I’ve been reaching out to people I admire to share their why bother stories – the times in their lives they felt stuck or lost or despairing – big or and small – and what turned things around.
Today’s story is from the phenomenal Hiro Boga…
Jen, I’d never really considered the phrase, Why Bother, until you sent me an early draft of your magnificent manuscript. As someone who grew up in India in the 50s and 60s, surrounded by extreme inequalities of wealth and laceratingly skewed distribution of fundamental resources like food, clothing, education and shelter, I knew despair early, and often. Despair at the sheer scale of the problems my country faced; at the apathy with which they were met.
But I don’t ever remember thinking, Why Bother? Because bothering wasn’t a choice. The suffering I witnessed every day wasn’t a choice, so bothering wasn’t a choice either.
Oh, I asked lots of questions, or the same questions over and over…
Why is the world so unjust? Why do we (my family, my classmates, my friends and their families) have more than we need, when millions around us are starving, homeless, without hope or future?
My dad was a socialist who had been deeply involved in the struggle to gain Indian independence from the colonial British Empire. He knew, first-hand, what could be accomplished when people held fast to a unified vision of freedom and justice and acted collectively to bring these about despite overwhelming imbalances of political power.
He encouraged me to think critically, ecologically, about things that made my heart hurt; to understand the structures of power and question who benefits from them and how. He taught me to explore freely, to come up with creative responses to intractable problems, rather than to collapse under the weight of them. He encouraged me to articulate what I valued, what kind of country I wanted to be part of creating, and to live accordingly.
This was our dinner-table conversation, as far back as I can remember. How do we change systems that profit from maintaining widespread poverty, hunger and homelessness? How do we bring justice and equality to power structures that have been culturally entrenched for centuries? How do we transform that Indian fatalism that causes our poorest and most vulnerable citizens to accept the unacceptable, to never even consider the possibility that the systems that oppress them aren’t Divinely ordained, but human constructs that can and should be demolished?
Despair was familiar – and even back then, it was clear to me that I could not make a home for it. It would alight on my heart, an albatross whose weight was suffocating, unbearable. I learned to recognize it, and to refuse it. Part of that refusal came from consulting the Devas: the Deva of Bombay, the Deva of India, the Devas of provision and nurturance, support and sustenance (although I didn’t have those names for them, back then). What do I do, I’d ask? I’m a child. What can I do now, today, to make life better for everyone? I can’t wait until I’m older. Show me what I can do now, or my heart will shatter.
My choices were limited by the smallness of my own stature and the confines of my childhood world, bounded by family and school, neighbourhood and friends. But the Devas were clear about what was mine to do. Their compassionate wisdom reinforced what I learned from my family, from the ways in which they lived and cared for others, from the values they embodied.
Embrace all beings with respect, love, generosity, and kindness. Uphold the dignity of all forms of life, not just human life. Be faithful to your soul; trust your inner discernment, wherever it leads you. You can do these things even when you’re a child – maybe more easily when you’re a child. Action in the outer world came later, fueled by the foundations layered into my inner world by these practices.
Fast forward to now, some seventy years and half a world away from the country of my birth. I live in one of the wealthiest countries in the world. There’s injustice, inequity and poverty here, but it can be avoided, should you wish to do so. It’s contained, skeletons rattling in the national closet, hidden in plain sight.
For all the wealth we enjoy in our society, despair gurgles like an open sewer through the landscape of our lives, alongside the clear waters of gratitude, delight, provision, freedom.
I still can’t bring myself to think: Why Bother? My freedom, my joy, is a gift of grace. And grace calls me to do my part, to foster wholeness and justice, provision, freedom and joy for everyone.
The immense privilege I enjoy is intimately interwoven with responsibility – to be a servant of the Sacred, an agent of wholeness, to the best of my ability. So, when despair swirls at my feet, when the urge to give up wraps its cold hands around my heart, I thank it for reminding me that my life is not mine alone.
My life belongs to my world; it belongs to the Sacred. And it requires that I act on behalf of the whole with all the vigour I can muster. I can’t give despair a home in my heart, because it paralyzes me, and paralysis is not an option. Bothering, on the other hand, is what makes us human.
You can follow Hiro Boga here: