March 13, 2009

Learning to give up

Imagine this situation. You see a pressing social problem - HIV, say, or alcoholism or unemployment - and you think you have a great solution to some aspect of it. So you work away at it, bringing on board interested parties, doing research, and laying the groundwork for a really successful intervention. You launch your effort and it takes wing and then...crashes back down to earth. For whatever combination of reasons, your amazing idea hasn’t worked quite as you expected and the social problem you had set out to resolve persists, unchanged.

This is not - quite - the situation I find myself in but I might be heading that way. I am making progress in my work here and I am seeing improvements but sometimes they are hard to see. What is always too easy to see is the way in which some things are not moving in the right direction and are reverting to the pre-intervention stage. I don’t want to dwell too much on any of my impending failures so I’m going to spare you the details of any of the many stories I could tell as illustrations. (More to come on my failures - or, ahem, how I’ve found ways that don’t work - in later posts.)

But the larger point is this: surely, there are South Africans who are dedicated to the idea of improving living conditions in their country. Maybe, similar to me, they have attempted to make concrete fixes that have failed or been less successful than they had anticipated. Don’t you think after a series of such failures they might just give up any hope of improving things and conclude that the way things have always been is the way things will always be? Why then would you even begin to try if you knew you were going to fail?

It is not a major challenge here to start something new. That’s easy. Anyone with a little energy can get something started and there are always people who seem eager and willing to help at the start. (It is particularly easy to find funding for new ideas; less so for continuing old ones.) The major challenge is continuing what has already been begun. That is what saps all the energy and takes so much effort.

Jenny reminded me of the the prayer for steadfastness recently: “O LORD God, when thou givest thy servants to endeavour any great matter, grant us also to know that it is not the beginning but the continuing of the same until it be thoroughly finished, which yieldeth the true glory; through him that for the finishing of thy work laid down his life, our Redeemer, Jesus Christ. Amen.”