From Lorraine on the train

I’m becoming obsessed.

About a few things actually.

Having clean feet, obtaining a weekly fix of chocolate, how to perfect the art of making French Toast on a hot plate and making the perfect coffee with limited ingredients (real coffee would be a good start). I am also becoming obsessed with Bhopal, for which I can perhaps afford to be a little more forgiving of myself. I just spent 36 long hours on a train with nothing to entertain me but my own mind. ..a dangerous situation I’m sure many of you will agree.

Between hours 6 and 10 I tried to write a blog. I wanted to write about how Bhopal affects us all, about how we may be able to ignore what is happening to people whose lives don’t directly affect us but that we should at least be moved to speak out against the actions of multinationals that certainly are affecting us, and our future generations. I tried to find the words without being condescending or overly critical of the way we in the West live our lives, and grappled with my thoughts around why Bhopal should be our problem.

While I scribbled and scored out and huffed and puffed and was about to give up, the universe sent me a little present via the i-pod an amazing woman named Eirene gave to me before I left London. So instead of trying to put my thoughts succinctly on paper, I am going to post this speech, given to 2008 graduates of Harvard University. Thank you Eirene, for your unbelievable thoughtfulness in putting together an astounding collection, and thank you JK Rowling, for being a little bit better at expressing your thoughts than I am! To listen to the entire speech

Unlike any other creature on this planet, humans can learn and understand, without having experienced. They can think themselves into other people’s places.

Of course, this is a power, like my brand of fictional magic, that is morally neutral. One might use such an ability to manipulate, or control, just as much as to understand or sympathise.

And many prefer not to exercise their imaginations at all. They choose to remain comfortably within the bounds of their own experience, never troubling to wonder how it would feel to have been born other than they are. They can refuse to hear screams or to peer inside cages; they can close their minds and hearts to any suffering that does not touch them personally; they can refuse to know.

I might be tempted to envy people who can live that way, except that I do not think they have any fewer nightmares than I do. Choosing to live in narrow spaces leads to a form of mental agoraphobia, and that brings its own terrors. I think the wilfully unimaginative see more monsters. They are often more afraid.

What is more, those who choose not to empathise enable real monsters. For without ever committing an act of outright evil ourselves, we collude with it, through our own apathy.

One of the many things I learned at the end of that Classics corridor down which I ventured at the age of 18, in search of something I could not then define, was this, written by the Greek author Plutarch: What we achieve inwardly will change outer reality.

That is an astonishing statement and yet proven a thousand times every day of our lives. It expresses, in part, our inescapable connection with the outside world, the fact that we touch other people’s lives simply by existing. . .

If you choose to use your status and influence to raise your voice on behalf of those who have no voice; if you choose to identify not only with the powerful, but with the powerless; if you retain the ability to imagine yourself into the lives of those who do not have your advantages, then it will not only be your proud families who celebrate your existence, but thousands and millions of people whose reality you have helped change. We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better.

At times it is hard to believe that this is true. When we see the power of multinational companies and the global destruction they create it often seems insurmountable. Pharmaceutical giants tucked up cosily in bed with food production companies, pumping our food full of antibiotics and steroids before it reaches our plates. Pesticide companies who own GM seed corporations, driving farmers to suicide the world over. The influence exerted by capitalist companies on governments, on nations, on individuals, on us is phenomenal and the more I learn about the way the world operates the easier it is to become overwhelmed with hopelessness and despair.

But if the creator of Harry Potter can say we can change the world without magic, then that is good enough for me. I’ve come to the conclusion that the answer lies in focusing on simple changes. We may not all be able, or indeed inclined, to tackle Goliath directly but we do have the power to choose. To choose to avoid filling our homes and gardens with toxic pesticide and chemical filled products, packaged in plastics that are changing our DNA forever. We can choose to rest and drink honey ginger and lemon instead of demanding an antibiotic for our coughs and colds, or to try yoga and meditation instead of reaching for anti depressants. We can choose to take a little bit of control over our own lives instead of looking to profit making companies for a quick fix answer. We can learn about what is put in our food before it lands on our plates and the real constitution of ‘clean baby’ products that we saturate our children in. We can refuse to buy into the clever advertising campaigns and catchy jingles that convince us that we need chemicals to be clean. We can cycle and recycle and choose to travel by train instead of plane (no comment on how I got to India please!). We can if we want to, protest, write to governments, send emails or make make others aware of the things we learn. We can donate to causes we believe in, or volunteer our time to make a difference to others. There are many ways we can exert our influence to change things, some more easily achieved than others. Demand is met with supply and as long as we continue to demand the way of living we currently experience the supply will be gladly met by those who profit from fulfilling our requirements. As long as this continues there WILL be more Bhopals, and can we really protest or complain about it when through our apathy we allow these situations to occur?

I’m not asking everyone to jump on my proverbial Bhopal bandwagon. I’m asking you to think about what happened there, and what continues to happen, and consider the implications it has on all of our lives. It could be our back gardens that some company decides to build on, it is our planet that is being systematically destroyed to meet our demands, and it is our lifestyles that are consistently contributing to Bhopals in almost every single country in the world.

Having said all this I truly believe that the measure of humanity still lies in our every day interactions. The moments we share with loved ones, the kindness extended to people that we meet and which is reciprocated to us and the issues we address that are important to us. The people we advocate for, be it our children, our neighbours or those unknown to us. The influence we exert on those around us and the difference we make to peoples’ lives every single day through our actions, words and love no matter how big or how small. We cannot change the world as individuals, and neither should we try but collectively we can all do our bit, be responsible for that for which we can be and work towards a brighter, fairer, more sustainable future for everyone in the world and our future generations.

Girl with candle Bhopal

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