One Drop in the Ocean

Or Why You’re Never Too Small to Make a Difference

Reblog from Medium.com

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Photo credits: Cristian Vasile

One of my favorite movies is the fascinating and controversial “Cloud Atlas”. Some of my friends loved it, others hated it, others said they could understand nothing from this intricate story of intertwined destinies stretching accross centuries and life-times. Characters from the past whose choices and actions reverberate in the future and the other way around. Love stories echoing across multiple life-times and the amazing power of one individual to change the course of history.

To me this movie is perhaps one of the best representations of life itself and the role each of us plays on this grand stage of existence and also a wonderful metaphor describing the wave of change that’s been building up in Romania lately. For the past month I found myself being pulled out of my usual “bubble” and being swept in the current of outrage that’s been rising and rising in my home-country.

People have been coming out it the streets every day for a whole month. Last Saturday thousands of people held hands and created a living chain around the Houses of Parliament — an enormous, grotesque building reminiscent of a past era and a place where politicians with dying spirits decide the fate of this country.

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Photo credits: Cristian Vasile

Sundays are the highlights of each week. Ten thousand, fifteen thousand, twenty thousand and, every week, even more people are expected to protest in the streets of Bucharest and other major cities. The starting point was the Rosia Montana Cyanide mine. But that is just the tip of the iceberg.

These many thousands of people are in fact animated by something much wider and much deeper than an ecological cause. The massive energy of this crowd is directed against what they all perceive as an outrageous violation of their fundamental rights— the right to have a government that represents THEIR interests, NOT those of some foreign corporation, the right to free speech, the right to be respected in their own country, the right to believe in something else than the raw Darwinian principle of the “survival of the fittest”, or, in this case, “of the richest” and finally, for the right to be governed by people who truly represent them, NOT who shamelessly mock them from the illusory hight of the official power chairs these very people in the streets have allowed them to sit on.

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Photo credits: Cristian Vasile

This generation, the first in post-communist Romania which values the power of solidarity over the rule of individualism, is making its voice heard. The more televisions and other mainstream media ignore us, the more corrupt politicians ridicule us, the more the few in power defy the many on the streets, the stronger and louder we’ll become.
We are the generation that gets the fundamental message of Cloud Atlas:

“Our lives are not our own. We are bound to others. Past and Present. And by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future.”
Right now I might say the very thing one of the characters in the movie says, full of wonder at himself:

“Yesterday I believe I wouldn’t have done what I did today. I feel something important has happened to me.”
I, a woman who never thought she had any power to change anything other than her immediate surroundings and who was always happy with taking responsibility for her own life, never aspiring to do anything beyond that, have become an activist.

My cause is building a world where life is cherished, not squashed and where each person fully understands that their own actions and choices have a real impact on everyone and everything else and consequently takes responsibility.
I am aware this is neither a task for one life-time nor one to be accomplished by just one person. I am a relentless optimist but I am not naive. I fully understand the magnitude of indifference, greed, ignorance, cruelty and even pure evil that exists in the world. However, having understood all that, I choose to take action to bring my contribution and change things, to the best of my knowledge and individual power. I also choose to associate with others who, just like me, want to live in a different, better, world and build a brighter future for their children. I choose to believe that doing NOTHING is much worse than doing SOMETHING, even if that “something” seems, at first glance, too small to make a difference.

I resonate fully with the feelings of another character from Cloud Atlas — a lawyer who narrowly escaped death on a long journey to sign a contract which would have helped his father in law’s slave trade business flourish. This young lawyer, himself a minor actor on the historical stage of his own lifetime, changed his outlook on slavery and its inherent injustice after his life was saved by a slave. He comes back to his father in law and announces he’s going to join the Abolitionists and fight against slavery. The father in law despisingly tells him:

“The problem you create is a political one. There’s a natural order to this world and those who try to upend it do not fare well. Your efforts amount to no more than a drop in a limitless ocean”
“Yes” the young man replies, “but what is any ocean but a multitude of drops?”

Last night, despite the wind and the rain, thousands marched on the boulevards of Bucharest, all sharing one thought: “each of us a drop, together an ocean”.

1 Comment

  1. Anthony Seaton /

    Alis: somNew Year thoughts
    This was my 75th New Year’s Eve. Happily I do not recall the first, 1938, when it is unlikely I would have been optimistic, but optimism is the state of mind in which we traditionally greet the New Year and in retrospect it was justified for many subsequent years as the introduction of the Welfare State allowed life to improve for the large majority of those of us fortunate enough to live in the United Kingdom. However, whatever the causes, the past two decades have seen great change in our society, as global capitalism has encouraged a desperate search for more, promoting a pervasive attitude of selfishness and greed. Now, for the first time in my life, we have a Government that promotes transfer of wealth from the poorer to the richest and drives the indigent to charity and food banks, while in Europe we have a regime that is careless of a tide of youth unemployment and hopelessness, and the Islamic world splits in its centre and challenges all others at its periphery. Can there be any reasons for optimism?
    “Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends than that good men should look onand do nothing”, as JS Mill told the students of St Andrew’s University in 1867. So here are a few thoughts for 2014.
    A bright young lady in Teheran a few years ago, when asked about the place of women in society said to me “I pray to Allah every night for these laws to be rescinded.” As we saw more recently when the young rose in revolt, the caricature of Iran in the Western media does not capture the whole truth, and now we see a glimmer of hope for the people of that repressive regime. Let us hope that diplomacy rather than isolation will allow the voices of the good to be heard.
    Miguel Servetus was the first person known to have realised that our blood circulated, and wrote of this in 1553 in a book in which, disgusted by the opulence and display of the Roman Catholic Church, he promoted the restoration of a simple form of Christianity. Alas, he antagonised both Catholic and Protestant inquisitions and was burned at the stake for heresy by Calvin in Geneva. The Churches have not been free of scandal and accusations of financial misdeeds recently, but the Catholics now have a South American Pope who is said to be cleaning out its Augean stables and has embarked on a simpler life in Rome. Most of the world’s Roman Catholics are grindingly poor and need such a leader. Christianity has become unfashionable in the West, but let us not forget that it has a simple message that, if heeded, would right many of our society’s wrongs.
    The world’s attention has been caught by an enlightened decision to legalise and control the production and use of cannabis in Uruguay. Behind this stands President Jose Mujica, a remarkable 78 year-old ex-Marxist revolutionary who lives simply in his farm cottage, has opened the presidential palace to the homeless and presides over a democracy that consults its 3 million population in referenda that have stopped privatisation of public utilities and have endorsed divorce and same sex marriage. Moreover it is a country that voted to prevent prosecution of military accused of human rights abuses, from which its President suffered appallingly himself during 14 years of imprisonment. Marxism is also unfashionable but has some equally useful messages, and there may also be some lessons from Uruguay for those who wish for independence in Scotland.
    Here in wealthy Edinburgh the temporarily desperate, usually as a consequence of loss of benefits, now turn to charity to feed themselves and their children. Over 2000 people have been helped through disaster in 2013 by one Edinburgh food bank. These food banks are supported entirely by donations and are run and operated by volunteers, young and older people dedicated to helping others less fortunate. There are many good people in our society.
    So as 2013 ends, I look round the world at Iran, Rome, Uruguay and Edinburgh and see good people, old and young doing their bit to counter the bad of rapacious capitalism, greed, repression, cruelty and inequality. Not many make the news, but some are reaching positions of influence, even power. Remembering Nelson Mandela, I am encouraged and my wish for 2014 is that more people world-wide have the courage to take a stand. May the good of the world heed the dictum of Mill and look on and do something.

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