A sure shot way of maximising career success is this: support the rulers

The closer you are to the centre of the ‘system’ the more it will reward you. The king has to make sure the courtiers are paid well enough. Throw in a few rubies and pearls and you have some of the wisest people in your land eating out of your hand.

Those who question the system or opt out of it will be punished — in the harshest terms. They will face a ‘backlash’ from power.

One is an immediate backlash that you will face. This is threat of violence, censorship and being labeled unfavourably.

But there is a subtler backlash that a larger group experiences. This is the group of artists, social activists and ‘loonies’. This backlash comes in small ways. In its most basic form, it is simply not getting enough money for what you do. Your work, unless in service of the establishment, is economically devalued.

A play that needs corporate sponsorship has to be popular and entertaining. It surely must not touch upon any controversial issues. CSR funding is reserved for ‘cute’ causes that address government failures like education and health, never for dissent. As they say, the revolution will not be funded.

Then, there are other subtle pressures — your parents and friends will cheer you on if you ‘move up the ranks’, get increments and become more effective at supporting status quo. But stand out on your own and suddenly your choices will seem stark, even stupid.

So, here is the challenge — in a world that is marching on towards the centre of the system (the banks, the oil companies, the conglomerates, the government), how does one invite a walking away? The walking away has consequences, most of which are quite unpleasant.

There are some answers. One is having noble friends who are on the same journey. Another is to tune out that part of media that constantly shapes aspirations (advertising). Yet another is to start moving away from the economic system (being debt free).

And in terms of our activism work, the answer is to honour the subtle balance of not being powerless and yet not aspiring to ‘overpower’.

Somewhere behind these paradoxes and questions lurks the ‘right’ space to engage from.

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