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  • Shazar Robinson

The Big Why

Simon Sinek in his inspiring TED talk says very few people and organisations know why they do what they do. Without understanding and clarity about this core question – all discussion about their product or cause is flat and colourless, lacking the pizzazz that turns people on. As Simon states – “start with why so that you can inspire others.”



Right now I am working on a huge goal to create a TED talk. A talk as inspiring to millions as those given by people such as Simon Sinek, Ken Robinson and so many many more who have graced the various TED stages and brought tears to the eyes of those watching and learning from their lives and ideas. So understanding my own ‘why’ is of primary importance.


Can I do it? Is it within me to be able to step out and fully express my ‘why’ and through my example and words, fire the imagination of others to help create a world where water is freely available to all. I have to say YES because if I don’t, then I can stop any effort and movement right now and simply go back to the beach and pick up seas shells and wander. Oh don’t get me wrong, wandering on the beach is as important as the ‘Why’.. but one without the other can stall in a miasm of indecision and nothingness.


So back to the question –

what is my big ‘why’?


What trigger turned the corner for me – what put my feet onto this path?


Was it the brief talk I heard by Paul Dunn so many years ago? Was it the culmination of the personal growth work I had been doing for so long? Was it the realisation that it was up to me

– that no-one else was going to come along and request that I help them.. I needed to step in.. to step up?


But still there is not the ‘why’. Why am I doing this? It seems to me that the triggers are like a pile.. a slow accumulation of a number of things.. some synchronicistic happenings that nudged me – and as that first nudge came, then a bigger push arrived, and another and another.


“Let me show you some photos,” Nandini said – offering me a few printed pics – I take them and begin to shuffle through them. She had caught me. Now I have to ask..” Who are these children – where is this place?” Before I know it I am approaching both Maya Shahani – a tall elegant woman from the Sage Foundation, Mumbai – and Nandini – supporter of Shikshangram Shelter for Children – and I ask them: “If I come to India – can I come and help you in your work? Would there be a place for me – if I come?” Both whole heartedly invite me on the spot. The die is cast.


Fast forward – some months – and I am living and working at Shikshangram – every day my

eyes are opened more and the crack in my heart is just a little wider.


The crying begins – I am seeing again – the veils of western comfortable living are peeling off. I see the young couple by the railway station – the man seeking out a piece of cardboard for them to sit on for the night – his wife building a small stick fire on which she places her one and only pot to cook – (what?) for the evening meal. Her baby wrapped in rags lying on the cardboard sheet. And I cry for them.


I hear the trees being cut – the forest rapidly disappearing for firewood for the local villagers

– they walk past every day with part of the forest on their heads – carrying the trees and branches back to their huts in the village. The forest is dying – the hillsides stripped of their vegetation – the rains rush down the bare slopes taking the topsoil away – eroding – not having a moment to soak into the earth – to replenish the water of our Mother. And I cry.


The children hold out their grubby hands on the train station – and are pushed away by the crowds. They shepherd each other along – a 6 year old the carer of the 3 year old – where is the mother? And I cry.


What is all this crying – what is the use of it? What is it about ? Sometimes I am crying at the least trigger – a glimpse of a beggar – the sight of a woman washing her ragged clothes in the water scavenged from a broken pipe on the road – next to the rushing traffic. Pounding her wash on a stone, to some semblance of cleanliness – to be hung over the roadside posts to dry in the dust and dirt of the passing cars and trucks. And I cry.


One day I receive a gift – I am listening to a podcast by Andrew Harvey – teacher and spiritual activisit. I am on a train – jammed between hundreds of people – no chance of finding a seat – at least I shan’t fall as the crowd is too great – and I listen to Andrew on my headphones. He

says: “In order for you to really see, your heart must be broken. Unless your heart is broken you will not change.” And suddenly I know why I am crying – what the tears are all about .. my

heart is breaking open. And all I have to do is allow it. Allow my heart to break so that the veils

can be stripped from my being and my eyes and I can see what is really happening around me. And as I begin to see the tears still come – but now I know what I have to do. I am no longer living for myself – but now I am living for the Earth and those who’s lives are so precariously balanced between life and death. And not only for the people, but also for the nature – for the water flowing between the banks of garbage, for the trees in danger of being slashed and cut for firewood. Now my eyes are opened. I can’t close them any more. I cannot ‘unsee’ what I have been privileged to see. Now I have to act.


This is the ‘why’ – here is the ‘why’ – because it is mine to do .. I cannot see the suffering and the pain and the depth of destruction of our land and not do something – anything – to change the flow of sorrow. “What can one person do?” – I ask – and many ask the same question. This bit.. this piece, this that is mine to do. And as the story grows and becomes my life, I am pushed to share it .. to write it, to speak it .. to stand up for what I know.. to shout from the rooftop that it is time – it is time to act – it is time to break open our hearts and see. For only when our hearts are broken are our eyes truly opened. And when our eyes are opened we see what is ours to do. Then and only then can we turn the tide of this gallop toward extinction into a river flowing clear to the ocean of freedom.


So a TED talk.. why not – if sharing my ‘why’ in this way can open the ‘why’ for even one other

person – then that is mine to do!


It is no longer a choice – no longer this or that – it is simply mine to do. The way is clear.


I put my foot on the path – and the path opens before me.


Shazar Robinson

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