Why was I doing this? What were the roots of my intentions? For while I still maintained a deep desire to lead a life of contribution …over the years, it seemed that my approach to it was contradictory.
It became clear to me upon examination that it (working on social projects) was an escape – a drug of sorts. My intentions on the surface were good…but the internal drivers of this call to action were not entirely altruistic. Quite simply I was doing it because I felt ugly, unworthy, small, insignificant, incapable…..working on these projects took me away from this personal reality. My father succumbing to alcoholism….my own depression…were all tucked away …unprocessed …because I felt good about myself when I could help others. It was distanced from my own self-loathing. Of course I started to see the toxicity of this approach both to myself and to those I purported to help….it was a dependency on dependency. One ultimately blind to the real needs of others.
This period of personal growth was instrumental as I started to see how my own beliefs about myself were a fundamental contradiction of the change I wanted to see in the world. For who was I to speak to anyone, let alone the most disenfranchised, about self-belief, capability and hope if I had no authentic belief in it for myself? So if I asked myself what it would look like if I were to serve authentically and this ..in short involved a lot of conversations…arguments…reflection and meditation ….and as a result some deep insights for my own life. A love and appreciation of myself…scars and all. A sense that while I wanted to live a life of contribution ….I wasn’t what I did …it was who I was that mattered. Layered into this was the realisation that I have many roles and relationship in life…with myself, as a son, a brother, a friend, a partner, a…as a human being.
As I draw my sharing to a close I have two thoughts I’d thoughts I’d like to share ….
I have no doubt that contribution has been a major thread in the conversations you have been having here in this forum. In all my conversations with people across faiths and cultures, it seems clear that this is the key to living a deeply fulfilling life, one with meaning and purpose. Yet in the passionate pursuit of ways to contribute we need to be vigilant…mindful of our intentions. We need to slow down and be real with ourselves, look in that metaphorical mirror and exercise compassion towards ourselves ….this is a process and it never ends but I feel it is the most liberating , necessary action. I do not feel there can be true love for others unless one loves self… I do not simply mean this as an intellectual ideas but as deeper acceptance . Look at ways to practice gratitude towards yourself and the very fact that you draw breath. Articulate your values and beliefs, share them …with complete honesty….be open and vulnerable. This gives others permission to do the same. In my case I maintain a personal mission statement that captures this the essence of my values and the roles I play I life.
Then we can consider the second part ….when contribution is no longer the central feature of one’s escape or psychological identity….it is an expression of purpose that can take so many forms. To use the idea of a mirror once more, I see deep contribution as being a process through which you can hold a mirror so that others can see their own greatness. Their own power and vulnerability. Then it is not about you as a leader, an individual seeking fulfillment or identity through your own creation or achievements. It is an authentic exchange of our humanity. This does not need to be an organisation, a project or a career…but it can be all of those things…there are opportunities for such leadership in daily living….right here in this room.The choice has been …is and will always be yours to make. So I urge you all to be a light on to yourself and thereon to others. Lead …by being.
An excerpt from Shanil Samarakoon’s speech on “Enabling Self-Determination” at the National Student Leadership Forum 2013- Canberra.