Friday, 9 January 2009

Conscientiously Objecting or, Why I’m An Activist - by Maggie Knight

(Reprinted from from CYM-YF Sporadical fall 2008.)
photo: Canadian Young Friends To me being a Quaker has always been about acting according to my conscience. I didn’t grow up in a Bible tradition, although some of my family is Christian, and I couldn’t tell you all about the life of George Fox. Rather, I appreciate the silent worship and the opportunity it gives me to frequently re-evaluate where I am going with my life and whether that direction is in line with my conscience. I appreciate being part of a community that can acknowledge that different people have different, but equally valid, truths, and doing business in a worshipful way where Friends (ideally) set aside their personal opinions for a more spiritual sense of what is right for the group. I appreciate the traditions of speaking truth to power and of sticking to principles.

As I was starting my last year of high school, I found myself needing to write and talk about why I do the things I do — environmental and social justice activism, among others — in various scholarship essays. I found myself struggling for answers. “Because I care” just begs another “why?” and “because action is the best way of pushing back despair for the fate of our planet” seems cynical and melodramatic.

A couple years later, I am still finding it difficult to find the right words. But I think it comes down to a matter of conscience. Having spent my life growing up next to a breathtakingly beautiful ocean, witnessing it in all moods in all kinds of sunlight and moonlight, how can I not care about protecting all that is beautiful—dare I say sacred?—in our natural world? Having been lucky enough to have an education that has made me aware of issues of poverty, violence, and marginalization in Canada and abroad, how can I just sit back and do nothing? Having been blessed with abilities to write and speak and act, how can I not use them?

It seems that people do nothing for one of four reasons: because they aren’t aware, because they are too busy meeting day-to-day needs towork on a larger scale, because the magnitude of the world’s problems scares them back into apathy, or because they genuinely can’t be bothered to lend a hand and don’t see why they should. The more I talk to people the more I find that many people pretending to be in the last category are really in the third. I want to ask them why? What is so hard about admitting you care? Why is it scary to take little steps even if they won’t save the world by themselves? What is so hard about asking who made your clothes or how far away your food was grown or why the government won’t honour an agreement? Do we really care about conforming to society that much? Is it all about seeming “normal”?

Nobody is normal. Normal is just a statistic, an average, a cardboard cut-out. Normal has no depth and no concept of the past or the future. So why not make the ways you stand out be the ways your conscience says you should? As a Quaker I understand that my truth may be different from yours, so I’m not trying to be preachy. But if somewhere in your conscience there’s a prick that says you should or could be doing more, listen to it. It’s way more fun to do the things you’re passionate about, connect with other excited and passionate people, and see new people get a new appreciation for an issue, project,or event, than it is to go through the motions and hope you fit into the crowd.

Speak truth to power, whether that power is your best friend, your mother, your MP, your doctor, your school, your community, your government. Be nice, but be firm. It’s your truth, and maybe not theirs. Listen to their truths, and speak yours.

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." -- Margaret Mead
See also FGC Quaker Youth blog, Australia YM blog Quaker Voices in the 21st Century, its YF wiki, Ottawa Valley Gathering's Culture of Peace wiki, Facebook Quakers group and previous posts tagged "networking".
For other groups, both Quaker and non-Quaker, see Wiser Earth, Taking IT global.

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