A 2006 pop song by John Mayer expresses a sense of powerlessness in the face of large-scale turmoil. He claims:
It’s not that we don’t care
We just know that the fight ain’t fair
So we keep on waiting (waiting)
Waiting on the world to change
The feeling of powerlessness is one that is felt by many of us—it sometimes feels as if the world is barreling toward something sinister, and we are helplessly observing it happen without the means to evoke change. But to wait, hoping that problems will cure themselves, is insufficient. If we believe we are powerless, we will be.
In the early 2000s, Liberia was torn apart by civil war. Leymah Gbowee described the indecencies, violence, and abuse suffered by herself, her neighbors, and their children. She had already suffered through a civil war only a few years before, and a new eruption of conflict felt unendurable. Reflecting on her decision to take action she says, “The price of sitting was greater than the price of getting involved.”* Gbowee gathered with Christian and Muslim women and together they prayed and peacefully protested, ultimately leading to the successful termination of the war. Instead of waiting on the world to change, she became a catalyst of monumental change in her country.
Though our individual situations may vary, we, like Gbowee, are capable of having a powerful impact on civic and political developments within our home countries and throughout the world. As Big Ocean Women, we believe that “every woman is a wave in the big ocean of humanity, and together we have astounding impact for good in the world.” Choosing to act—even in small and simple ways—is central to our integrity as citizens.
Some, like Gbowee, may be blessed with visions of how to effect change, but others may be bewildered about where to begin. Whether our sphere of influence extends to multitudes or is limited to a few, there are simple and powerful changes we can make that begin with us and will radiate outward.
We can demonstrate integrity and create positive change by acting and speaking with civility, especially when tensions are high. Name-calling, mean speech, and hostility will only breed more of the same. They cannot develop goodwill, communication, or cooperation. This requires that we be genuine in listening to people with opposing opinions in the same way that we want people to listen to us when we speak. Civility is so quickly lost, but it is the foundation to integrity in politics, and can be immensely powerful. No one needs to wait for civility. Every one of us has the power to change the manner of our discourse and interactions with others.
One of the primary goals of Gbowee and her fellow women was to get the president of Liberia to participate in formal peace talks in Accra, Ghana.** The pinnacle of these women’s work was linking arms outside the office where peace talks were taking place, preventing anyone from leaving (even to eat or drink) until a peace agreement was reached. A devastating war came to an end because these women got their leaders to talk to one another.
Sometimes the world is changed in great movements and grand gestures, and sometimes it is changed through many individuals—many ocean waves—consistently choosing to do good within their sphere of influence. May we be bold in our speech and our action. May we be kind. May we listen. May we act. May we not wait, but claim our power and privilege to change the world.
* Leymah Gbowee, Oslo Freedom Forum.Pray the Devil Back to Hell, YouTube, 24 June 2011, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b38U37FhcaM.
**Hafeeza Rashed, “Leyhmah Gbowee—Biographical,” Nobelprize.org, 19 July 2017, https://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/2011/gbowee-bio.html.
To learn more from/about Leymah Gbowee, I highly recommend her keynote address at the Harvard Divinity School in 2016 entitled “Women as Catalysts for Local and Global Spiritually-Engaged Movements for Sustainable Peace.” Here is a link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b38U37FhcaM
Written by Elisabeth S. Weagel