“Heard about the guy who fell off a skyscraper? On his way down past each floor, he kept saying to reassure himself, ‘so far so good’, ‘so far so good’… How you fall doesn’t matter, it’s how you land.” (introduction to the film, La Haine, by Mathieu Kassovitz – 1995)
I am the person who is falling but doesn’t change – or very little – because I think, “so far so good”. I am the European who has never experienced the violence of war. I hear talk about ‘global warming’ but the area where I live has not been affected (yet). I live ‘above my means’, but my standard of living and my personal freedom are important to me. I see the crises in Europe and elsewhere, but those in charge ask me to continue producing and consuming, and not to change anything.
I am the citizen who helps migrants and ends up on trial for the ‘crime of solidarity’. I demand more justice (social, economic, and environmental), but my demands fall on deaf ears. I want to be open to the world, but borders are closing and there are more and more walls. I want to live responsibly, but different lobbies (energy, agriculture, politics, etc.) encourage me not to produce and consume differently, not to change anything.
I am the humanitarian who sees more and more people and societies caught up in violence, extreme poverty and chaos, but this has no – or hardly any – effect on my loved ones and my ‘little world’. I help to build the capacity of these people and societies to recover and cope with future crises, but I don’t do this at home – or hardly at all. I see other forms of solidarity emerging here but I continue to take action elsewhere, without changing the way I work in any way.
I am humanity, which ‘lands’ and finds itself at the crossroads, having thought “so far so good”. With the gradual destruction of the different lifeforms on earth, climate change, economic fragility, the financial bubble that has not been resolved since 2008, natural resource depletion, pollution, the proliferation of arms, the increase in the number and intensity of conflicts, the rise of extremism… the world is not going through a temporary crisis but a transformation that will have a major impact on the daily lives of the whole of humanity. We will have to adopt new practices because access to basic needs such as water, food, housing, energy, mobility, health and security will be increasingly difficult.
I can refuse to see what is happening around me and take advantage of the progress that was made in the last century (in agriculture, economics, social issues, health, etc.) until I ‘crash land’ when resources run out or a disaster takes place.
I can hide behind my borders, my beliefs or my fears, and let authoritarian regimes decide how I live, or take refuge in a ‘survivalist quest’ to prepare for the chaos of a ‘Mad Max’ future.
I can also decide to act now with others, because “we must take change by the hand, before it takes us by the throat” (Churchill). We can try to ensure that change takes place on our terms, so that a future becomes possible.
I am the 21st century woman or man who changes so that they can continue to say “so far so good”. I limit my comfort to contribute to the survival of the earth. I take action with other citizens of the world so that the interests of individual nations or lobbies do not override the general interest. I get involved in reducing inequalities. I produce and consume differently to reinforce local resources and wealth. I try to influence my leaders so that “major societal and economic transformations […] take place in the next decade to make up for the inaction of the past.”1 I take part in political debate to defend the values of peace and democracy.
Through my actions and my commitments, I promote the law of mutual assistance rather than the law of the jungle2, and though I might lose certain advantages, I gain in terms of solidarity, security and proximity.
I am the aid worker who changes so that future generations will also be able to say, “so far so good”. Current forms of solidarity, like the ‘international aid sector’, need to contribute to this transformation, while transforming themselves at the same time. The hostile reactions to Greta Thunberg’s speeches by certain world leaders show us that these changes will not happen without conflict or the testing of power relations. But faced with the law of the jungle promoted by state or private lobbies, only engagement and mutual assistance can help us to stop the pointless and endless forces of violence in order to overcome a problem that defies intelligence. As the spontaneous mobilisation of European citizens to assist migrants showed, it is engagement and imagination that lead to active reflection and solutions.
“The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” Nelson Mandela
Michael Carrier – Groupe URD
Researcher, evaluator, trainer – Quality and Accountability Advisor