Building hope, one brick at a time

The country has been in a state of flux in recent weeks as political leaders make their moves to secure positions or wrest power.

Oct 03, 2020

By Anil Netto
The country has been in a state of flux in recent weeks as political leaders make their moves to secure positions or wrest power.

While the momentum towards more inclusiveness moves on inexorably, it encounters resistance.

In politics, the momentum is often stymied by a mixture of wheeling and dealing, money politics, unethical practices and compromises — all of which chip away at good governance.

Many politicians succumb to the temptations of power, wealth and personal ambition. Some of them may turn into ‘kataks’, disappointing the voters who elected them. Betrayals and political backstabbing abound.

Voters may be swayed by handouts — and who can blame them when many of them struggle to provide for their families.

As politicians scramble for power, reform ideals are often tossed out of the window. They may make compromises with unethical or tainted politicians.

Once in power, instead of focusing on the needs of the people, leaders indulge in mega-projects that do little to empower the people or lift communities from poverty. These projects may even degrade the environment.

In the face of corruption, even kleptocracy, many turn a blind eye or acquiesce to  unethical and corrupt practices through their silence and inaction.

There is nothing new about all this. This was going on even during the time of the Roman Empire when the emperors knew what it took to impress the people and win popular support — extravagant building projects, lavish gladiatorial games, handouts, perhaps even starting a war to win new territory. Meanwhile, rivals and family members backstabbed each other to rise to power.

Too few leaders or parties talk about the real issues that matter to the people: job losses, high debt, lack of genuinely affordable housing, poor quality of education, inadequate funding for healthcare, poverty. Concern for the environment and the threat of climate change are often sidelined.

The focus seems to be on power and the prestige and patronage that come with it. Amid shifting alliances, it is difficult to know what each bloc stands for. What are their blueprints for socioeconomic reforms  to enhance the people’s wellbeing? Will these leaders improve public education and healthcare and build more homes within the reach of the people?

We can never move forward if we don’t restore principles and ethics into public life. Politicians need to take principled positions on socioeconomic and environmental issues, to promote social solidarity and uphold the common good. These are key tenets of Catholic social teaching.

Radical change, however, is rarely achieved from the top down. It is usually gained from the bottom up, when enough people believe the time has come for change. This often requires a leap in consciousness, an awakening – sometimes triggered by an incident or injustice.

Look at the history of the civil rights movement. Change came about through the actions of ordinary people who dared to speak out and make a difference. Think of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr.

The Bishop of Rome himself held up Dor othy Day as an inspiration in the struggle against oppression, war and injustice. Day herself inspired others like Thomas Merton and the famous Berrigan brothers, Daniel and Phil, who were at the forefront of the anti-war movement.

They all worked from the ground to create awareness of injustice and struggle for change.

Jesus himself spent most of his time on the ground, meeting the outcasts and forgotten in society, to herald the good news of the kingdom. He put forward his simple but radical charter for the transformation of society, the Beatitudes.

He stayed away from the centres of power for the most part of his ministry, shunning the movers and shakers of his time. Instead, he worked the ground, inspiring and empowering the people with his vision of God’s kingdom that would transform the world.

Sometimes we may ask, what can we do to change our society and the world? How can our small efforts make a difference?

Dorothy Day put it eloquently: “People say, what is the sense of our small effort? They cannot see that we must lay one brick at a time, take one step at a time. A pebble cast into a pond causes ripples that spread in all directions. Each one of our thoughts, words and deeds is like that. No one has a right to sit down and feel hopeless. There is too much work to do.”

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