Seeing the Water

Have you heard this David Foster Wallace story? There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys! How’s the water?”

And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?”.  

It’s great, right? I think we can all relate to it.

Most of us grow up in environments where we’re not taught how to see the water and yet, it’s one of the most valuable skills we can have.

The water, depending on context, can be many different things.

It can be as small as family dynamics, or as big as capitalism & patriarchy. 

One of the first ways I learnt to see the water was travel.  I spent a lot of my 20’s backpacking, and I was fortunate to go places as diverse as the Colombian Amazon to the Wakhan Valley to the Arctic Circle of Norway. 

My family could never understand my love of travel so much (particularly to more remote places), but as someone with a non-traditional education, it became a form of learning for me.

Travel taught me the many different ways of being human. 

It showed me patterns. 

And it taught me how to see the water. 

Because in each of these places I saw the patterns of our interconnection.  The shared love we all have for our communities & family, music and art, our shared questioning and searching for something divine. 

But also the patterns & interconnection of injustice.  

The burning of the Amazon isn’t an isolated problem of South America. It’s directly tied to a global economic system (ahem, #capitalism) that requires infinite growth, that is founded on our disconnection from the Earth and each other. 

The suffering of Afghanistan and the surrounds is not a ‘them’ problem. It’s directly tied to neocolonial policies and power politics of the global north (which are founded on the same belief patterns of patriarchy, capitalism & white supremacy). 

And the struggles many of us experience in day to day life, and consider normal – that’s right, I’m talking about burnout, perfectionism, shame-cycles, imposter syndrome – are not actually normal.

They’re a product of a toxic culture, that likes to individualise and otherise systemic injustice.  

As changemakers, I believe our work is in learning to see the water of our culture, and learning to recognise patterns. 

Travel’s one way, but it’s not the only one. 

We can all practice this by asking the right questions. 

Who benefits when I’m burnt out or exhausted?

Who or what goes unchallenged?

What pattern might there be here, where can I see this story in culture? 

Seeing the water is the first step to Getting Free. 

From there, we can learn to hand the story back. 

To steward our power.

And lead our communities from the world as it is to the world as it could be. 

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