Achieving Balance – in a world with little

It is in the dream that inspiration is born 

It is in the heart that hope is developed 

It is in the belief that faith is secured 

Inspiration, hope and faith are dimensions of the spirit.  It is the spirit that challenges the mind the most.

In March I made what has become an annual pilgrimage “home” to Canada.  It’s a time to catch up with family, attend to matters financial and renew my required paperwork that allows me to travel to Ukraine.  Armed with a new visa, my dues paid and a little lighter of pocket (a stolen wallet and taxes due) it was time to return.  There is a three month contract, of sorts, in place, personal commitments that have been made and a lifetime of work that is awaiting.  This work is everywhere and is not unique to Ukraine – one only has to read current press to appreciate this.

My visit “home” this year was different.  Overwhelming emotions surrounded me and my soul is still trying to process this experience.  My visit was wrought with sadness.  A less than positive emotional engagement with my family and seeing two of my older and dear friends in a state of unwellness and uncare that defies their status and resources only added to these feelings.  Some of this emotional experience can be attributed to my own tiredness and pent up stress from the past year of work in less than a positive environment in the project in which I was engaged.  Much it can be attributed to my continuing disconnectivity with an apparent selfish approach to life by so many.  The remainder perhaps relates to my appreciation of how much life in the world is out of balance and how little that I can do to address this; even though I try.

Reflection, in particular to imbalance, has occupied significant space in my soul since my return to Ukraine.  Having an opportunity to visit for a few days the Shetland Islands to fulfill a commitment made a few months ago added more contemplation.  It seems as everywhere the issues facing people are similar and development responses the same (fiscal and short term), even when most know they are wonting.

The imbalances of my own circumstance, as well of those of the world, and the challenges of both have been much of my contemplation.  I appear to be tuned to a different wavelength than others, even those involved in similar development processes that comprise my work.  My personal experiences in life and in work would indicate that fiscal returns seldom match the initiative, commitment nor the effort.  Perhaps, this is because material rewards, have not been the driving force for much of my endeavours.

Many appear blind to the evident disparities that exist, or just write it off as life and the way things are.  Nothing can be done so why try, just play the game, and as I was once told by a senior bureaucrat “just behave”.  But, in my world, imbalance appears to surround me and always has.  After many years working in disparate communities, most suffering from some stark economic or social trauma, imbalance has been my focus.  Currently Ukraine, for me, epitomizes economic and societal imbalance and this place is not unique in today’s world; it is evident everywhere.

The basis of most socio-economic development activities today, which are money driven and results oriented to demonstrate fiscal value, exacerbates these issues.  There is more focus on accounting and results and little on accountability and transformational change (which is the basis of any development activity).  Despite many breakthroughs and much experience demonstrating the benefits of people based development in the so-called developing world and even the developed world it appears that old development habits persist and are even being strengthened.  The shift from people development to one of deliverables, even if they have to be contrived, seems to prevail.

Last weekend at a meeting in addressing some of my former colleagues I used an analogy from agriculture to point out how fragile were the accomplishments by their (CEDU) project in the past four years.  I suggested that the soil has been stirred, some seeds planted, and some plants (fledgling activities and groups) are even starting to sprout.  But, this in itself, as real gardeners know, will not ensure a ripe harvest.  Nourishment, nurturing and care are fundamental to a bountiful garden (or a developed community).

Development processes require much time, patience and support, a four year process is not process at all and hardly qualifies as a project.  The challenge here (and anywhere) is how to continue the necessary nurturing and support long enough for the developing roots to grow strong enough to sustain the fledgling activities and organizations that are sprouting.   Most importantly is a belief in these processes, and the time and willingness for them to take root.

Apparently in most of the western developed world this understanding appears to have been lost.  Sustainability, while widely espoused, is not apparent in most of the “development processes” of which I am aware.  This, not only relates to international, but local development activities as well.  The only thing important is results, even if they have to be feigned.

Perhaps this relates to our scientific and technical approach to life and living which influences not only agriculture and production but, as well, relationships, education and spiritual well being.   These basic human and societal fundamentals are now usually offered as just in time activities, to fit within the busy work schedules that are compulsorary to life and living.  The work is the means to generate the income required to keep up with the push on people for consumerism; the world’s current economic engine.  The destructive results of this mechanized approach to life is evident not only in our failing food security but in our imploding economies and dysfunctional societies.

We appear to live in a world out of tune with life.  Similar economic and social imbalances pervade every country.  Any real sense of spiritual well-being appears elusive, perhaps even daunting.  The push for more, and right now, has produced a concentration of wealth, perhaps unparalled in history.   During other eras, at least people had some value, if only for manual labour in order to produce food; today it is machinery, technology and hype that count.

It appears that people are expendable, not only at work but in life, a commodity to be bartered, bought and sold at will and disposed of when any sense of usefulness is waning.  Slavery is alive and well in most of the modern world despite our boast of superior knowledge and a continuing cry against the abuse of human rights. You only have to witness forced child labour and what is referred to as “the sex trade”.  Its magnitude (billions), and the use of the word trade, perhaps give it legitimacy to some as an industry, but in fact, it is human abuse at its worst and slavery in any language.  These are only two, perhaps more visible results, of the lack of human value and the societal imbalance that is pervasive; there are many.

A recent article suggested that Bill Gates is finding it harder to give away money than it was to make it – maybe deciding what is legitimate, and what is right, is a greater challenge when you are giving, rather than receiving for some.  Perhaps he and others will learn that money is not the main issue, although in our world today, it is a necessity.  Approaches to development which are people focused and that relate to human development, spiritual growth and personal transition are critical to regaining balance in all our societies.  Transparent accountability based on these concepts, rather than money, would make more sense.

This focus on only money and results as a basis for development and the almost total dependency of volunteer organizations on “grants” from government or donors cause me much consternation.  It most often skews the needed activities and barely skims the necessary encouragement and support that is required in developing communities.  There has to be alternate approaches, but few are evident.  Even in the financial world we have a commodity called “Patient Capital” (which usually entails more than money).  Real development is not charity, but investment in: human capacity, functional societies and a better world.  Any investment needs resources; not just money.

Many suggest that my thinking is too wide, that things will happen when they will, and that we should be just content with what has been accomplished, no matter how little or how flawed. A very learned colleague kindly responded to one of my earlier articles with the suggestion “You will not be surprised if you receive few “answers” let alone ‘solutions” to the fundamental questions you raise.  They are bigger than all of us, together and bigger than all of live passages sown together”.

But, my soul continues to “whisper” these questions taunting me to give them consideration and to articulate them.  Deep within myself, I believe that there is a different way.  Imbalance will always be part of life and society, but it needn’t be as great.  Within my heart there is the realization that there are different ways to approach development.  In my previous work and experience, many ways have been demonstrated.  My soul continues to whisper within my heart that there are other ways for me to continue, that my work has value and needs pursuit, and that the inspiration for its sustainability will appear.

It is during transitional times that the imbalance affects me the most, usually causing a retreat within the mind. This sets in place a whole thought process, usually negative, that binds me tightly to visions of consequences; most of which never occur.  This disparity of hope, clouds the blessings of life, the beauty of living, and the wonder of the possible.  It is like a vortex which draws you nearer to despair, to believing what many already have concluded; nothing can be done.  Balancing my thoughts, feelings and emotions require much effort and perseverance.

The challenge has to move beyond my mind, the solution doesn’t lie there, as my knowledge base is obviously not complete.  All my pondering and thought, while important, will not provide answers or solutions, as my friend and colleague suggested.  The answer will only come from a greater source, and that requires time and patience and, most succinctly, faith: faith is the foundation of creation and human progression.  Creation is the basis for any development process and ultimately any transformation; whether it is a person, community or the world.  My work here has been a leap of faith.  Sustaining this faith is my challenge.

Written by Bill Pardy

June 8th,  2008

Illustration by Tanya Kudina

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