Look for the Helpers ~ And Become One of Them

When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” ~ Fred Rogers

I learned very early in life that there are many scary things out there: from natural to man-made disasters, dictatorships and torture, abuse and violence…life does its best to educate many of us on its many challenges and predicaments: you learn through pain and abandonment, betrayal and injustice, illness and dispossession. When you grow up, you may also learn through the news (if you are lucky enough to be part of a privileged class or place where you are still “untouched” by the problems and miseries of the world, otherwise you will be the news) or through formal education when you study sociology, or journalism or… Many institutions out there will also make sure you are “entertained” by these issues: enough to care and send money to them, but not too much to move you to change (if you are really moved, you may change your life so much that you may no longer have disposable income to donate to charity and they will lose a supporter…)

What they don’t tell you is that many of those “problems” are caused by dependence and an unequal relationship between those who “give” and those who “receive”…or seen from the other side: between those who take and those who are stripped of all they have.

Since I was very young, I had a natural “sense” for injustice and when things were plain wrong and that sense has accompanied me all my life.

However, I have little patience or compassion for “victims” and chronic complainers: those who are always waiting for help to come from somewhere else, but do little to help themselves.

I was sharing this thought with somebody recently, as we run the Community Food Mapping workshops: my hope is to have enough people involved so this can take a shape of its own. I hate “they should/shouldn’t” language: it disempowers you, it demonstrates how dependent you are of institutions and authority…it also makes you irresponsible and unaccountable for things when they go wrong.

It is wrong and immoral to seek to escape the consequences of one’s acts.” ~ Mahatma Gandhi

What is an anarchist? One who, choosing, accepts the responsibility of choice.” ~ Ursula K. Le Guin

We can continue complaining about how the government does (or doesn’t) do things we like/don’t like; we can spend long hours talking BS about many institutions, people and the many problems in the world…but I haven’t seen a single outcome coming from those coffee-breaks, Facebook walls or pub discussions…

I have seen, instead, how hundreds, thousands and even millions of peoples have turned their backs to “complaining” and have started doing things: the things they expect to happen, the things they wish to have for them and generations to come…

What we are doing, allowing ourselves to complain and become victims, is giving even more power to those on the top: when we don’t receive a service we think we deserve, when we don’t see a change in behaviour we expect from somebody, when we don’t see those in power to change their policies around fossil fuels, when we don’t see Nature behaving as we want…

And this applies to everything in life: from Climate Change to resource depletion, from immigrants moving and looking for jobs to communities willing to become food independent and secure. From parents dealing with “difficult” children, to women being abused, to entire countries dealing with scarcity and non democratic practices.

I’m not saying that protests don’t work (they may exert a bit of pressure depending on how well organized and strategic they are. And I’m not saying we should celebrate what is wrong. But how many of us actually make the effort to walk the talk?

I’m an “action” person: if something is broken, somebody may spend her whole life trying to find the culprit. Me, I may listen for a little while, but you will probably see me bringing the glue and putting the thing back together, or picking up the pieces or trying to create a mosaic out of it.

Permaculture has taught me that we all should be responsible for ourselves and our children: they are the only ones (at least while they are still very young) who may not be able to act for themselves.

Do you have a broken street that is killing everybody? Is electricity failing? Is food scarce? Are criminals taking over your block? Send, if you want, a letter to your local representative and call the newspapers and the TV, but at the same time (and I can assure you’ll accomplish more), knock the door of every neighbour and friend and organize a work-party to fix that street, take over that abandoned land and start growing food, figure out how you can install solar panels or learn to live with less dependence on electricity, take turns to hijack the streets with fun events so criminals don’t have a place to hide and attack or better: find out who they are and invite them to become involved in community resilience (most of them will accept your invitation and become the best defenders)

If you are a low income person, somebody with disability, an aboriginal, identify yourself with a minority or you are an immigrant or refugee without a job in a new country? Then think about this: the same words using to describe you are disempowering and oppressive and put you in a place of “receiving” charity and favours from those in real power…you are NOT disable or Latino or First Nation or poor or refugee or immigrant! You are a human being, part of this wonderful planet Earth, you breath and eat and drink water and need love and shelter and company as I do (many will try to force me to identify myself with a minority)…also, being “eligible” for certain programs make you dependent of those programs and their alms and whims…when they cut the funding or change management, you’ll lose whatever charity they were giving to you…and those who may have been told you were lazy or different or taking money from their taxes and pockets will hate you and see you as an enemy in times of deprivation, scarcity or war.

You can stop this.

Most people do not really want freedom, because freedom involves responsibility, and most people are frightened of responsibility.” ~ Sigmund Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents

It is not inequality which is the real misfortune, it is dependence.” ~ Voltaire

I am not talking about the “superman” myth that Western culture has tried to throw on us all: that you can have whatever you want or that if you fail in life it is always your entire fault.

I am not naive: I know how the powerful and rich and all those in advantageous positions can create chaos in people’s lives, create wars nobody wants and wreak havoc both at the individual and community (or even global) level. I also know how a bad “helper” or a careless institution may hurt people more than what they are supposed to help…but why is this? And what we can do about this?

Nothing will change until we change – until we throw off our dependence and act for ourselves.” ~ Myles Horton, The Long Haul: An Autobiography

What about going to communities, families and individuals not with an exported, alien “solution” but with humility and capacity to “observe and interact” (Permaculture principle) and facilitate their empowerment so the outcome is that they don’t “need” us any longer?

What about stopping the feeling (and acting) of victims and oppressed and starting to make things happen for and by ourselves in our lives, households and communities?

What if we deprive those in “power” of their power over us because we refuse to be their pets or victims and refuse to continue receiving charity and start doing and creating and growing the things we need?

What if we ourselves become our own helpers?

Don’t be satisfied with stories, how things have gone with others. Unfold your own myth.” ~ Rumi, The Essential Rumi

“Old pirates, yes, they rob I;
Sold I to the merchant ships,
Minutes after they took I From the bottomless pit.
But my hand was made strong By the ‘and of the Almighty.
 We forward in this generation Triumphantly.
Won’t you help to sing This songs of freedom ‘Cause all I ever have: Redemption songs;
Redemption songs.
Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery;
None but ourselves can free our minds. Have no fear for atomic energy,
‘Cause none of them can stop the time. How long shall they kill our prophets,
 While we stand aside and look? Ooh! Some say it’s just a part of it: We’ve got to fullfil the book.
 Won’t you help to sing This songs of freedom-
‘Cause all I ever have: Redemption songs;
Redemption songs;
Redemption songs.
Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery;
None but ourselves can free our mind.
Wo! Have no fear for atomic energy,
‘Cause none of them-a can-a stop-a the time.
How long shall they kill our prophets,
While we stand aside and look?
 Yes, some say it’s just a part of it: We’ve got to fullfil the book.
Won’t you have to sing This songs of freedom? –
‘Cause all I ever had: Redemption songs –
All I ever had: Redemption songs: These songs of freedom,
Songs of freedom.”

~ Bob Marley

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