The kind of temple I believe in

25 August 2020 | Columns

Justicia Shipena

“I know you will build us a world I am excited to see.”

Isn’t it amazing how a place can inform and shape who we are and how we grow? I am always in a continuous process of becoming, what I understand as now, what I know as true, in an instant becomes incomplete and requires me to begin again, to adapt and change.

And isn’t that always how it feels, just when you start getting used to something it begins to change. The past few months with the global pandemic has been a path of constant change, of continuous becoming, of building and rebuilding.

There is this old story I like of a young girl who visits a construction site. She approaches the first workman she sees and says, “Excuse me, what are you doing?”. He replies: “Can’t you see I am lying bricks?” She approaches the second workman who is doing the same work as the first one and she asks, “Excuse me, what are you doing?”. He replies: “Can’t you see I am building a wall?” She then approaches the third workman who is doing the same work as the previous two and asked the same question. He replies: “Can’t you see I am building a temple?”

When I hear this story, I think what kind of person am I, what am I supposed to be? Do I focus on the task at hand, laying bricks? Do I connect myself to a job, a project building walls, do I dedicate myself to a movement, a cause larger than myself or my lifetime even, some temple to pray to?

When I write articles, it feels like I’m laying bricks. I move the words around, I place them here and there, I put concrete in between in my brain to make them stick. Working with youth issues it feels like I’m building walls, building connections and sometimes, rarely, I get to see a glimpse of something larger than myself.

In this journey I find there are many working men, some people are working on a specific goal, and they write papers and do research. Others work on forming a necessary part of a team to build the connections and projects we need. Still others are dedicated to a purpose, they are envisioning a new future, a utopia we can move towards.

Last week I came across the expression “comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable”. This motto deeply resonates with my experiences as a journalist and young individual both in what I want to create for others but also in what I want to create for myself.

As such there are moments where I have become comfortable with an idea, experience or even a specific word and I want to disturb it and excavate it more thoroughly or I am disturbed by something and I want to seek comfort in writing through it and sharing it with others.

Lately I have realised maybe this motto might also serve as a way to exist in the world, as a guide for how we might try to build. When women and children are being murdered in our streets, when there is sexual assault in our towns, it is our job to disturb the comfortable, to force those who consider themselves blissfully unaffected to engage, acknowledge, learn and act to challenge spaces that need to be challenged.

It is also our job to seek ways to comfort those who have been disturbed. Sometimes it is hard to believe that we would be working on the same thing. Sometimes the way you build is so different from the way someone else does. You want to be big, visible and loud, someone else wants to work quietly, under the radar, out of the public eye. It is possible to have many frontlines in the same war.

It is possible that the people you disagree with are trying to do the same work, trying to build the same future even though we see it in different ways. You are not just one of those three workmen laying brick, building walls, building temples; you are all three.

Sometimes you will be searching for a cause to believe in and fight for and you will worry that there is something wrong with you if you can’t find it, there isn’t. Sometimes you are dealing with the task at hand and you do not have time to build a temple or to find one you believe in; you’re allowed this time.

Together we are standing and stumbling into the bright and possible future. Fight together, disturb the comfortable, comfort the disturbed. I know you will build us a world I am excited to see.

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