By Aamir Aman
“The right plan is to have no plan” (Easterly, 2006, pg. 5)
Calvin: “The more you know the harder it is to take decisive action. Once you become informed, you start seeing complexities and shades of gray. You realize that nothing is clear and simple as it first appears, ultimately, knowledge is paralyzing.”
The above is from a Calvin and Hobbes comic strip where Calvin is lamenting the paralyzing nature of taking decisive action informed by knowledge before he chucks his book away saying he’s a man of action and he cannot risk being informed. I cannot recall what Hobbes says in response to Calvin’s actions, perhaps a sarcastic quip as he is known to do. While I am not chucking books away a la Calvin, the paralyzing nature of knowledge as explained by Calvin is something that I constantly experience and navigate. Pre-departure I was concerned that this paralysis will only lead to inaction during my time in Malawi, and the advice of “Don’t Mess Up” kept wringing in my head as we made our way to the Transformative Praxis:Malawi campus from Lilongwe.
On my second day I stood watching TPM employees fill up buckets of water at the pump and I really wanted to help them. If this was in Canada do I stop my daily routine to help people complete their jobs? Nope. Do I stop a postal worker on their work routes and help them deliver mail? Nope. But if I was living in a community would I lend a hand to people I know in completing a task? Maybe. Do I know these workers? Nope. I watched as the buckets were filled as I stood there paralyzed in thought. These are the sorts of everyday decisions one has to make while living on campus, and they are not easy decisions. Nor do I know if my decision was right in this situation. Paralysis and inaction.
I think Transformative Praxis: Malawi requires you to let go of utopian plans for social innovation and change. Which is especially hard if you are a student from a Western country as you are only exposed to utopian ideas of development for Africa and the East, where the understanding is that if you throw enough money at the problem and tell people what to do you are on the right track. At least people won’t be able to say you didn’t do anything to combat poverty, right? The reality is that the answers to these issues haven’t been found in utopian ideas. The solutions are held within the local community who are most knowledgeable about their lived experiences, and utopian ideas have forgotten the community in their grandiose schemes for “eradicating poverty”.
Perhaps no action or plan is required of me, I can stand there in paralysis. Watching. Listening. Learning.
About the Blog
Since 2013, students participating in Transformative Praxis: Malawi have been writing blog posts reflecting on their experiences of participating in action research in Malawi. The original blog with the full archive can be found here