Towards an active citizenry…real change begins with each one of us

Society & Culture | By Pfungwa Nyamukachi, Writer | 23 June 2013
PHOTO: © Baynham Goredema

An active citizenry whose responsibility extends beyond personal gain and aspire more towards collective benefit. An accountable citizenry that values the principles of service

Dr. Martin Luther King said “Everybody can be great … because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love”.

The quote got me questioning the meaning of service and greatness. What it is to serve? What is it to be great? What is the measure of greatness?

To serve is a ‘doing word’ …
The word serve has many meanings. As a Shona woman, the word serve brings to mind images of food, someone serving food and in Shona culture one has to do this on one’s knees. A humbling, respectful gesture, meant to make the one being served feel honored.

One who serves is a servant. To be a servant is often ill-perceived to imply a lowly subservient position.

At its core, the word serve is a verb, and as my primary school teacher said a ‘doing’ word. To serve amongst others, is to give, to work, to be of use, to help, to spend time,  to answer to a purpose, to do duty for the good of others and not necessarily for  personal gain.

The quote also challenged me to think deeply about my contribution to society, my service, my responsibility to issues I moan about, my service to my beloved country for example. What is my role? How can I serve? What is the role and responsibility of politicians? What is the role of businesses? What is the role of the collective citizenry?

In our quest to live out our individual dreams, Its easy to become selfish. In this highly commercialized, bling-bling, material world where self promotion is idolised, we have become a tad too self absorbed. Insatiable business owners are forever on their quest for more and more profit, at whatever cost to humanity and the environment. Power hungry politicians greedily hold on to power, albeit out of touch or care for the people they ‘serve’.

What then becomes of our future as a collective? What then becomes of our humanity?

The connectedness of all life …
Doomsayers, as they always have predicted through out time, are predicting that the end of the world is near. However, what is becoming increasingly clear that mother earth is wounded and it’s our doing. In order to resolve this situation, if at all possible, it will take collective, simultaneous, dedicated action. Proving the connectedness of all life. A fact that spiritual ones, sages and Africans have always known. We are all responsible and accountable. We cannot simply stand idle, bury our heads in the sand and pass the buck.

Towards an active citizenry …
One of the diseases that plagues Zimbabweans is passivity, exacerbated by our undying and paralyzing belief in our political, especially liberation heroes.  Zimbabwe does not belong to Zanu PF, Zimbabwe does not belong to MDC. Zimbabwe belongs to all of us. To rebuild our beloved country, we each have a role to play.

I am advocating for an active citizenry, whose rights is not limited only to voting. An active citizenry that is fully conscious of the fact that rights and responsibilities are inseparable. An active citizenry whose responsibility extends beyond personal gain and aspire more towards collective benefit. An accountable citizenry that values the principles of service.  Mahatma Gandhi’s words dare us to ” …be the change we want to see in the world”.

Greatness is …
Definition: nobleness of character; eminence, large size

Synonyms: abundance, amplitude, bigness, bulk, enormity, force, high degree, hugeness, immensity, infinity, intensity, length, magnitude, mass, might, potency, power, prodigiousness, sizableness, strength, vastness

What greatness is not …
A better way to define this term would be to look at what its not;

Greatness refers both to quantity and quality. It is also a subjective term. It can mean different things at different times, to different people depending on values, needs, aspirations which can complicate the debate.

An even better way of looking at greatness is be to study so called great men and women of the world and ask whether Hitler was a great man. Powerful and famous as he may have been. What makes VaMandela great?

It becomes clear that greatness does not occur in a vaccum.

Greatness is in all of us …
Greatness is undoubtedly, a complex, multi-dimensional term whose length and breadth of meaning is really too ‘great’.

However, this article is written with three main goals, firstly to stir the debate.

Secondly, to offer a simplistic, ‘qualitative’ (not quantitative) definition that greatness is in all of us.  It is a choice we make and agrees with the great Martin Luther King, a measure resulting from service, going beyond egotistical to collective gain and collective benefit.

Finally, this is a call to action.
Often times we look outside ourselves for help, guidance, leadership and change. When in fact, real change starts within. It starts with each of us playing our part, doing something, however great or miniscule to change the status quo. We are each the change we seek, the ‘great’ leader we seek. The cumulative result of all our efforts can only be luminous, magnificent, great!

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you.

We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” - Marrianne Williamson

Ways to serve and be an active citizen:
Charity begins at home;
-   Volunteer – time and expertise.
-   Share - your knowledge.
-   Give - what you can, what you no longer use. Be it to charity or friends and relatives in need.
-   Support local businesses.
-   Offer solutions to problems affecting your community and issues you are passionate about.