provide what everyone wants and desires.
I suppose embracing the heart of the fighter is one way of tackling this imbalance. But, judging from the mess that wars, hostilities and conflicts create, I am not convinced this works.
It would be impossibly wonderful if we could put aside politics, religious fervour, and above all, human hubris to find other, wiser ways of dealing with the inequality that humanity has created, and build societies which can work together in harmony.
Sadly, I don’t think that is going to happen for quite a while, certainly not before our planet has turned the tables, and we all, across every society and culture, are forced to relinquish what we want for the survival, not just of future generations, but, literally, of the Earth itself.