My hands are always dipped in clay, always sculpting my life with that which rules my heart. I want to leave my mark, a positive footprint that will hopefully impact future existence for the better. It has nothing to do with notoriety. It has everything to do with creation, conservation, and exploration. As a child, I was an avid recycler. I joined the World Wildlife Federation to save the endangered species, one tiger and wolf at a time. I spent my hard-earned allowance to save rainforests from destruction. I worked at the Houston Zoo to learn more about different animals, their biology, and how each could be helped. And apparently (although I vaguely recall this), I wrote letters to politicians asking for their help in ceasing legal whaling off the coast of Norway. I know this only from the response letter, (presumably) from Al Gore, thanking me for my diligent efforts in such a just cause. I discovered his forgotten letter as I revisited and repacked my childhood boxes just prior to moving to Norway…a little foreshadowing?
Now I live in my beloved little Norway and while much has changed within me, some things never will. Yesterday I stood on Karl Johan with five individuals, four of whom are Chinese. We spent hours asking people to sign a petition for the UN Human Rights Commission, a petition against the illegal organ harvesting of Chinese prisoners. Many of these prisoners are innocent Falun Gong practitioners, imprisoned only for their belief in a spiritual practice that was outlawed by the Chinese Communist Party in 1999. To date, there is much evidence to show that Chinese prisoners are having their organs stolen and used for illegal transplants in China. I have the privilege of knowing one of these five individuals closely and have learned his story of extensive torment at the hands of the Chinese government. As such, this issue has grown dear to my heart and I stood by his side in support and petitioned for others to do the same.
It is a well-known fact that while walking the streets of downtown Oslo, you are often approached by various groups and organizations, gypsies and beggars, sometimes so much so that you begin to duck into shops and cafés just to avoid being accosted. Often these seeking individuals wander through those café courtyards, again asking for your participation, your time, your money. It can be exhausting, especially if you are someone whose heart wants to contribute, but whose pocketbook won’t allow it. Many who have repeatedly experienced this have naturally grown skeptical of and cynical towards anyone approaching them. I tried to counter this skepticism by offering an initial statement of “This has nothing to do with money. We are simply asking for signatures.” Often that left a curious pause long enough for me to explain our cause, for which most offered to sign in support.
At the end of our petitioning and educating, we had acquired a few hundred signatures. It was a successful day. Even still, I arrived home with a nagging sensation and, after some processing, realized that my discontent had to do with a handful of experiences during the petition. I want to preface this by saying that most people were entirely supportive and gracious. I should also say that the friends I worked with are far too kind and humble to ever complain about anyone ignoring their efforts. I, however, lack their boundless humility and feel burdened by some of the things I witnessed yesterday, so much so that I find it important to voice.
The first painful (and admittedly irritating) moment came as I approached three women. They were dressed impeccably, chatting loudly, laughing candidly. Before the words came out of my mouth, I was met with “No.” I spoke anyway, stating that we were simply looking for signatures and that our petition could save lives. There was no response, no declination…there was laughter. The three women rolled their eyes, laughed, and continued walking. I spoke English when I approached them and they mocked me in Norwegian as they passed. These were grown women, a good twenty years my senior.
Some time later, I approached a man I presume to be in his 30’s. He wore an expensive suit, carried a leather briefcase, walked with a confident and casual stroll. He smiled as I approached him and listened patiently as I explained our cause. He responded with, “And you think that my little signature is going to make a difference? I doubt it.” What was I supposed to say? No, absolutely not. In fact, we should scratch our efforts altogether, because each person’s signature really doesn’t amount to much, even when those collective signatures amount to a few hundred. Before the sarcasm in my head could translate audibly, he mumbled “this really isn’t my thing” and walked away.
The final comment came from a middle aged man. He had a gruff exterior even at a distance. As I spoke, he continued walking past me and, had I not begun to walk with him, would have continued without as much as a word. When he realized my persistence, he stopped and allowed me to finish. He looked at the information pamphlet I offered him, scanned my list of signatures, looked up at me blankly and said, “It is not really my place to get involved in what the Chinese government decides to do with its people.”
This cause is not mine to own, only to participate in, and I must maintain the same level of respect and humility that my friends uphold whether they are successful in obtaining signatures or are rejected. I am glad I didn’t respond, but yesterday’s events have kept my focus. I think some people are shy, some are ignorant about the topic, some are skeptical, some are cynical, some are busy, some are focused on important experiences within their own world and time constraints, etc. What the encounters left me thinking about was not the simply these moments, but the contrast between individuality and individualism.
Individuality is the particular character or set of qualities that distinguish one person from others. Basically, your individuality is what makes you you. Individualism, however, is the moral stance or social outlook that stresses “the moral worth of the individual.” In other words, individualism is a focus on oneself, the idea that whatever is in one’s own best interest is best overall, and I was asking people to behave in just the opposite manner. I was asking people to step out of their comfort zones and offer a small piece of themselves (a signature) for the sake of others.
Our society is a good one. It promotes individuality. I like when people feel free to express themselves, be themselves, honor what they feel inside by being true to themselves. Our society, unfortunately, also tends to promote individualism and this is where I find myself feeling conflicted. We should, in some way, be allowed to think of ourselves and our own best interests, but to what sacrifice? At what point does our trend towards individualism begin to inhibit the focus we could be placing on those people or things around us? There are a million issues throughout the world that could use our focus, time, effort, and money and, if you are a bleeding heart, it can be difficult to decide which to contribute towards. However, I think part of our individuality is made up by the ways in which we tend to others, offer a piece of ourselves to others, learn about and reach out to others. We shape ourselves to be better people – better individuals – by thinking with less individualism and more collectivism, with the importance of the entire society or state in mind.
My point is this: I am a bit of a bleeding heart and I don’t expect everyone to be like me. I didn’t expect that everyone I met yesterday would be willing to hear me or sign our petition. I do, however, hope for each individual to find a way to contribute to the world, offer a bit of themselves to someone or something in need of help, even when that someone or something seems so large that affecting it positively in any way appears slim. According to an African proverb, one of which I am reminded often, “If you think you are too small to make a difference, you have never spent the night in a tent with a mosquito.”
You are never too small to create change in the world, whether positive or negative, because all actions have a reaction and a consequence. I hope you will reach out towards that which touches your heart, try to affect it positively, and watch the change in yourself and in those around you as the positivity filters down the chain.
Please watch this video to learn more on forced organ harvesting in China...
And please visit this site, read the first page, and scroll down to sign the petition against forced organ harvesting in China...