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The world we want is the world we need to create, with our sleeves rolled up, writes Natalie Maroun.

“We may encounter defeats. But we must not be defeated.” - Maya Angelou

2023 has been hard.

It feels, in many respects, that this has been one of our toughest and most exhausting years yet. Socially. Economically. Psychologically.

Most of us are weary and worn out. And struggling to make sense of the madness and the brutality that bleed from our headlines every day. And what we know is yet to come.

This weekend marked International Human Rights Day. But tragically, human rights lay in tatters all around the world.

At the time of writing, over 40,000 civilians have been killed, injured or displaced in Ukraine.

In Palestine and Israel, a major humanitarian crisis is unfolding in full glare of the world’s seemingly impotent gaze. The latest civilian death toll there is edging towards 20,000. But the human suffering is simply incalculable. 

And at home, South Africa is gripped by our own, albeit silent, war. The relentless and punitive war against women.

Gender-based violence is our humanitarian crisis. 

Shamefully, South Africa remains the rape capital of the world, with over 40,000 reported rapes per year – a figure we know represents only a fraction of actual assaults.  

And the rate at which women are killed by intimate partners is five times higher than the global average.

Five times. Let that sink in.

Every year, during the 16 Days of Activism campaign, we are made aware – again – of the extent to which women in our country live in fear for their safety, and their lives. Only for the issue to disappear from our headlines, and our collective consciousness, until next November – as if South Africa’s rape and femicide epidemic were a 16-day rather than a 12-month crisis.

Thousands of brutalised South African women know differently. They know that this is a war with no cease-fire or peace treaty in sight. Not now. And not soon.

It is easy, in the face of this tsunami of suffering, and all the other tsunamis flooding the world right now, to feel overwhelmed by sadness, and rage, and despondency. 

To feel powerless. 

To lose hope.

But hopelessness, and the inertia it engenders, is a luxury we simply cannot afford. Not in the realm of gender-based violence, nor in relation to any of the myriad social and economic ills that have made this past year so tough. 

There is too much to lose. And too much to do.

Because as David Orr reminds us:

“Hope is a verb with its sleeves rolled up.” 

Micro-moments of connection

How do we find hope in a world that feels increasingly hostile and unhinged? 

We have to keep looking for the glimmers. Those tiny moments of sanity in an insane world.

The concept of glimmers was first introduced by Deb Dana in her 2018 book, Engaging the Rhythm of Regulation. Glimmers, she wrote, are the opposite of triggers. They are the small but profound moments of well-being and connection that, at a biological level, cue our nervous systems to feel safe, and calm.

Unlike triggers, which agitate us into a state of anxiety and dis-ease, glimmers soothe us by reminding us of what is good about our world. What works, what we love, what comforts us.

“We're not talking great, big, expansive experiences of joy or safety or connection,” she says. “These are micro-moments that begin to shape our system in very gentle ways.”

Glimmers can be hard to find. And harder, still, to hang on to. Especially in tough times, when the world seems a heartless place, and human suffering omnipresent.

But they exist, and they are all around, if only we train our gaze to see them.

For futurist Dion Chang, glimmers are the beguiling sparks of sensory delight that come from watching a favourite TV show. 

For psychologist Perpetua Neo, they lurk in the comforting sounds of falling rain, or the warm, soothing sensation of playing with a much-loved dog.

For adventurist Gary Wilson, glimmers emerge when we unplug from digital, when we put our phones away, when we earth our bare feet on wet grass, and humble ourselves against a vast night sky.

Glimmers don’t negate the size of the mountains we have to climb.

They don’t eradicate the headlines. And they don’t diminish our anguish over the pain and suffering of others. 

But they remind us of our shared humanity. Our interdependence. And our mutual desire for joy, and peace, and well-being.

We won’t make our world a better place by indulging in a favourite TV show, or listening to the rain, or marveling at a majestic night sky. But these moments of awe and connection fortify us, and give us room and reason to rise up the next day, with renewed clarity about what needs to be done. And why.

Glimmers remind us that there is good in the world, if only we train our gaze to see it.

That hope is universal.

That it is a verb. 

That the world we want is the world we need to create. With our sleeves rolled up.

© Natalie Maroun


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