“Freedom of mind is the real freedom…
Freedom of mind is the proof of one’s existence.”
B. R. Ambedkar
I recently discovered the joys of Google banners. If you click on them all manner of wondrous things reveal themselves (does the whole world already know that?!). They even have a name – ‘Google Doodle’…. Who knew? Anyway, earlier this week, Google greeted me with this one:
Intrigued, I clicked on the image to find out more about this dapper chap whose face I didn’t recognise.
It turns out that he is B. R. Ambedkar and 14th April would have been his 124th birthday. Barack Obama has been quoted as saying that Ambedkar is India’s Martin Luther King.
Ambedkar was an Indian social reformer and politician who, in 1947, worked with Mahatma Gandhi to ensure that ‘Untouchables’ (in the Indian caste system) were treated as a ‘normal part of the electorate’ (The Independent, 2015). Quite an achievement. Even more so when you consider that he was a member of an untouchable caste himself. How on earth did he break out of such a system? Despite achieving brilliant academic and professional success – not least as Defence Secretary and later as Professor of Political Economy – Ambedkar continued to suffer humiliation at the hands of colleagues who refused even to share his water jug.
Life as an ‘untouchable’ was harsh. In general people were segregated, ostracised, refused entry to temples and schools, prohibited from using water wells used by higher castes (i.e. everyone else) and realities were grim. Arguably, for many they still are. Some areas of India even believed that the sight…let alone the touch…of an Untouchable was so polluting that they ‘were forced to live a nocturnal existence’. And yet B. R. Ambedkar didn’t let any of that hold him back.
Ambedkar could have used a million and one seemingly valid excuses to do nothing. He could have accepted “there’s nothing I can do about it; this is all I deserve; it’s not my fault/responsibility; people will merely judge or laugh if I speak up; who do I think I am; it’s impossible; it’s too difficult” and so on and so on.
How hard must it have been to avoid the life others expected him to lead?
But instead, Ambedkar turned those excuses into reasons to be who he wanted to be, and to do what he wanted to do. Instead of giving up, he got up……
……And once up, he kept on going.
I am currently studying for an International Studies Degree and I am often struck by the fact that regardless of the scale of change needed – be it political/social change or individual/personal change – the fundamental mechanics of it are universal. For instance, one of the most common barriers to making change happen is the discourse surrounding change itself.
Discourse is the stuff people say…that becomes the stuff we say to ourselves… which becomes the stuff people say…..
Such discourse seeps into our psyche and, over time, may be accepted as fact until we expect nothing else…..such as, these are the ‘norms’ of society; you are this type of person; change is difficult.
I love Ambedkar’s story because instead of accepting these excuses, he challenged what he was expected to do – what he should do according to that discourse – and instead did what he could do. And he did it at a personal, political, social AND cultural level. Wow! Now I don’t know about you, but I find that pretty inspirational.
Change is not about will-power, or enforced positive thinking. I’m as sure as I possibly can be that Ambedkar didn’t achieve what he did just by pretending (in a jaunty voice) “ah well, things could be worse!”. I’m not sure that alone would be enough…..
Men like Ambedkar (and women like Malala for example), create an impetus for change by challenging and undermining assumptions that they and others might otherwise make – about their lives and about the possibilities of making change happen, too. And therein lies the key.
Defining your own life is about actively seeking out and undermining faulty assumptions which would keep you believing – unquestioningly – that ‘this is just who and how I am’, ‘there is nothing I can do about it’, or ‘it’s too hard’, or ‘it’s too scary’, or ‘I’m too weak’. Beliefs that become convenient excuses in fact…
Often, I hear people try to blow away those excuses by saying “well, I guess I should just get on and do it”. But they only end up feeling bad about not doing what they ‘should’ do. Ugh!
If you get nothing else from this post today ditch the guilt-causing, shame-inducing, dream-limiting word ‘should’.
Forget what you should be…or do…or feel…or think….
Instead, replace it with the word ‘could’ and see how different it feels to acknowledge the choice.
You could be this… or could do that….or could feel this….or could think that…..
So even if the end result remains the same and you CHOOSE to do nothing, at least YOU are responsible for that choice.
Ambedkar didn’t sit there feeling bad about not doing what he and others thought he should do. Instead he did what he could do. And he proved himself right each and every time he did what he could. And this is relevant whether you are changing the world one prejudice at a time, or changing yourself one limiting assumption at a time.
Challenging faulty beliefs about your ability to achieve something can make the difference between living a life with a foot on your head and living your life with it placed firmly on your arse, propelling you forward.
Do you see? Blowing away faulty excuses leaves you free to define yourself in whatever way you choose. You can begin to define where the boundaries lie.
In fact, I would go so far as to say that the process of learning how to achieve a goal, or make a change, can even be…..wait for it….. enjoyable! A process of ‘doing’…. yes, that’s true. But also rewarding! Motivating! Insightful! Challenging! Energising! And I’m talking about my clients’ experiences, not just mine!
So…. seek out any excuses about the difficulties of change and doubt their veracity. Where’s the evidence? Who says it has to be that way? Is it a fact about what is, or a fear about what might be? Is it really difficult to do, or do others just say that it is – to excuse their own failure? How is THEIR failure impacting the choices YOU make?
And, if there is the faintest whiff of falsehood, unrealistic expectation, or faulty belief about any of it, then you make sure you find ways to challenge it…question it….undermine it.
And then YOU choose what happens next. Just like our friend B. R. Ambedkar.
And if it helps, I – at least – believe you can do it.
With the warmest regards,