Excerpt of talk by Ruairí at launch of Youth Elect by Future Voices at the Mansion House, Dublin
One thing that all truly great activists, community leaders, campaigners, and politicians have in common is courage. They have the courage to transcend fear and doubt, the courage to keep going when it feels like they can’t. The courage to break the mould and break down doors and announce that the status quo is no longer acceptable and that things are going to change around here.
We live in a world where courage is so badly needed. Whether it be the ecological crisis, the economic crisis, the challenges of health, housing, transport or corruption. Too many are hostage to fear, fear of speaking out, rocking the boat, losing out on status, privilege, recognition, and power.
As we prepare to commemorate the leaders of Ireland’s 1916 Rising, it is worth reflecting on the role of courage. Think too of Mandela, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Aung San Su Chi, Chelsea Manning, and Edward Snowden. Think of Christina Nobel, Christine Buckley, Philomena Lee, Stephanie O’Keefe, John Wilson and Maurice McCabe.
Then of course there are the countless heroes who walk among us, who go unrecognised and uncelebrated, and the courageous politicians doing their best in an imperfect system. Let’s celebrate these people, not just with words, but with action. Let’s carry their torch forward by working in service and by leaving the most fearless lives we can.
I admire those who are brave or crazy enough to be inside or wanting to go inside the political system. This is a system that needs a complete overhaul, a whole new operating system rather than just a reboot, a new system founded on transparency and citizen service.
It’s up to all of us to be bold and relentless in bringing about this change, and building a parliament that welcomes more young people, women, and visionary new voices. This requires people on the inside, challenging and reforming, supported by those of us outside who are pushing, pulling, and demanding, and creating alternative visions of how things can be.
Each of us has something special to offer in all of this. Each one of us has the power to leave a great legacy. Imagine when you are 90 years old.
Imagine it now……………
Imagine looking back on your life. How did you live it?
Did you play safe?
Or did you live a fearless life in service to bringing about a better world?
Maybe you have already made that choice and if so, you deserve our respect and support.
Looking back on my fifteen years of community work and campaigning I know I have made many mistakes. But I think I’ve learned a few things too and I want to share a few of them with you.
- Firstly, I think it’s important that our activism is rooted in self-knowledge, knowing our strengths, our weaknesses, and our passions, and deciding which issues to focus on. This is also about knowing our purpose. They say your purpose lies where your passions meet the needs of the world.
- I cannot stress the importance of self-care enough. How can you be effective, how can you support and serve others, how can you inspire when you are depleted and exhausted as so many people in service are? It is therefore essential that you are as disciplined as an Olympian in rest, recovery, diet, and sleep.
- Nurturing yourself in nature, away from newspapers and social media can be part of this, as can meditation and mindfulness, and going out dancing with your friends. There was a reason Gandhi went on retreat after every great campaign he led in challenging the British Empire.
- You’ve heard of eco-warriors but keep an eye out for ego-warriors and try not become one. Ego is something we all have and you will encounter no shortage of people with egos as big as mountains. Our responsibility is to keep our own ego in check.
- There will be times when you doubt yourself and others might doubt you too. This is where self-belief and perseverance comes into play. You have to dig deep into your core and believe in yourself and your mission. Other people believing in us just isn’t enough.
- Ensuring integrity is at the heart of everything we do is critical. This means being truthful in our dealings and not compromising ourselves in exchange for power and profile. Our integrity and honour can be our greatest asset.
Now I’ve talked a lot about the power of the individual to create change and I truly believe in that. But make no mistake that behind every great leader, lies a great team, often a great partner, and certainly a community.
A focus on the individual is useful at times, but let’s remember that all great change happens because of community, because of the sum force of many voices, the people who help canvass and the people who help cook. We need to also remember that politicians are put there by us, at least most of them are, and just as we elevated them, we need to hold them accountable, and remove them if necessary.
Finally, it has been said that in the end, most things come down to a choice between love and fear. Fear is part of life and it can help us see danger ahead but it is also the thing that most cripples us, the thing that holds back our dreams, and the thing that is holding back our country from realising our huge potential.
Don’t ignore fear but instead use it. Have the courage to grab it by the horns and tell it that you aren’t going to bow to it. Let love be our guiding force, and together let’s reclaim our power, our politics, and our country.
So in those moments of fear, those dark times when it all looks too big, too overwhelming, remember that in the end it all boils down to courage. You have it inside you. We all do. Dig deep and stand tall. This is our time.