There are so many people out there trying to spread fear, hatred and division. We notice the violent ones, who make grand gestures and kill a lot of people in a short space of time, but we often don’t notice the ones who work in more subtle ways.
Much of today’s politics is based on fear. Fear of those people who don’t look like us, or that culture that doesn’t do things the way we do them, or that guy who wants to change the system, or that group that calls itself by a different name and seems to be worshipping a different kind of Divinity.
That’s because fear is a natural human emotion. It’s evolved to keep us alive, which is usually agreed to be a good thing. So it’s easy for politicians to exploit it – to appeal to our primitive survival instincts, rather than our higher consciousness that keeps trying to wake us up and tell us the truth: There is no ‘us and them’.
As I wrote in a poem when I was a teenager at the Drielandenpunt, where the borders of Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands all meet – countries that were once at war, but have now turned the site into an international peace park:
And should we speak of ‘them’ at all,
as ‘them and me’, or ‘them and us’,
or should we speak of us and us?
Why all this fuss?
A name is just a name…
God, Goddess, Allah, Mungu, Engai Brahma, Jehovah: these are just our feeble human attempts at naming something which is far, far bigger and more beautiful than we can ever dream of.
Muslim, Christian, Pagan, Druid, Baha’i, Buddhist, Hindu, Jain, Jew, Zoroastrian, atheist, agnostic, spiritual wanderer, or whatever other names we might come up with: we are all seekers, chasing sparks of that Divine Love and trying to fan them into flames.
We can’t let ourselves be distracted from our quest by people who don’t understand it, and think that ‘those people’ over there are ‘the enemy’. A name is just a name…
We were all created to create something amazing.
We all have the potential to become artists, pilgrims, pioneers, visionaries, revolutionaries and world-changers. This power isn’t just in some of us: it’s a Divine gift that’s been granted to every single soul.
We all have that Light burning within us, but most of the time, we hide it. It’s too scary to shine that brightly.
Whatever it is that we’re dreaming of… we tell ourselves it’s crazy, or too weird, or too ‘out there’, or it’ll never work.
Or we kid ourselves we’re too small, too unknown, too young, too old, too short, too tall, too fat, too thin, too dumb, or too unknown to make it work.
Or we insist we don’t have the right education, the right training, the right skills, the right background, the right contacts, the right car, the right shoes, or the right handbag.
What I loved about Tanzania in 1999 was that none of that stuff mattered.
I was part of a group of 19-22 year olds with a dream of building a Peace Village – a place where young people from all over the world could come to learn about African music, culture and wellness traditions. We didn’t let anyone tell us we couldn’t do it. We raised money, bought a plot of land, registered our own arts and culture organisation, and started building huts.
It got burnt down, so we adjusted the dream, grew the big crazy vision even bigger and crazier, and started again.
You can’t build that there, people told us. Whatever are you thinking of? You’re insane.
It’s a barren patch of bushland. There’s no infrastructure. There’s no water. There’s no electricity.
What you’re trying to do has never been done before. There’s no path.
So we created the path by walking it.
Within five years, we had our place where young people from all over the world could come to learn about African music, culture and wellness traditions. But it wasn’t just a Peace Village. It was the beginning of a secondary school for underprivileged youth.
Those aren’t classrooms, officials told us. An octagonal timber-frame building can’t be a classroom. Classrooms are rectangular and built from concrete blocks. They measure 9 metres by 7.2 metres and have three windows.
You don’t have to demolish them. Just use them as store-rooms, or whatever. But go away and build us some classrooms.
So we did. And two staff houses, and toilet blocks, and a laboratory, and dormitories. All in accordance with the officially recognised plans.
Those aren’t students. You can’t be a student in a secondary school if you’re wearing Maasai robes. Make them all buy shirts and trousers, or skirts if they’re girls.
Ouch. That one hurt. We thought about giving up at that point. But we knew school would come to the village sooner or later. We figured it was better to have one that honoured the Maasai traditions as best it could, and showed young people the power and the beauty of indigenous knowledge by bringing Masters and PhD students from overseas to study it… and let them wear their robes on special occasions, if they wanted to. (Some of them didn’t, which was also fine…)
I won’t say it was all 100% benefit and no costs. Nothing in life ever is. But since our first graduation in 2008, more than 300 students – most of them from low-income families who’d never have been able to afford an education – have graduated from Noonkodin Secondary School with a Form 4 certificate – the equivalent of GCSE or tenth grade.
Many of them are now teachers, nurses or business owners. And one is the Headmaster.
So if you have a dream, however wild and crazy, don’t let anyone put you down. Don’t let anyone tell you that it’s too much, or that you’re not enough.
You are enough.
We are ALL enough.
We are big enough, smart enough, brave enough… even when we aren’t feeling it.
One of the greatest tragedies of the West is that we’ve lost the magic of song.
In the Maasai community, singing is part of everyday life. People sing to praise God, regardless of whether they’re Christians, Muslims, or followers of their own indigenous spiritual tradition (where ‘Engai’ is actually translated more accurately as ‘Goddess’).
People sing to preserve their memories and histories, most of which are still unwritten. All the rites of passage have their own songs associated with them, including weddings, ceremonies to bless unborn children, child-naming ceremonies, initiation into adulthood, and the transition from warriorhood into elderhood (although the latter doesn’t have an equivalent for women), and funerals.
Songs are used to welcome important visitors, to launch projects, or – as in the photo above – to entertain parents at the school Open Day. Crucially, they can also be used to open people’s minds to the possibility of change: in our project to reduce the prevalence of female genital mutilation (FGM), we started every seminar and workshop with a performance by a women’s commuity choir.
Yet, in so-called ‘developed’ countries, we’ve created a culture in which most people are afraid to sing.
Shows like ‘The X Factor’, ‘American Idol’ and ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ – where harsh criticism of people’s vocal performance is seen as entertaining – certainly haven’t helped. But a bigger issue is that, with the decline in church attendance, most people just don’t have a space in which they can sing freely without being criticised or judged.
When I recently started attending my local Baptist church in England and the very first song we sang was one that I recognised from an international church that I used to attend in Tanzania, it felt like coming home. But traditional church services don’t appeal to everyone, and despite the vast amount of content available on YouTube, a lot of people – whatever their religion – wouldn’t know where to start looking for inspiring, uplifting, soul-stirring, life-changing, motivating songs that can support their own personal journey to reconnection and wholeness.
I’m a huge fan of Jodi Picoult’s book Sing You Home, which has a downloadable soundtrack. I LOVE those songs, especially ‘Ordinary Life’ – a cry from the heart for LGBTQ rights and non-discrimination – and the title track, a haunting song dedicated to a child lost through miscarriage.
Maybe it’s time we all started learning how to sing ourselves home?