Even the smallest person with the quietest voice can make a difference

The events across the Middle East are a reminder of the power of the idea of democracy and the yearning of people for respect, freedom and dignity. Mohammed Bouazizi was pushed around one time too many. He resisted in the ultimate way: he committed suicide and by doing so he set the Middle East on fire.

‘The events across the Middle East are a reminder of the power of the idea of democracy and the yearning of people for respect, freedom and a say in the decisions that shape their lives,’ Philip Woods writes on Friday, March 4th, 2011. ‘It is a reminder too that democracy itself is evolving and grows from the experience of our everyday lives.’

Frank van Empel for nonfiXe

According to Woods, in organisations and societies of the 21st century there are signs and signals of a fundamental, paradigmatic change in how we view and make it work. There is evidence of a shift away from the pyramidic hierarchy and towards democratic forms that enable people to flourish as whole people who are spiritually, socially and ecologically connected. The organisational democracy that is growing now however is qualitatively different from simply involving and consulting people more often. It is about bringing both greater participation and greater meaning to our lives. It’s about what Woods terms ‘holistic democracy’.

One of the drivers is the intrinsic conviction that people have a right to be involved in decisions that affect them, to have their voices heard and their rights to freedom respected, and that those in power should be accountable for its use. It is part of a long-term evolution. This basic motivation to make power accountable is compelling governments to change they way they work and to open up decision-making. This is not simply about voting. It is about: sharing power and facilitating dialogue as part of the culture; enabling people to make decisions, work flexibly and collaboratively, and initiate change; giving people the entitlement to open and transparent information; and having systems and spaces through which people can influence, and own, the vision and strategies of society.

The driver of democracy concerns the opportunity to find and create higher meaning: to express spiritual, artistic and creative impulses; to enjoy the intrinsic value of relationships and the warmth of caring human bonds; to live ethically and to learn and grow as full human beings. Underlying this is the recognition that people want more than mundane, repetitive lives.

The question is how deep this democracy goes. The wise government uses the instrumental drive to enhance involvement as a way of creating holistic democracy – a culture that pervades society and through which leadership is dispersed and shared with people as whole human beings.

Dictators such as Gaddafi, Ben Ali, Mubarak, don’t fit into this picture. They must have been asleep, or just did not notice the radical changes in the mindset of the people they are used to command, rob and  rape. In relation to the Ben Ali’s of this world the ordinary man seems powerless. But the Ali Mu Gafi’s are oblivious to the one power all people have: to commit suicide. Like the 26 year old Tunasian Mohammed Bouazizi did. The fruitseller burned his life away on December 17, 2010 after a female police officer claimed the balance to weigh his products while selling. She slashed him in the face too. Mohammed Bouazizi went to claim his right, but was denied an answer and stripped once again from his dignity by the authorities. His last words: ‘If nobody listens to me, I set myself on fire’. And he did.

What the Ben Ga Baraks didn’t expect, happened in a wink. Bouazizi was the fuse in a powder keg. The People made clear that they had enough. They prooved even the smallest person with the quietest voice can make a difference. They resisted oppression and came together on the streets and squares. Bouazizi not only changed Tunesia. He has changed Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Morocco. He  brought hope to Palestina, Ethiopia, Iran and dozens of other countries.

The larger picture shows that it even changed the opinion of Westerners on Moslims. Western people sympathize with freedom fighters. With one spark Bouazizi neutralized the Twin Towers act of Bin Laden & Al Qaeda. And with the USA he changed the balance of power in the Middle East. They may have stolen his balance, but Bouazizi may have claimed a 1000000 x mightier balance instead.

nonfiXe, March 6 2011

Image: poster Al Sharara. Filmer Mongi Farhani documented the Tunesian upraise which started in his hometown: Al Sharara (the fuse).

Philip Woods FRSA is Chair in Educational Policy, Democracy and Leadership at the University of Hertfordshire and Co-founder of FreeSpirit Education. His latest book, Transforming Education Policy: Shaping a democratic future, will be published by Policy Press in 2011.