To be a prophet

Prophets are usually associated with the Old Testament, although occasionally we find the word used for people like Martin Luther King or Desmond Tutu.

A prophet is someone who sees what is going on around him or her, doesn’t like what he sees and says so. He or she has a sense that things could be different from what they are and has the courage to challenge what most people accept as normal.

The age of prophecy is not over; it is only beginning. We can use the word more that ever today as education has opened the doors to so many people and quite a number of them use the new powers they enjoy to look intensely at the world. Three examples come rapidly to mind.

A basketball coach in New York discovered his contract involved him wearing a certain brand of shoe. Suspicious, or just curious, he decided to investigate the origins of the brand – where and how the shoes, sneakers, were made. The internet led him to Jakarta and he decided to go and see for himself.

He found that the workers who produced the product were sweated labour, working long hours for comparatively low wages under trying conditions. Outraged, he decided to refuse to wear the shoes even though he knew it would cost him his job and it did. He then moved full time into exposing the firm ever more sharply and gathered colleagues and ended influencing the firm to change its ways. I did not get his name – but he is a prophet.

Another example is of an Englishmen, again the name escapes me, who reflected on his mobile phone one day and wondered where the essential ingredients came from. I cannot even remember the name of the metal but he discovered it came from the Congo and he decided to go and have a look to see where and how it was mined. He found people in remote war-torn areas of the Eastern Congo working in pits that often suddenly flooded.

He asked them if they knew what they were mining and what it was used for. They had a small informal meeting and their spokesman eventually came up with the answer: padlocks. Again he went home and raised the awareness of people about at least some of the implications of the great communications revolution we enjoy.

A third example is Wangari Maathai – at last a name – the Kenyan Nobel peace prize winner who fought for the environment, democracy and women’s rights and who died on September 25. For her ‘the tree became a symbol for democratic struggle and a way of challenging abuses of power, corruption and environmental mismanagement,’ (from her obituary in The Guardian). By 2004 her influence led to the planting of 30 million trees cared for by community groups, often supervised by disabled and mentally ill people. Her story is one of astonishing courage as she took on the politicians and the big corporations.

Prophets indeed! These are people who are known but there are countless unknown prophets scattered in communities across the globe. A prophet is simply someone who reflects on the world around him or her and if they see something they do not like they have the courage to do something about it. They are the salt of the earth.

Post published in: Opinions & Analysis

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