Thursday, December 5, 2013

Seven Billion Ways to Start a Revolution: A tribute to Nelson Mandela

Greetings to all my friends and bloggers around the world... yes, The Doctor of Patronomics has returned... you know what that means... tell it Martin Lawrence...

It has been two years since my last post, and my life keeps rolling. Teaching, marriage, life projects, grading, homework, publishing... all those things have kept me busy and they have fueled my fire and my "kung-fu".

Tonight I decided to return to this blog, revamp it, tweak the title a little bit as a tribute to a great man who just left this earth: NELSON MANDELA. Nelson Mandela, former political prisoner, South African President, Nobel Peace Prize winner, and all-around epic human being, left a hole in our souls today when he passed away. He was an example of "putting your money (and your life) where your mouth is", a man whose actions spoke as loudly as his words. His legacy is too big to describe in one blog, and too powerful just to talk about it. 

Mandela was all about social justice, as were many others who walked that road less traveled that he did. He believed that freedom was about one's piece of mind, and he believed in education as a game-changer.

nelson mandela, quotes, sayings, wise, wisdom, education

I haven't stopped believing that education can change the game; that's why I haven't lost my faith and my desire after doing this for 20 years already; that's why I wake up every day to work and try to make a difference; that's what I teach what I teach and how I teach. I still believe, as Taylor Mali once said, that I can "make a goddamn difference" and with God as my witness, the day I don't believe that, I might as well hand in my resignation because I'll harm my students by not giving them an excellent teacher.

Mandela was a revolutionary, not necessarily the Rolex-and-fatigues-combo type, mind you, but a revolutionary nonetheless. He was a freedom fighter, but not in the way some Danish groups have romanticized them in t-shirts and DJ mixes. He was a man of action through policy and politics, contrary to some politicians elsewhere who forgot what Braveheart's William Wallace said, "There is a difference between us. You think the people of this country exist to provide you with position. I think your position exists to provide those people with freedom."

This leads me back to the title of this blog: Seven billion ways to start a revolution... but before this, a musical interlude by Ms. Tracy Chapman:

(Talkin' bout a revolution - Performed at a Mandela tribute)

Ok, after this, let's get into the heart of the matter: Mandela, like others before him (and hopefully many more after him), taught us that there are many ways to start a revolution. While some of them may start or end in uprising, as was the case of the Arab Spring, or in protests, as they did in the Occupy movement, there are many other forms of revolution available. I want for a moment to focus on the "whispers" that Ms. Chapman was talking about. You see, those are the most meaningful ones, the little revolutions that start in the workplace, in the classroom, at home even. Reloading Gil Scott-Herron (whom I've cited in previous thoughts), I would like to revisit my initial thought: Big-size revolutions will be all over Facebook, Twitter, and other outlets... the smaller ones will not, but we need those small-size revolutions to effect some real change around us.

What revolutions am I talking about? Those we can make wearing a suit and tie, as I once told my students. The smallest revolutions are those about acting with a strong moral compass, with a sense of not looking at other until I wonder what that soft surface I'm stepping on is, with a sense of ethics. Those revolutions are about not being a douche and avoid leaving your litter all over the place, or about not cutting off people or cars in a long line. These revolutions are about being a "Good Guy Greg" (citing the famous meme) on a daily basis. These little revolutions are about those who recycle, or pick up their mess, or do not try to cheat their way out of a paper, even if seemingly everybody around them does the opposite. Revolutionary people always "think outside the box" and "go against the grain".

And sometimes it happens that these tiny revolutions lead to bigger ones. We hear examples about folks painting bike paths, as folks in Mexico City and Medellín have done in recent years. We hear stories about grassroots movements that work for education, health, etc. Examples like these are small-scale revolutions, non-violent in nature but powerful in meaning. The idea of "revolution" has been bastardized and romanticized in recent years, with references to Pancho Villa and Che Guevara, with loose references to Freire and McLaren, or the occasional Deepak Chopra or Paulo Coelho moment of zen. 

To me, revolution goes deeper than that. It's about fighting the good fight from wherever we are. When I meet a bank teller, a public servant, or a police officer who does their job well, displaying dignity and politeness, I see a spark of revolution. I see in my teachers who work hard to provide quality education, even if politicians and business people love to throw them under a bus every chance they get... and I see it in those politicians and business people who have the courage to become their allies. Those sparks are everywhere... and as it may happen that the smallest spark can start a fire, I believe that a revolution may start by the sheer combination of those seven billion sparks... sometimes all it takes is doing the right thing, making the righteous choice, not cutting corners. I think it's the simplest actions what may start the deepest revolutions of the think and do... or as post-modern philosopher Michael Jackson would say...

"I'm starting with the man in the mirror"

But, why do I still believe in these silent revolutions, when there is so much evidence of mediocrity and corruption around us? Why do others like me and unlike around the world still do? Because, paraphrasing NIck Fury, we'll need all of us to. 

And here is the time when I return to Nelson Mandela: Why do we still believe in these small revolutions of the think and do? Because we owe him that much! Yes, I believe we owe him and many others a debt: to make this world a better place. It's not just Mandela to whom we owe. We also owe this to other great human beings before him: John Lennon, Dr. Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi, Rosa Parks, Bertrand Russell, Monsignor Oscar Romero... as well as all those unsung heroes at Plaza de Mayo, in Chile, Tiananmen Square, Rwanda, Tibet, and of course all of them in my beloved Colombia. We owe this to all those people who work hard every day to make a tiny difference and those who work hard to make a larger difference. As I said, there are about seven billion ways to start a revolution and change... what is stopping you?

That's it for now. Till my next blog, I bid farewell...

The Blogger, the Thinker, the Provocateur...

Raúl A. (El Patrón Himself / The Doctor of Patronomics)


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