I have learned over the years that when one’s mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done does away with fear. – Rosa Parks
I started this post wondering about the things that get in our way – the things that stop us from doing what we want to do or being who we want to be.
It was a simple question really – and the conclusion I came to was that many of the things that hold us back – the bars that imprison us – have to do with fear.
If you’ve been in a job or a relationship or a profession for a long time, you have a lot to lose if you stop doing what you’re doing.
If you’ve invested twenty years of your life becoming a doctor when what you really wanted to do was to be an artist – it’s hard to step away from the big salary and it’s frightening to think how you will afford that big mortgage and car payments.
The more you have, after all, the more you have to lose.
Now, on the one hand, this kind of thinking is only available to those who are already very privileged.
The quote that starts this post, from Rosa Parks, is a product of a very different time, a very different set of circumstances.
In those days the things holding you back were real bars, real people who wanted to do you real harm.
And when you were up against that kind of opposition – the kind of people who had power and wanted to keep it – you couldn’t just rock up and change things.
You needed to be organised.
Rosa Parks’ act of resistance against bus segregation wasn’t a sudden, impulsive act but a deliberate act of defiance aimed at getting long overdue justice.
Parks attended sessions at the Highlander Folk School, a place that trained activists working for social justice.
People didn’t like that kind of thing at the time – they still don’t now.
And so the school was viciously attacked and people with power tried hard to discredit and ruin the people involved.
One of those people was Maurice McCraken and his story is told in Judith B. Bechtel’s book, out of print but available on the web.
McCraken was a conscientious objector and his treatment at the hands of the state should not be forgotten.
The book starts with how Oswald Petite, a Marshall, uses an electric stun gun on the 80-year old McCraken seven or eight times because of his refusal to walk to and from the court.
Not that very long ago.
When you read about these people and the decisions they had to take and the sacrifices they had to make to take a stand so that future generations could have equality and justice, the comparative freedom we have to do anything we want is a luxury we should be ashamed to take for granted.
But, if you feel trapped, whether it’s by society and real oppression or the bars you’ve built in your mind you’re still trapped.
And the fact is that one does not escape from prison easily.
No one is going to come along and unlock the doors, dismantle the bars.
You need to make your way out, chip away at the walls, tunnel through the floor, saw through the bars.
And that takes time – time you get your head straight and time to get your plans in order.
It helps if you have little to lose because then you can move fast.
If you have more to lose then you have to figure out how you will manage if things go wrong.
The advantage you have now is that there is information everywhere, training everywhere.
If you want to change your life you don’t need to find a school – you just need to read and learn and try and do.
And Parks’ words do sum up everything you need to do.
If you’re trapped where you are the first step is making up your mind to change things.
And then its about study, learning how to make change happen in your life and doing what must be done.
When you do that the bars in your mind will rust and break.
And you will be free.