Moving Beyond the Shadows – a time for honest contemplation

I have been contemplating the concept of “shadows” for sometime.  A thoughtful statement by a colleague and friend initiated this reflection as he suggested that the work of building community requires those doing the guiding to appear as shadows.  This reminded me of Scotland where oftentimes, my suggestion to those with whom I worked, was to consider me as just a shadow, who would one day move on, as all shadows do.  This comment tweaked a discourse in my mind about the concept of a person as a shadow and what this really meant.

An article by another colleague and friend about minorities and the marginalized needing to reclaim themselves and their souls spurred on this thought.  There was a realization of how marginalized practically everyone is becoming in this world.  It is becoming harder to differentiate who is really marginalized as society fractures along a fault line of haves and have nots.   The marginalized poor live in despair and desperation while the wealthy increasingly live in guarded communities.  They have wealth but little freedom in which to enjoy it.  Somehow it appears that both are living in the shadow of fear. 

How removed everyone is becoming from reality – or what is called reality – for all of our realities are different. Are we all not becoming shadows in a world where darkness seems to eclipse light?  Are most not hiding in the shadows for fear of being exposed?

The challenge of being a shadow is exposure to light, thereby becoming transparent and appearing as nothing.  Who wants to be just “nothing”?  Is it not better to be outrageous, flamboyant, even, hurtful causing harm than just being nothing?  Maybe though it’s in our interpretation of what being a shadow really means.

Perhaps, even more fearful is the concept of being a “stranger”.  Its appears, to me, that I am a stranger wherever I go.  Very seldom do I fit in.  I always seem to be swimming against the tide, being the opposition instead of being in tune.  Yet, it seems that this happens, without my really trying.  Perhaps it happens because of who I am rather than what I do.  Maybe it happens because of my concern with the status quo, or of acceptance of what is – myself, society and life.  All of this can be better, if better is a relative term.  It certainly could be different.  The world doesn’t have to be full of disparity, hurt and conflict, because in some places it’s not.

The reality appears to be that as people are becoming more homogeneous, interconnected by technology and intertwined by migration they are becoming more disconnected.  There are more that are living in the shadows and becoming strangers than has ever been.

Perhaps it’s because of the lack of appreciation of others values and worth.  Maybe it relates to our own lack of values and value.  Apparently people fear who they are but also fear who they may become.  The recent and varied examples that exemplify the negatives of who and what we can become might be telling.  Where is the positive exposure of who we can become in the midst of the same turmoil and strife?  That appears sadly lacking.  There is a dichotomy in which much of the world finds itself – people are becoming shrouded in a blanket of fear, hiding in the shadows, becoming strangers to a fundamental spiritual concept of human goodness articulated by many great teachers since the beginning of human understanding

Maybe it’s partially due to a lack of understanding of the concepts of shadows and strangers.  A shadow can be most useful in guiding people in learning.  The best of teachers are but shadows walking beside people allowing them to appreciate their abilities and talents and standing to one side as these people come forth into their own.  The best of coaches are just shadows guiding people to use their talents for the betterment of the team.  The best of manager’s are only shadows encouraging all those in their charge to perform to the fullest of their ability for the benefit of all.

A new colleague of mine recently said to me “what every community needs is a perfect stranger”.  She meant someone, who without really knowing the community, but with enough courage and understanding, would affirm for people their worth, that of the community, their accomplishments and the potential of its future.  This stranger, in essence, would become a shadow inspiring, guiding, and encouraging, yet when the light of accomplishment begins to shine (they) would fade quietly into the shadows

This world is desperate for such strangers who willingly act as shadows.  Leaders who are involved for the betterment of all, rather than self aggrandizement, people who look beyond the shadows to the very light that is required for all to shine.  These people are everywhere in community but remain hidden, often in their own shadows of despair.  This is a fact that apparently is very difficult for people to comprehend.  The marginalized, and others, continue to search for the leader, the saviour, who somehow will lead them all through their shadows into the light, when it is they themselves who must be the leaders.

The world is becoming full of strangers when, in fact, it should becoming full of people who know, appreciate and value each other as the barriers to understanding and distance collapse.  It is becoming a world of shadows whereby people live in fear and trepidation of each other and the evil that can be done rather than the wonder of goodness and kindness that comes from caring and sharing.

My own struggle currently is whether or not I am being the “perfect stranger” to all those communities who need attention.  Am I providing honest reflection and guidance no matter the imposition by those who need to control and regulate.  Am I being a shadow to these people, one who fully appreciates the value of humanity, the importance of community and the necessity of a society that cares and shares.  Or, have I bought into a concept where it is the funders and the managers who must be in the spotlight, while people and their communities remain in the shadows.

The article which I just read on the plight of the minorities and the need for people to look within themselves struck a number of chords with me in my current state of restlessness and unease with my work.  Am I being true to myself, my values and my own sense of worth?  More importantly am I being true to my own concept of being a shadow in order for others to be in the light and shine.

Sometimes its important for all to step out of the shadows, to reflect and contemplate our very being, to look deep within our souls and to appreciate who we are, but more importantly, who we can become.  This requires that all of us, at some point, step out into the light to become transparent to ourselves – for most a very scary thought.

Written by Bill Pardy

May 23rd, 2004

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