20 December 2014

Got to be ready for those setbacks

Pic by Rukshan Abeywansha
You might have come across this famous quote which, like all quotes, is often used out of context: the revolution is not a tea party.  That’s Mao Zedong.  Whether you’ve heard that or not, if you’ve ventured out of virtual space and took your radicalism into the real world, it’s a reality that you would quickly encounter.

Things are not offered on a silver platter, as they say, and this is something you know.  In fact there’s very little that the enemy gifts the rebel.  Most times, the rebel has to fight hard to secure some small gain.  And sometimes what is gained has to be conceded with interest. 

This is not unusual when there is a power mismatch.  Naturally, the more powerful can not only correct errors quickly and effectively but can turn your errors or weaknesses into gaping holes.  So there will be bad days, setbacks, seemingly comprehensive defeats before you get anywhere close to the planned destination. 

These defeat-moments are critical points in any struggle.  These are the moments when you think of giving up, moments when the cheering squad not only goes silent but slinks away, moments when you ask yourself ‘if no one wants it, why should I bother?’  These are the moments when you have to sum up courage and tell yourself ‘even if I am a minority of one, I will stand by what I believe, I will continue to fight.’

There’s no shame in losing ground.  There’s no shame in being wounded.  Let no one ridicule you for suffering a setback, for being tripped, for having erred and suffered on account of miscalculation.  After all, when you started out, you knew it was never going to be easy.  When you started out you didn’t have comrades.  You didn’t have a plan.  You just had an objective, a destination. You were prepared to walk.  And now you’ve fallen.  It doesn’t mean you have to remain down there forever.  You decided to fight and that’s noble.  People can demand that you show the blueprint that will deliver victory but that’s unfair. 

There was a man who lived some years ago in the land now called India.  He was born to a Royal Household.  He had every comfort.  He was not in want.  And yet, one day, he realized that all was not right.  There was poverty, disease, death, suffering and sorrow unlike anything he had ever imagined.  There was talk of war.  He knew how to fight the conventional fight.  He did not want to.  He wanted to find answers to questions.  He left all royal comforts behind, left his wife and their new born child. 

Along the way he was befriended by a set of fellow-travelers.  They looked to him as someone destined to unravel all the secrets of the universe.  And yet, at one point, they all abandoned him.  They felt he had strayed from the path.  He was, finally, all alone, forced to encounter and overcome the ultimate enemy, himself or rather the enemy within, for that which we object to has a way of becoming resident within ourselves.  We don’t want to believe this, so we focus on the external manifestation of that which we object to, oblivious to the fact that it thrives in our minds, our thoughts, actions and other life practices.  But the point here is that he was left alone.  It did not demoralize him.  It did not deter him.  His resolve did not diminish.  Ultimately he achieved his objective, the Buddha did. 

Defeat-moment is a time for self-reflection.  It is a moment to re-assess.  It is for the most part an alone-moment which by that very fact makes for sober consideration of the path you’ve walked on, the pathways un-taken and the tomorrows that appear dismal beyond belief. 

This is the time to ask yourself some serious questions.  Did I believe it would be easy?  Did I think there were shortcuts to the victory post?  Did I judge friend and foe accurately enough?  Was I naïve?  Do I want to badly enough? 

If you get to the last question above and come up with the answer ‘yes’ then you’ve won half the battle.  The battle of getting up from wherever you’ve fallen, that is.  The other, longer battle can wait.  You have to pick yourself up.  If you can convince yourself that you’ve done your best given knowledge and resources, then you can convince yourself that you can do better in the next round because you know more and you have a better understanding of what you can count on and what you cannot trust. 

You shouldn’t dwell too much on possible setbacks because that’s a drag of course.  Just know that they happen.  Part of the story.  Up to you to make them turn you back.  Up to you to use them as prop to get up and move forward. 

 This is the twelfth in a series of articles on rebels and rebellion written for the FREE section of 'The Nation'.  'FREE' is dedicated to youth and youthfulness.

Other articles in this series