Lately, I’ve been talking a lot to my family and friends about fear. I don’t mean those fears we all have as children of things which are under the bed at night waiting to get us. I mean the fears that we are all called to face from time to time when we are looking something in the face that might hurt us, even gravely. I mean the fears that come with knowing that no matter which decision we make, something will be lost.
It is in those moments that we have the real opportunities to grow, inspire others and create our futures. It is the decisions we make in those moments which create heroes, legends and saints. It is also in those moments that we create our own future regrets, sadness and suffering.
Until now, my words might sound a little theoretical or dreamy. After all, we aren’t all intended to risk our lives trying to save a lady from a burning building right? I mean, the fact that we call these people heroes means that we elevate them above ourselves. They are like fleeting superheroes, wearing capes for an hour, or only for a moment. But these people… they are not us.
Let us leave the concept of super-people for a moment. Let’s not focus on people like Mother Theresa, Gandhi, Joan of Arc … Let us instead discuss every-day heroes. After all, we can open a newspaper and read about them all the time. Just this morning, during a 10 minute period of browsing the Internet, I came across stories a family who decided to donate their house to a charity which helps children suffering from cancer, a high school girl who decided to start a foundation to put water wells in for poor African villages, a man who decided to be the whistle-blower on corrupt government officials… the stories are endless.
Given that so many people do these things, the things that 50 years ago we might have found normal to do; why is it that we hear so much more about the negative? After all, no matter your place on the planet, no matter your religion, or ethnicity or nation there were certain basic codes to live by: fairness, dignity, and honor. It seems to me, that the good news wasn’t headline news because it was expected. The corruption, lying, cheating, etc; well, that stuff was interesting because it was rare. Now, it seems we’ve swung in the opposite direction. We think that good deeds are rare and that the negative garbage that we see (held almost on a pedestal) is what is normal and usual.
I spent a period of my life, like most people, looking at all of the things that go wrong, that are abusive and hurtful to others. After “bathing in” that sub-culture for a while, I can see why so many people tell me that it’s overwhelming. But in the end, it’s simple. It comes down to choices, individual choices which add up to build a family, a culture, a society. These are the choices that build our reputations, our character and our lives.
Do we donate to a cause because we want to do something to help; or do we go the extra step to research what the organization actually does on the ground with the money? Do we send money home to our family in Africa; or do we work to pool our resources with others so that we can build something larger which will benefit those who don’t have family living abroad? Further still, do we help those most in need, even if they are from a different ethnic group, region or country? Do we upgrade our car or keep the old one and use the difference to put a water well in a remote village because we know that it will serve a greater good? Do we opt to keep our mouth shut so that we can remain on good terms with our home governments or do we give up the ability to buy land, build a home or even visit our home nation… because that is the price of speaking out for the basic human rights of those who live “back home” without a voice.
We can publicly pretend to not know there is abuse of power, corruption and fraud. We can tell our Western friends and neighbors that Africa is not only filled with dictators and corruption. But we know, at night in the silence of our bedrooms… at that moment that we place our heads on our pillows and pray to God to bless us… if we are doing what we can to ensure that there is less corruption, less polarization, more opportunity, more hope. We know in our hearts if we are a part of Africa’s solutions or if we are living in fear of speaking out because we don’t want to ruffle feathers, be ostracized within our own communities in the Diaspora or out of sheer pride. We know if fear rules us, or if we walk through it like our ancestors did. We know if we are too afraid to walk against the grain. We know and God knows, even if no other soul has a clue.
As a woman who was born in Africa, I love my continent as most Africans do. I am not special. But as an honest and fair woman, I must take the road of facing my fears. It isn’t popular to tell people that they are supporting corruption for their own political or financial gain. It is natural to hesitate anxiously before saying “The leadership is selling off our natural resources to China with little hope of the poor gaining anything from it.” It is no easier for me than it is for anyone else to risk being misunderstood, pointed at or called names. But I invite you to join me in the dialog. We’ll agree on some things, we’ll certainly disagree upon many others. But, if we sit in our corners in fear of the exchange… all of Africa loses. Maybe we won’t get permission to build our vacation house in Nigeria or Eritrea; maybe our cousin will tell us that we are crazy for airing our national “dirty laundry”. But in the end, I promise you that there is such joy in knowing that we have answered the call of our consciences…. Come what may.
I look forward to hearing your views!