By: Damilola Daramola*
This past weekend, my (not so) little sister graduated with her Masters in Nursing from Ohio State University. President Obama gave a speech in that ceremony, and the broad issues he discussed resonated with our current focus here at Bokamoso Leadership Forum (BLF). He specifically focused on citizenship and how this is activated by two actions: participation and perseverance. His expressed sentiments were that power is in the hands of the students to move the community forward and that they needed to participate, in line with Eden’s last BLF piece and Steve’s utterances in the first few minutes of this video. Obama’s insight also reminded me of a saying by the Zapatistas in Mexico, which says, “we are ordinary people, that is to say, rebels”. John Holloway, whose thinking has framed the recent theme of this blog, suggests that the invitation by the Zapatistas is to begin to understand rebellion as an everyday feature of ordinary people’s lives.
However, to think of power as already belonging to the people goes against the usual ideas we have about leadership and the facilitation of progress in our communities. The logic of this thinking has reduced leadership into an ability to ‘empower’ the people through education and infrastructure. That power is based more on the vision developed by a set of people, who then drive everyone else forward. Alternatively, power and leadership are represented as one much simpler principle, that of “Each One Teach One”. While the answer lies in the combination of all these things, I would like to argue that it cannot begin, happen or be sustained without a fire from within you – purpose.
As members of whatever community we inhabit, our responsibility to that community involves bringing our strengths forward and combining them with others. I will liken this to an idea in chemistry referred to as catalysis. Chemicals can be converted to more useful forms at certain speeds, but the job of a catalyst is to make these conversions occur at quicker rates. The faster the conversion, the quicker the product can be made. Oftentimes, a catalyst for one conversion is not useful for another. In this manner, I liken every individual in a community to a catalyst useful for one or more types of conversion. You cannot be effective as a catalyst and a citizen when you inhabit the wrong space. It is important to realize that you are a catalyst for something specific. When you hear cliché phrases like “You can make a difference”, “You have a purpose” and “You are the one we have been waiting for,” it symbolizes one thing: Amandla belongs to you!
If you realize that you don’t have a space to inhabit (purpose), the question might then be: How do I find that space? Sometimes we go to school to discover our strength, but this is reliant on the efficacy of teachers who can reach our hearts and minds with their methods and ideas. Other times we discover this strength in our homes, but that probably doesn’t happen unless there is an adult who reaches us with their words and actions. There are times when interacting with friends and peers will bring out this strength; times when you realize that you are funny, artistic or introspective and can warm up other’s hearts with your actions, help them see the beautiful side of life through your talent or make them think critically about a mundane event. Either way, the opportunities for this discovery come from interactions with people and situations we may find ourselves in. This is the reason why chemists will read literature to find useful catalysts but will also experiment with various materials until the right catalyst is found. Your past history can help to define your strengths and purpose, but so will the situations you encounter. Holloway reminds us that the Zapatistas have another slogan that captures the complexity of understanding rebellion as the small transformative things we do in our seemingly mundane ‘everyday’ activities; they Zapatistas say, “caminamos, no corremos, porque vamos muy lejos” — “we walk, not run, because we are going very far.”
I would like to end with this quote:All courses of action are risky, so prudence is not in avoiding danger (it’s impossible), but calculating risk and acting decisively. Make mistakes of ambition and not mistakes of sloth. Develop the strength to do bold things, not the strength to suffer – Nicolo Machiavelli.
What does this say to you about power and purpose? More importantly what does it say to you about activating that purpose?
*Damilola Daramola is a regular Bokamoso Leadership Forum / BLF regular contributor. Read his short biography and previous articles here.