Sunday, April 7, 2013

Losing Ego and Appreciating Others

“That’s me in the corner, that’s me in the spotlight, losing my religion (ego), trying to keep up with you, and I don’t know if I can do it”
From R.E.M. Losing my Religion

By nature, it seems that ego drives us, makes us who we are, enabling  us  to achieve.  But I also find that ego gets in the way, forces us to view others through our own rose colored glasses, expecting things to be a certain way, when we inherently  know that they can’t or should not .

One might think that having lived in India, and now in Nepal, would lead me to look at things differently.  On many days, this is the case, as I do have more patience and understanding for different ways of living and being.  But in many moments I revert back to my, “don’t let me fool you by my laid back California upbringing”,   type A personality. 

It isn’t easy being a human being, as we tend to want things done “our way”, as if somehow we know the way.  The reality however is very different, as witnessed by the very confused state of the world.  This didn’t happen by chance.  One can see  investment in one’s ego  in many people, especially world leaders as how they try to exert their power over citizens, or make it known that their country is now the “big guy on the block”.  The rhetoric, the “my guns are bigger than yours”, the movement of weapons threatening others, is all something that is quite frightening and screams out, “we will show you”. 

Growing up with my parents and two sisters in a Jewish household  in America , there always seemed to be a need for acknowledgement, to be well educated and achieve in the classroom or at home, the need to have stuff, the need to have a professional job,  or trying to keep up with others, more in a material sense than anything else.  I do feel privileged to have grown up in the US and I would never trade this upbringing, but when I think about how much of the world’s resources Americans use,  I wonder what this is truly about.  When I witness how others also admire or want to live this lifestyle I feel that it is a path which only leads to the earth’s further destruction.  But I don’t want to be selfish and deny others, because I’ve had this experience.  On the other hand, I also feel that many might hate me or totally dismiss this lifestyle because they know “the way”

My life has gone in the opposite direction, living on a volunteer’s allowance, in which I’m comfortable, but where I would be in dire poverty in the US.  While I might marvel at gigantic homes and the amount of stuff within these homes, I wonder why this type of status is necessary, especially given the fact that I can peer out my window from my flat in Sanepa Chowk and see people living in one room “shacks” with no amenities. 
Given this environment, the need as a human being to want more resources for ourselves and our families, selflessness,  doesn’t seem to be part of our core fabric.  Yes, maybe in some, the saints of the world, people such as Gandhi, Mandela, Martin Luther King, Jr., those living in monasteries/nunneries,  those who dress and eat the same food and don’t have stuff. 

I think a lot about my son, who is living as a postulant in a monastery in California as a devotee of Paramahansa Yogananda.  Whenever I speak with him, which is maybe once every six weeks or I’m able to see him, once or twice a year, he always seems beyond happy.  As if somehow, he has transcended ego and is leaning towards selflessness.   He doesn’t spend time on the internet and  at this point in his training,  is somewhat restricted in his outside dealings primarily spending his time in service. 

Although my life is devoted to interacting with the outside world, to networking, planting seeds and trying to make things happen, I also feel that service is  key.    However I question whether I  can be selfless, not needing recognition, doing “good” things without letting others know while not thinking further about this,  and  living without expectations from others.  Given the constant bombardment of wanting/needing to achieve, seeing what others are doing and the inequities in life, which really drives me, this isn’t easy.  By keeping the image of my son in my mind and his chosen path, somehow I feel that I have a chance.  I think that it all comes down to thinking less and less about this and letting the thoughts of recognition pass without dwelling on them 

I wonder how different the world might be if we all could be a bit more selfless and really appreciative of others and their lives.   But maybe this is totally opposite to the human condition.  Possibly, if we all try to be a  bit kinder, more empathetic and less ego driven, the world would presumably be a better place, not only for ourselves, our families and friends but for anyone born and fortunate enough to spend time here. 

Saturday, April 6, 2013

The Fertility of Imagination-Civil Society

Civil society in the form of NGOs/INGOs seems to be regularly attacked as not providing much help to those in poverty, de-politicizing rights holders, by providing them  with a few “crumbs” to keep them pacified . In speaking with some friends, they also seemed to feel, that on some level, many civil society organizations are not effective.  In Nepal, I’ve come upon the term “bottom-up, rights based and non-governmental (BORING) approach to development,  and Gaisasagiri or NGOism as negative in the sense of equating this with the “intense de-politicization of the disadvantaged population”.   In the civil society organisations that I’ve worked with these somewhat negative connotations  couldn’t be further from the truth. 

Civil society plays a vital role in providing empowerment opportunities, raising awareness regarding vital public issues and capacity building, in order to impart skills which rights holders can use to advocate for themselves.  Without civil society doing this type of work, there would be a much greater economic divide.  Through civil society advocacy, people living at the lower rungs of the economic ladder have a voice and are not totally forgotten. 

Civil society helps to bring people into politics in order to advocate for themselves.  A prime example of this is the land rights movement throughout Nepal, where local activists work to develop, in harmony with community members, empowerment opportunities.  All of this occurs at the ground level, in a rights based fashion and in collaboration with government at all levels.  I’ve found that people who have lived a primarily agrarian lifestyle and have been voiceless throughout their lives, become powerful voices of change for themselves and their families, once they are made aware of their rights.  This also enables the rights holders to have greater passion and assertiveness vis-a-vis politics, locally, as well as nationally.  This can lead directly to national policies which take into account those impacted.  In the disability sector there is a saying, which I first learned in India, stating that, “nothing about us without us”.  This also seems to also be the case in the land rights movement, facilitated through civil society organisations.

Through working for three years at the National Trust, Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, Government of  India, I came into contact with more than 900 NGOs, throughout the country working in the field of developmental disabilities.  These civil society organisations made it possible for Persons with Disabilities to have a direct link to the Indian Government. More importantly the NGOs enabled those with disabilities to collaborate, making the movement much stronger.  The strongest voices in this movement were those of Person with Disabilities and/or those having direct family links . 

Another example, although from the West where I was the Executive Director of an HIV/AIDS NGO,  is that through civil society we were able to help those living with this disease to bring their issues directly to legislators at the State Capitol and local political bodies.   These actions were about facilitating and providing empowerment opportunities for lower income, disenfranchised People Living with HIV/AIDS, to advocate for themselves. 

Civil society in Nepal is also helping to bring the conversation regarding Violence Against Women (VAW) and other gender issues into a national conversation.  Women’s organisations are the ones that have again helped to give voice to those who might have thought that they were in a hopeless situation.  Through continued advocacy and government engagement, in the longer term, women will make further societal gains, not only in Nepal, but throughout the world. 

Civil society also helps to ensure that good governance is in place at all levels, including in NGOs/INGOs.   This is a not an easy task, but through individual capacity building and learning to advocate for one’s rights is very possible.

There will always be those civil society organisations that are not “worth their weight”.  But this has more to do with individuals than anything else.  Painting a sweeping generalization of anything in life makes little sense.  Although the words behind the BORING acronym, do make sense, I would rephrase this because the work is  EXCITING and INCLUSIVE.  This is about working with the voiceless, the disenfranchised, those who have been forgotten and focusing on a rights based approach facilitating right holders to receive their fair share of the economic pie, leading to the same type of life which we all long for.  In fact, this is what the civil society organisations that I’ve worked in and am aware of, are doing. 

Michael Rosenkrantz, Kathmandu,  possesses an MBA and an MA-Sociology and has worked in the NGO and government sectors.  Michael has been Executive Director of NGOs in the US, and has worked at the top levels of local government  and volunteered for the Indian Government in the field of disability.  Michael presently works, as a VSO volunteer, on Corporate Social Responsibility issues and in land rights through Community Self Reliance Centre (CSRC).