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Melinda Gates’ book The Moment of Lift surprised me by showing myself a mirror, and inspiring a soul search about my privilege and what I can do.
About three years ago, after some scalding hot social media interactions, I found that I have a passion for many things. Gradually, this passion started getting a name – feminism, gender rights, and fight against caste-based discrimination – it started to make me realize that there is far too much to be done on the ground.
As a cisgender heterosexual Savarna, there was/is also this guilt of being the beneficiary of most privileges. However, as a woman, I always knew how an oppressive atmosphere looks. Hence, despite all the guilt the calling was clear.
Knowing fully well, where I come from, I am always sceptical of an oppressor saviour narrative. The quandary is that the privileged are the only people who have the luxury to set up spaces and make voices heard. Thus, it is important to do that no matter the guilt.
When I started getting into the women’s, LGBTQ+ and children’s rights arena, it initially looked like passion was enough. Then, as I kept learning newer things each day, I realized it was not. There are tremendous things that need to be done. To add to it, you also need to save yourself.
The ground is shook with atrocities. It is almost parched and broken. To mend all of that is crushing. There are days one needs to step back and address one’s own headspace.
With this context in place, when I was approached to review The Moment of Lift by Melinda Gates, my head was full of scepticism. Then, I read the blurb.
“And, for the first time, she writes about her personal life and the road to equality in her own marriage.”
It has been a recurring issue for me because the more I work towards my own vision, the more I realize that it clashes with my conditioned upbringing and personal relationships. Therefore, I wanted to read about how Gates handled it, particularly because her Catholic upbringing and her vision about women’s health, family planning and contraceptives, must have clashed too.
My assumption was that the book will border on white savior narrative and self-aggrandization, but it did not disappoint me at all. It is rare to find a book that combines dry data with stories of struggle. I did not realize when, with all my cynicism I would end up appreciating The Moment of Lift; it overwhelmed me in many places.
“All of us have to let our hearts break; it’s the price of being present to someone who is suffering.”
I sometimes boast about how I am self-aware of my privileges, how they assist me no matter how much I deny them, and, how I want to use them to make lives better.
This comes with a realization that humility and acknowledgement is the first step. However, the book, and the stories mentioned in it, repeatedly emphasize on how wrong we all are in our own assumptions. There is so much to learn and the world is a vast place with all its injustice.
When Melinda told me stories of people of small places we do not even properly know the names of, she slowly made me acutely aware of all the smallest freedoms I, and many like me, have. When she spoke about how a private person like her had to finally let her guard down and become public, she spoke to my soul. An introvert, who, for all her adult life looked after her own business, had to become a public persona if she had to make any sort of difference. If she wanted to use her voice for the people who did not have one, she had to drop all her shields and become a person of the people, open to blatant criticism and hatred.
Melinda also spoke about the dichotomy we all face. In what we were raised as, and in what our constantly changing beliefs can lead us to. With her brave choices, I think Melinda subtly told me that it is possible.
No matter how you have been raised, or what your beliefs, it is possible to overcome them and help others even if that means stepping away from them for a while. She talks about how at several points in her life she thought she might quit because the abyss was totally crushing.
There is so much gap in what we do and what needs to be done and I do not think it is possible out of one single person. So it generally engulfs you and makes you anxious.
Melinda spoke about all the issues I hold dear. Motherhood, family planning, education of girls, unpaid labour of women, child marriage, women in agriculture and workplace. She ensured she backed up everything she said with data and anecdotes. She also has addressed the problem of outsiders trying to change the norms of a particular society. She says it is important to ensure that changes are made from within the system. For this an understanding of the system and building trust is essential.
I found the book repetitive in some places where it was giving data along with a commentary. But the language is lucid and it also is a fast read.
For me the overall effect of the book is a crushing realization that none of us should give up. We may want to sit and maybe breathe for a while as the world sucks on all the energy out of us, but then we gulp some water and get up because it is the need of the hour.
“Our call is to lift women up— and when we come together in this cause, we are the lift.”
“It’s a bit ironic, I think, that when Bill and I later began searching for ways to make a difference, I never drew a clear connection between our efforts to support the poorest people in the world and the contraceptives I was using to make the most of our family life. Family planning became part of our early giving, but we had a narrow understanding of its value, and I had no idea it was the cause that would bring me into public life.”
“Melinda, if the foundation ever steps into this space in a big way, you’re going to be at the center of the controversy because you’re Catholic. The questions will all be coming to you.”
… the correlation between tradition, science and empathy, so very well explained –
“When people become better at seeing themselves in the lives of others, feeling others’ suffering and easing their pain, then life in that community gets better. In many cases, we have more empathy for each other today than the people did who set the practices and traditions we now live with. So the purpose of conversations about accepted practices is to take out the old bias and add in empathy. Empathy is not the only force needed to ease suffering; we need science as well. But empathy helps end our bias about who deserves the benefits of science.
It’s often surprisingly easy to find bias, if you look. Who was omitted or disempowered or disadvantaged when the cultural practice was formed? Who didn’t have a voice? Who wasn’t asked their view? Who got the least share of power and the largest share of pain? How can we fill in the blind spots and reverse the bias?
Tradition without discussion kills moral progress. If you’re handed a tradition and decide not to talk about it–just do it–then you’re letting people from the past tell you what to do. It kills the chance to see the blind spots in the tradition–and moral blind spots always take the form of excluding others and ignoring their pain.
Identifying and removing moral blind spots is a conversation that can be facilitated by outsiders, but it cannot be manipulated by them, because the people themselves are discussing their own practices and whether they serve their goals according to their values.
When communities challenge their own social norms in this way, people who were forced to bear the pain of a practice that benefited others now have their needs recognized and their burdens eased.”
It is recommended reading for many global problems that women all over face.
In the fight for equality for women, Gates’ book made me realize there is so much to be done and all of us looking at improving the lives of people around us have absolutely no clue how huge this task is and how clueless we most of the times are.
However, do we stop? No, we learn, we unlearn, we get back, we make tiny dents, we roar, we break down the systems wherever we can, if it gets overwhelming, we sit down, we breathe, we think, we believe, we find inspiration, and once we have absorbed enough energy again, we get up and move on.
Image source: YouTube
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