This post has been a long time coming. In recent months, the people of the world have been subjected to the forces of nature and subjugated to the politics of fear. Earthquakes, floods and tsunamis in New Zealand, Australia and Japan, revolution in Egypt and Libya, and political leaders in Europe declaring the 'failure of multiculturalism' amidst a fear of Islamisation. All this set against a backdrop of shifting global demographics, financial insecurity, climate change and prevailing world poverty. Both literally and metaphorically, the core is unstable, the ground is ruptured, boundaries have shifted and the tide is turning, beyond our shores yet closer than we might imagine.
I have deliberated over this commentary for many reasons. So much change and upheaval in so brief a timespan, so much individual and collective loss and grief, so much anger and hatred. Witness to the growing global pain body and rendered vulnerable to my own negative emotions, I have felt that the people of the world need to pause, step back from all the hurting and remember happiness, peace and love. I wanted to play a role in that joyful celebration of all that is beautiful and good in the world. Rejecting the urge to contribute to the negativity, I searched instead for something positive and uplifting to create and express. And then I recalled the wisdom of the spiritual author Thomas Moore, "a dark night of the soul can heal, where healing means being more alive and more present to the world around you". I realised that I cannot retreat from the reality of turmoil in the hope that I will wake up tomorrow and somehow everything will be better. My soul will not heal in the spaces of passivity, apathy or denial. During such moments, the words and example of Haile Selassie spur me on to action.
“Throughout history, it has been the inaction of those who could have acted; the indifference of those who should have known better; the silence of the voice of justice when it mattered most; that has made it possible for evil to triumph.” - Haile Selassie
Besides, it's simply not in my nature to stand by in silent dissent and not speak up. My nana used to say, "if you cannot say something nice, best not to say anything at all". Conversely, my mother always loved healthy debate, and is still a passionate opponent of discrimination and strong advocate for social justice. These days, my mum feels weighed down by the stream of extremist diatribe, divisive debate, political vitriol and media propaganda. Her despair leaves her feeling powerless, leading to the all too familiar lament 'what's the point' of getting involved. While encouraging my mum and others to 'keep fighting the good fight', I find myself wondering about the best way to be a change agent in this seemingly never ending struggle for social justice, equity and harmony throughout the world. I am buoyed by the efforts of those who continue to resist the tide of cruelty and hatred and be an ally of those who need it most.
The late, great Elizabeth Taylor (1932-2011), AIDS activist and close friend of the closeted gay actor Montgomery Clift, said "it's all about hope, kindness and a connection with one another". If only life were that simple, Liz, if only. You see, just as this stunning image captures the shadows of these two stars in the prime of their lives, so too are we always pursued by our own shadow selves, or the 'darkness' in our natures. Indeed, the history of humanity is a story of light and dark, and the connotations we place on these motifs, associations learned through upbringing, education and acculturalisation.
The polarity we attribute to light and dark feeds into every aspect of our lives, from popular culture to art and literature, to politics and arguably even to the manner in which we judge and treat people of colour. I find it interesting that Ku Klux Clan dressed in white robes, while the Neo-Nazis of today choose to wear black. Both groups spouting hatred against racialized peoples, both groups asserting white supremacy. Western mythology and Christianity espouses the triumph of Light over Dark. From religious doctrine to the symbolism of film, we are inculcated with the message that light is good and dark is evil. As a child of the Star Wars era, I paid heed to warnings of Jedi Master Obi Wan, who told Luke that his father was "seduced by the dark side of the Force". I also internalised other important messages from both Catholicism and the Jedi knights, lessons about compassion, empathy, courage and taking responsibility for the impact of our choices and actions. One quote from Obi Wan assumes significance during this time of dogmatic thinking, issuing a challenge to this conservative push towards conformity: "many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view". Herein lies a crucial lesson and I would suggest, a way forward.
Causes Cindy Sullivan Supports
Plan: 'Because I'm a Girl'
Fred Hollows Foundation