Nobel prize winner Kary Muliss wrote of the experience of realising that there was no greater authority overseeing scientific research. He became aware of the responsibility he shared with his peers of being the elders; the overseers; the shepherds.
This week has stirred the beginnings of a similar thought for me in terms of society.
Over the last four days follow the death of Nelson Mandela I have read many Facebook posts, blogs and published articles. I have been reminded of the extraordinary life that he lived. I have found some aspects personally challenging. But I have been most moved by the stories which a few have told.
Some have been stories which reveal their involvement in the struggle. Tales of hidden pictures of Mandela and books covered in brown paper to foil cursory searches by the security police.
I am equally grateful for those who chose to confess their lack of courage or even uncritical acceptance of the oppressive system.
I have seen these people in a new light – some because of their courage then, and some because of their truth telling now. And I respect them all a little more.
In some ways I have found myself thinking that my own life seems so small. I have not had to take a stand on anything. I have not even had the opportunity to vote in any election as an adult (I have always been a foreigner). It seems so utterly bland.
But when I pause for just a heart beat longer I am forced to recognise the selfishness of such thoughts.
We live at time when the disparity between rich and poor is growing. In the country in which I reside the problems seem insurmountable and nebulous. I imagine in South Africa in the 1980’s there were many quiet conversations. Those who read the forbidden books must have felt they were making a difference simply by reading. Some stepped up and spoke out. But those courageous ones did not emerge from a vacuum. They did not make that choice on a whim. It began with a quiet conversation.
Where is the will to combat poverty?
Where is the will to improve education?
Where is the will to resist the powerful lure of personal profit?
Who are the people who having the quiet conversations about how to make to a real difference?
Maybe it is time that I commit to starting those conversations, in the hopes that one day an idea will emerge that is worth pursuing.