Using Our Power as a Platform for Good
In what proved to be a powerful and emotional Oscar-winning speech, Joaquin Phoenix dished up a very clear message to those of us blessed to have freedom of speech — use your power for good.
Not to wage wars or create division but to unify.
Not to hurl hatred in the direction of others but to demonstrate the ability to engage in a process of self-reflection on who you once were and who you have now become.
In a speech that covered everything from human’s continued exploitation of other species to the power of redemption, Phoenix risked ridicule to advocate the need for profound changes within society.
While he possesses the same ability as Marmite to polarise society, there is no denying that his speech serves as the dawning of a new era.
An era in which we can no longer play it small by chipping in from the sidelines, or choose comfort over courage, but an era in which all of us who hold power must step bravely into the arena.
While some have labeled his speech a disgrace, likening him to that of a ‘rambling street bum’, credit must be given for his bravery in speaking out about what he believes in.
Perhaps those criticizing Phoenix would do well to head the words of Theodore Roosevelt:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles; or how the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly, who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who actually strives to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
Words spoken over a hundred years ago, only now beginning to make their way in to mainstream culture to be applied by those brave enough, like Phoenix, to weather the storms they often find themselves in for speaking out.
While you and I are not Oscar-winning actors, how might we use Phoenix’s speech to inspire us to use the power we do have for good?
Acknowledge that we have more power than we think
“We are not powerless. We have tremendous potential for good or ill. How we choose to use that power is up to us; but first we must choose to use it. We’re told everyday, you can’t change the world, but the world is changing every day. Only question is, who’s doing it? You or somebody else?”
— J. Michael Straczynski
Yes, the systems within which we live and work can disempower us, but more often than not we disempower ourselves by choosing to believe there is nothing that we can do to change the status quo.
It is perhaps the most dangerous and damaging lie we tell ourselves because it lets us off the hook. It allows us to stay where we feel most comfortable, to sit back and do nothing.
The first step to affecting change is to acknowledge that it can be done. The second is to tell yourself that there is no better person than you to do it.
Engage in self-reflection
“All shadows are cast by light. There is a moment, a chance, when you face your greatest darkness, that you can turn, just a little bit, and trace the source of the shadow unto its origin. It is in those moments you have the chance to understand something about yourself and about the world that you may have never seen before. The darkness of your past is an opportunity. You are not the things that have happened to you. You are not your talents or your weakness, you are what you choose to be. There is no shadow you can cast that love, friendship, and kindness cannot overcome.”
― Michael Kilman
This is a critically undervalued and yet massively important skill, without which we will continue to see decisions that affect the state of this planet being driven by a desperate and insatiable need for power and control.
While I’m not suggesting we engage in self-reflection to the point of self-indulgence, taking some time each week to check in with ourselves, to see what we are proud of, and what we would like to improve on, enables us to grow as human beings.
Developing self-awareness enables us to begin to explore and understand the complex workings of our consciousness — why we think, act, and behave the way we do. With that knowledge comes the ability to make tangible changes.
Speak out against injustice
“I think at times we feel or are made to feel that we champion different causes. But for me, I see commonality. I think, whether we’re talking about gender inequality or racism or queer rights or indigenous rights or animal rights, we’re talking about the fight against injustice. We’re talking about the fight against the belief that one nation, one people, one race, one gender, one species, has the right to dominate, use and control another with impunity.”
— Joaquin Phoenix
We don’t speak out nearly as often as we should. More often than not we sit in silence but our complacency rarely means we don’t care. Rather it is often a form of amour that we wear to avoid having to feel the pain of the many injustices we’re exposed to on a daily basis.
It’s just too overwhelming and big and standing side by side with it makes us feel so very small.
But, if we were born one of the lucky few, and by lucky I mean someone who has freedom of speech, is not living in the middle of a war zone, and is able to clothe, house, and feed themselves, then we have a moral responsibility to speak for those who either cannot or whose voices are disenfranchised.
That’s the deal. Some of us got dealt a relatively lucky hand, not spared from suffering to be sure, but privileged in ways many are not and we must do something with that. We must not squander the chance we have to make a difference, to move the needle of the world in a positive direction.
As writers, we, like Phoenix, have a platform from which we can do good. We have the privilege of being able to give a voice to the voiceless and to fight for a better world for those who are unable to fight.
Let us use that privilege wisely. Let us use our power as a platform for good.