Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time.
We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.
– President Barack Obama
I see we are on to a new debate, as that seems to be our favourite pastime, these days. The true change will be when we can rise up above frivolities, focus on the big picture and quit whining over the minor at the expense of the major. As we have become accustomed to, once we sink our teeth into any of these things, there is no letting go for us, until the next one comes to fly us on the wings of fantasy into the realm of conjectures and innuendoes, far away from reality and what should be of more interest to us.
Initially, I took this ‘Change does not or should not begin with me’ charge as some light-hearted, cynical wave-away in response to the trust deficit that the government faces and the cynicism that has almost become a way of life for us. Had thought we, or some of us, at least, were agreed on the collapse of our value system and the urgency of re-orientation. Guess one might have been wrong on this.
For as long as I can remember, my friend, Oladele Ogunlana, has been running a campaign to remind us that “WE are the ones we have been waiting for”. Akin Fadeyi also has, of late, been challenging us with the brilliant ‘Not in my Country’ series. Not to forget Nancy Illoh of AIT that had daily reminded us, for years now, to be the change we want to see. Thought the message from them is simply one asking us to look more in the mirror, if the change we desire is to come.
But the more attention I paid, the more I saw that quite a few of our well-informed friends are, in fact, aboard this train, many furiously pounding at keyboards to reject the mantra, insisting that the Change ought to begin somewhere else and not with them. As a matter of fact, it was the gusto behind the repudiation that finally convinced me to write, putting words forcefully in my mouth that we do, in fact, urgently need a value re-orientation.
Unfortunately, the initiative by this government has come many months late. If this move could not make its way into the Inauguration speech of the president, it could have come with the Independence Address of October 1st, 2015. But that does not, by any means, take away from its necessity and urgency. You might detest the government and cannot stand anything from it. You might argue against the appropriateness of it from a strategic communications angle, but when you argue against the philosophy behind it, you lose me.
I struggle to understand what anyone can have against the philosophical template upon which this initiative rests. Or could it be, like I have previously argued that the challenge is really one of comprehension? As I see it, ‘Change begins with me’ is not a top-down directive or instruction. It is not conditional. It is not telling me to go first before you or the government takes its own step. It simply means, to me, that everyone should stand up to do what is right, wherever, however. So, what can be wrong with that? What then is basis for this impression or confusion that government is asking the citizenry to embrace change before it does?
What can be wrong with being told to pay greater attention to doing the right things in our conduct with others and public space? What can be wrong with us being reminded to stand up for what is right? Change begins with me means, to me, standing up for justice, equity, fairness, peace, good neighbourliness and patriotism. What can be wrong with that? What has government got to do with that? It can even mean standing up to government, demanding for accountability and good service delivery. It can even mean working to bring about a change of government, if that is so desired. Or is that not what ‘Change begins with me’ is all about?
I would think one does not need to be in government or even be an adult to make a change in your immediate environment or the country. You do not need to be in government to promote orderliness and proper conduct in your own space and stand up for it in the public place. I would have thought that this is what this initiative is about and not about government shoving instructions on how to live down the throats of citizens, as it is being made out. Citizens brought about a change of government in 2015. Is that not a case of people taking initiative to effect change?
Change, I will say, is an aggregation of little steps, tiny deeds here and there, aimed at bringing about a desired change in orientation or circumstance one does not like. What then can be wrong with everyone, putting in their own bit, wherever, however, government and the governed? Or is it a case of another message lost to some ears on account of the source? Or is it that the wave of cynicism has taken over that the power of comprehension is now so diminished?
Whatever the case, I do not think we need anyone to ring the bell before one realises that change does, in fact, begin with the man in the mirror. It cannot be that difficult to understand. It could be that I am wrong. But I would have thought that ‘Change Begins with me’ simply means that true change can only come if each one of us plays his or her own part, or does it mean something else? Some insist on making this about who does what first, but I don’t see that as the case. It is not about anyone asking you to change before he does.
There are different dimensions to the change. You do your bit, I do mine. That is how we can bring true change about. It is not about looking over the shoulder to see if the other person is on board before doing one’s own bit. I have, in fact, found out that, in many instances, it actually takes less energy, especially mental exertion, to do something to change a situation than that spent complaining about it. That, for me, is what this is all about. Why can’t change begin with me?
Simbo Olorunfemi works for Hoofbeatdotcom, a Nigerian Communications Consultancy. Twitter: @simboolorunfemi