The phrase “it starts with the person in the mirror” is often used as a call to action. A way of telling us we should be the change we want to see. It’s a cliché that’s inspired many into doing some great things, be it cleaning up their environment or even volunteering for a good cause. But I believe we only grasp the phrase at surface level, ignoring the deeper meaning it possesses. When we think of the person in the mirror we shouldn’t only translate it as a call to action, we should start by thinking about our motives and interrogating why we want to take action.
Being an ”activist” is considered the ”in thing” at the moment. Everyone’s declaring their activism left, right and centre and there’s a lot of ”outrage” on the social networks to prove it. But it’s fast being used as a social network industry — a method of self-promotion — judging by how hypocritical and condescending it’s become.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise, after all social media has made it easy to condemn what happens at a distance even if we continue to ignore what happens on our doorstep. Perhaps we find it easier to ignore the suffering and injustice closer to us because speaking about it would compel us to actually do something about it. And besides walking the talk is not always as glamorous as tweeting the talk. There are no followers to pat you on the back for a job well done. All this is creating an environment that’s fast seeing activism reduced to personalities. Instead of discussing the issues raised conversations become about ”who is the ‘better’ writer”, ”who is the most radical”, ”who can best articulate theory” and even ”who is the ‘better’ feminist” — all of which prove to be a distraction. Even legitimate concerns from dissenters are shot down merely because people are increasingly taking sides in these battles and the person dissenting is from the ”other” side.
In light of this it becomes clear that now more than ever change does truly begin with the person in the mirror because it’s only that person that can truly answer these questions:
— Am I doing this to create a certain perception of myself;
— Am I doing this to ease my guilt;
— Am I doing this to prove my racial superiority;
— Am I doing this to market myself and create a brand that’s about me;
— Do I expect a pat on the back for doing this;
— What are my expectations of those I am assisting and are those expectations fair;
— If at any stage my presence threatens the existence of the project am I willing to step back from it; and
— Who am really I doing it for?
Despite what we think we know about ourselves it’s become essential we constantly interrogate our motives. Like Fungai Machirori writes: “We are all fallible and the truth is that we humans are a mass of contradictions. Our motives shift, views change, circumstances evolve. We are never fully the same person we were or are, or will become.” It should always be on our minds that as much as motives cannot be known by others, in time they reveal themselves and have the potential to do harm even to the most noble of causes.
In the end it’s not tweeting or posting about the change one wants to see that is going to make a difference in our country, it is living it. It’s letting one’s way of life give meaning to those tweets, posts and articles. But before even doing this we need to spend some time with the person in the mirror — understanding the motives underlying the meaningful action. There’s nothing as refreshing and as fulfilling as doing something purely to create positive change with no expectations and no tainting of what is right with one’s ego. It’s then and only then that we will start replacing the current ”me”-tainting activism with ”we”.