I read a book recently that changed my life. The door opened just wide enough for me to get a foot in and go on to learn the most important lesson of my life. This is a little story of the lead-up to that lesson and the point beyond: becoming part of the Truth Justice Peace Human Shield Action Iraq.
I’ve been in London for about nine months, here on my big O.E. (a favourite Kiwi truism, the Overseas Experience). The thing is I haven’t really been doing much. I’ve scratched the surface of London. Popped over to Wales and Bath. Been clubbing. Done a lot of reading. Took part in my first mass anti-war march. I’ve been looking forward to my sister/flatmate having a baby. I even stood for NZ parliament while here. But no globe-trotting antipodean style.
Much of the reason for this is simply that I haven’t had the money, due, in most part, to not getting work in my chosen field, architecture. But there’s another more pervasive reason. I’ve been hanging out in London this whole time wondering just what the hell I’m doing here. When I dreamed of the big O.E. as a teenager I dreamed of a time-honoured Kiwi tradition; a chance to travel the world and see places, meet people, get to know yourself and come back an adult with a few spare Sterling.
But this is not what I found on my arrival in London. What I found was yet another cultural tradition consumed by consumerism. Yet another human tradition turned into a anti-human profit-making venture. Travellers didn’t own this tradition anymore. Business people did. I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to do… where to travel first, what travel package to pick, which tour package to take! But you know what, maybe the big O.E. is alive and well after all. Maybe I just couldn’t see it through the haze that is the world travel industry.
One night a truly good and old friend of mine told me in passing, “I love ya Briggsy.” I’m not sure if this was the first time but because of the book I was reading it really hit home. A couple of nights later I went out with a bunch of friends and ended up back at his place chatting about this book, Free to be Human, by David Edwards; a book about freedom, and above all about the idea that there is often no greater obstacle to freedom than the assumption it has already been fully attained. A book about why true happiness can be so elusive.
I explained to my old friend just how much it meant when he told me he loved me. I surmised how insane it is to think that just getting that next job; making that next pay-packet; finding your “true-love”; getting that next model computer; how insane it is to think these ever-expanding desires can possibly lead to happiness. How can they, they’re never satisfied? I was starting to realise that to be truly happy you have to look deep inside yourself for your own true desires. Not desires imposed on you by others, by schooling, by consumerism, but your own truly human desires. This isn’t pyschobabble. We all have desires. Whose do you have?
I made a throw-away comment that if I could be anywhere at the moment I’d like to be in Iraq. Little did I know that what I had learnt over the past few months wasn’t just going to pan out as rhetoric. It had fundamentally changed me… or more precisely it had woken me up to who I was and what my real desires were. A couple of days later something “presented” itself. I happened across an article written by a inspirational person, former U.S. Marine and Gulf War veteran, Ken O’Keefe. I was three paragraphs into this article when I realised I was going to Iraq.
I am joining the Iraq Human Shield campaign because I believe in a very simple concept: “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” But here in lies the twist. The change I wish to see is not simply that of countless Iraqi lives spared, but that of possibly inspiring just a small group of people I know; my family, friends, and community (Napier, New Zealand), illustrating to them an unbelievably important and simple lesson I learnt recently: Wanna be happy? Just centre your life around making others happy.