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Monday, September 21, 2009

Inspiration without opportunities is dead

By Dr Isaac Newton

Words can consolidate a marriage, stop a raging war, and uplift a bruised soul. They can kill a reputation, destroy a friendship and issue a verdict of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

Dr Isaac Newton is an international leadership and change management consultant and political adviser who specialises in government and business relations, and sustainable development projects. Dr Newton works extensively in West Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America, and is a graduate of Oakwood College, Harvard, Princeton and Columbia. He has published several books on personal development and written many articles on economics, leadership, political, social, and faith-based issues.

Yet some decry the deep connection between words and actions. They claim that words are worthless because there is a nagging gap between what we say, and what we do. With disastrous repercussions, they dismiss the reality that words format, inform and direct our actions.

I wonder to what degree of seriousness do those who reject the life-force of words take the constitution, the Bible, their insurance policies, and their marital vows.

I suspect that those of us, who labor in the inspirational, legal, teaching, journalism, preaching, advising, counseling, and writing professions, know the impact of words to motivate, free, ignite, question, persuade, guide, reflect, and create.

That is why critical thinkers out rightly reject, the false separation between ‘the word’ and ‘the world. They see words as the blueprint of actions and actions as the outcome of words. These two forces—words and actions—interact with each other, are tied together, and are inseparable.

The late philosopher and education scholar, Paulo Freire, reminded us that one way of breaking the culture of silence that defines the oppressor/oppressed relationship, is for oppressed people to learn to liberate themselves in communion with each other. He proposed that they should intuit from real life situations that freedom comes, not from using the oppressor’s words, but from creating new words reflective of their emancipation struggles.

Freire felt that a sharp divide between theory and practice misses the mark altogether. He implied that every practice contains a theory, and every theory is guided by a practice.

From the vantage point of spiritual discernment, ‘as a man thinketh in his heart so is he. In the sacred completeness of words and actions, our nature is revealed. At any given moment, through our words and actions, we either give life or enact death.

Equally, I think that inspiration and opportunities are indivisible. Having the drive to dream requires making the tools available to do well.

Unlike many inspirational gurus, I believe that our success comes not merely from our inner strengths. But, ultimately, our destiny springs from our recognition that we are accountable to God. This conviction should profoundly shape the way actualize our potential and talents.

One of the shortcomings of inspirational books and speeches is this: sometimes they cut off motivation from real opportunities. Although, I agree that inspirational words can help open doors to concrete opportunities, they can also hide the brutal fact, that opportunities are not merely forged through self-belief and positive thinking.

Opportunities emerge from another world of inter-generational capital and social networking. And having all the inspiration in the world would not necessarily penetrate that other world.

If we want to accelerate the success of the Caribbean, opportunities must bridge the gap between what is and what is possible.

Last week, I listened with admiration to president Obama’s speech to American students in particular, and to all students in general. Weaving moving rhetoric through a sharp mind, Obama used his personal story of struggle, to inspire students that they could write their destiny, by visualizing what they want to achieve, and by working to make their dreams come alive.

Obama challenged students to cultivate a mindset of excellence. He encouraged them to choose success by linking subject- content to real life problems solving. And he wanted them to understand that their humble beginnings are not to be seen as barriers to superstar achievements and great societal good.

After listening to the president’s speech, I felt that although he had motivated students to embark upon a brighter future, he also made commitments that the USA would continue to create ample opportunities for them to succeed.

In the Caribbean we haven not yet created enough tangible opportunities for our students to realize their academic and professional goals. To make inspiration really matter, I strongly believe that we have to put forward innovative initiatives.

It is simply not enough to inspire self-disciple and high ambition in our students. We must place a high premium on facilitating their dreams through a network of programs, structures and systems that imprint their contribution to nation-building.

If we support the practices of building a strong and unified region, we will have to come to a point where we operationalize our beliefs. Surely, it takes a village to praise, as well as to raise a child.

But what precisely are our governments doing to generate innovative knowledge? What specific programs have we invented to maximize on students’ achievement? I have observed that too many Caribbean political leaders deny indigenous talents wealth-creating opportunities or a real stake in contributing to the public’s welfare. They, rather seek lackluster talent from overseas, because of an inferiority complex that things foreign are superior.

I wonder what models of success and leadership opportunities we in the wider society, have provided for our students to fulfill their ambitions.

What ‘go to’ programs are available to support and assist parents in helping their children achieve measureable social and academic success?

Unfortunately, I see us functioning on the non-sustainable free market mindset, which glorifies self-interest and legitimizes legalized greed. We are not building structures that will help each of us grow and flourish. Therefore, we abuse our beautiful environment and expand conditions of poverty for the masses of our people.

We do not provide opportunities for our students to practice political efficacy. I don’t think we help them understand and learn to appreciate civic skills. We don’t let them practice, through effective organizing and strategic advocacy, to influence the political process and shape our governments’ agendas.

By denying our students these critical exposures, it is as if we expect them, through osmosis, to become responsible citizens when they grow up.

According to Harvard professor Dr. Meira Levinson:

“Students can actually practice democratic rights and responsibilities, either within or outside the school walls. For example, students may poll their peers about features of their school that concern them, and then work together to improve them. They might debate a current issue and then write a group letter expressing their opinions to an elected official. Students could conduct a voter registration drive in the school parking lot. Many other types of activities are possible—the common threads are drawing students’ attention to how democratic systems work, and demonstrating through their participation the power of a community joining together for a common purpose.”

When are we going to plug our students into social networks that provide access and entry into financial institutions, and prized jobs? I leant earlier on in life, that although talent counts, if you are not working your network, you are not working.

In the real world of competition and survival, our students should have access to generational networks, after we equip them with the inner resources of self confidence to shine and deliver.

Are we organizing our villages and towns, even our run down communities to help students prepare for college? There is ample research that reveals that family involvement can help prepare disadvantaged students for college.

When was the last time you volunteered your time to become an influential parent-like figure who monitored a student’s academic and social activities? By simply giving of your time, that student is likely to have lower rates of delinquency and higher rates of social competence and academic growth?

I have seen a mark difference in helping so many parents become familiar with college preparation requirements. But I have also worked with these very parents, to help them look for scholarships so that their children could get a college education.

Inspiration and opportunities go hand in hand. Have we provided opportunities to help our students work through the relationships between procrastination and productivity? What programs have we created to pool resources that youngsters could plan long-term success, using measurable goals and time schedules?

Perhaps those who are in charge of education ministries and schools should come to see the nexus between quality education and a successful society. They should care enough to put programs and structures in place, both to motivate students to become role-model, and to give them diverse opportunities, to practice leadership competencies.

Instilling students with the inspiration to produce caring communities, become contributing citizens and build vibrant economies devoid of real opportunities can cause them to lose momentum.

“I would therefore wish to see the ordinary man and woman in this society spend less time insisting on his or her rights, important as those are, and much more time being aware of, and putting into practice, his or her responsibilities”. These prophetic words of Regional Dumas, a former head of public service are so timely and so relevant (‘Assaults on good governance’, Trinidad Express). I couldn’t agree more.


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