Monday, September 20, 2010

I am not powerless

Powerlessness is the most debilitating and disempowering feeling imaginable. It attaches itself like a vice to your neck and squeezes until there is just enough air left for you to breathe in short, frantic gasps, but not enough air for you to feel alive. It fools you into believing that the only thing you can do is get by – nothing more. And so getting by is all you ever aim for. After all, anything else is mere futility.

That’s how I’ve felt about our country in so many ways – completely and utterly powerless in the face of a one-party government, a crumbling medical and education infrastructure, and crime statistics that make countries at war look like a picnic in the park. As desperate as I am to do something about it, I’ve simply been overwhelmed by the enormity of the issues at stake, and thus relegated myself to the scrap heap of the incompetent and unworthy. In other words, I’ve convinced myself that anything I say and do is pointless, so why bother?

I then read a book about the siege of Sarajevo, described as “the longest siege of a capital city in the history of modern warfare”. Essentially, Serbian soldiers surrounded the city for four years, attacking ordinary citizens with every form of weaponry and decimating the population. Bosnians caught up in the siege were reduced to primitive living conditions, fighting for access to water, bread and other survival basics. The situation went far beyond anything I’ve ever seen and ever hope to experience.

The characters in the book move from an utter numbness to a realisation that “the men in the hills” (i.e. their Serbian attackers) aren’t the ones who will make or break them, but that they themselves are responsible for their fates. So when a citizen is shot down whilst walking home, one of the central characters Dragan chooses not to walk away, but instead to risk his life dragging that body out of the street. Although the man is dead, Dragan realises that his city used to be one where you’d never find a dead person simply lying in the road, and that if he is to fight the decay of Sarajevo, he needs to do something to stop his city being one where the dead are left out in the open.

A simple twist, an elegant change in philosophy – from blaming “them” for the war and devastation to finding a way to counteract the evil. From powerlessness to power in one seamless move.

I don’t really know how to counteract the poverty, corruption and crime that torments our beautiful home, but I do know that I am not powerless. Today, I start taking my power back by writing these words. I hope and pray that it will be a catalyst into something greater in the future, but until such time, I will continue doing what I can, however small.

In the words of the great philosopher, Dave Matthews (of the Dave Matthews Band):
To change the world, start with one step. However small, the first step is hardest of all.


  1. I really enjoyed this post and found it very inspiring. Too often we all get caught up in the feeling of 'powerlessness' but yet actually we can become powerful by being brave and just doing our bit. I hate to imagine what kind of world it would be, if everyone shrugged off their power, so thanks for the reminder!

    Keep up the good work!

  2. Thanks Katie. It's a reminder for me too - hate feeling that I'm useless in a situation.
    I see you've dived into the world of freelance writing - it's something I'm interested in exploring further after just having done a course with an established writer. How are you finding it?