Every politician and carrier of status here and elsewhere should have as required reading for leadership, the novel, A Fine Balance. It is yet another award-winning work by the Indian-born Canadian writer, Rohinton Mistry.
In it, he explores the separations and connections between the grace of compassion and the iniquity of corruption. The setting, themes, conflicts and characters are post-independence India. He describes what occurs to a country, its options, future and people as the ‘leadership’ is faced with making choices between compassion/justice and corruption/injustice.
From my understanding otherwise, but dovetailing his work, compassion is the highest state of grace that humans practise, and corruption the final state of cynicism. Without compassion, there is no justice, no peace, no truth, no beauty, no honour, no redemption, no reconciliation and no humanity. With corruption the default option for any society, crime becomes the point of departure between who is powerful and who is not. It re-defines the lawless as the law, and the lawful as inconvenient.
A humble geographer, I am convinced, however, from experience and education, that the struggle for supremacy between these two, compassion and corruption, occupies not only the material, political and legal choices facing humanity today but is also ground-zero in the spiritual warfare that now engulfs all mankind.
Among the evidence cited regarding this epic struggle are the following. One, the fact that in every country, rich or poor, democratic or totalitarian, the best minds serve the worst ends. Directly and indirectly, they reinforce the sinews for waging war. Another theatre in this struggle for supremacy between compassion and corruption is a world in which, today, while half of the population dies of starvation, the other half sickens itself with gluttony. And the irony? Much of the food consumed, the rice, the bananas, etc., come from the toil and soil of the starving.
Speaking of dying, and the spectrum of choices between compassion and corruption, there is yet another spectrum set between the parentheses: that life is short, and death is certain. Between these two stark realities, one’s choices are either to be a proponent of justice, or an opponent to it.
And supporting justice is as simple as forming, and being part of, some organizations in our community.
One, for example, is Redemption Re-integration Services. Another ‘Redemption Story’, its workers and volunteers rehabilitate formerly imprisoned Black Youth. Opposing justice only requires that one remains ambivalent, conveniently unaware, uncaring about the circumstances facing so many of our youth. For the compassionate, ultimately, life is joyous; for the corrupt, it is tedium.
Twenty-five years ago, in 1988, members of Toronto’s Black community journeyed with Charlie and Hetty Roach to the 25th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington. On a journey that beetled its way between the Adirodack mountains, ranging between New York and the Capitol, we stopped over at a Baptist Church for a pre-arranged rally to hear the Rev Jesse Jackson speak. He was then a candidate too, for the Presidency of the United States. He spoke of Dr. King’s ‘I Have A Dream Speech’. He said, unlike the image had of Dr. King, he was not an idealist, but a realist with high ideals.
From experience, I think that the most persuasive and decent of persons one is blessed to meet are those who, in pursuit of justice for others, are visionaries and realists. People who stand for justice and with those unable to repay the debt are among the most humble gems of humanity.
Hereto, another writer and poet comes to mind: James Henry Leigh Hunt (1784-1859). In a poem, ‘Abou Ben Adhem’, he describes the experience of a man who awoke one night, startled to find a Vision – an angel – in his room.
The Vision was writing on a scroll. Abou, curious, asked, ‘what writest thou?
To which the Vision replied, ‘The names of those who love the Lord’.
Abou, curious and hopeful continued, ‘and is mine one?’
Abou wept. ‘I did not know there was a God to love. But (now less hopeful) put me as one who loves his fellow man.’
The next night, the Vision re-appeared. In his hand was the scroll. On it was written, ‘the names of those who love of God had blessed. And lo! Ben Adhem’s name led all the rest.’
In Toronto’s Black community are many professions. Of these, while lawyers are about the law, teachers are about education, mechanics are about safety, and medics are about health, only one of these is most directly about compassion – the Clergy. In short, I think that this profession, by precept and example, is to distill the essentials of compassion, as evidenced in social entrepreneurship.
Put another way by Ashoka Canada, social entrepreneurs par excellence, ‘rather than leaving societal needs to the government or business sectors, (they) find what is not working and solve problems by changing systems, spreading the solutions and persuading entire societies to take new leaps.
Every leading social entrepreneur is a mass recruiter of local change-makers. They are role models proving that citizens who channel their passion into action can do almost anything.’
In addition, those who are willing to tackle chronic societal problems with sustainable solutions, are, in the words of David Bornstein – a Canadian activist in this field – ‘social entrepreneurs; path breakers with a powerful new idea, who combine visionary and real-world problem solving creativity, have a strong moral fibre, and who are ‘totally possessed’ by their vision of change.’
Hopefully, the GTA will not be as Ezekiel, an Old Testament writer prophesied of another period, another place where, ‘Judgment is turned away backward; justice stands afar off; truth is fallen in the street; equity cannot enter; truth fails; and he who avoids evil makes himself vulnerable.’
To Be Continued: Canadian models of successful social entrepreneurship