My Search For Meaning

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My life, rather my heart, mind, and my direction; changed in 2006 because I read something that impacted me so immensely, it made me question my life’s meaning.

But let me step back a couple of years before that, to 2004. Three big things impacted me  that year: 1) my long-term relationship truly ended 2) 26th December, the Indian Ocean Tsunami plummeted Asia, and parts of Africa claiming over 220,000 lives 3) I participated in a development programme that made me look deeper into myself and the work I really wanted to do.

In hindsight, perhaps the end of my relationship became the catalyst for my deeper reflection. It is said that it takes two to make things work and to fail in a relationship (NB: I am no expert!). I realised I had contributed to things falling apart but in the early days of 2004, it all seemed very one sided – and it wasn’t me. Thanks to some difficult conversations, honest reflection and time; I came to realise that my choices and actions had contributed to the reality the relationship had lived and its demise.  My choices, my decisions, my actions had indeed contributed to the relationship’s end.

The development programme couldn’t have come at a better time. Although it was an extremely challenging process – personal development was not something I had really explored for myself before. But because it was a course (or programme), me and all the others who took part, had to do the work. I realised from that programme that I deeply wanted more meaning to the work I did every day, to the reason I diligently woke up every weekday. I wanted what I did to matter to me. 

I came to realise that I wanted to be able to positively make a difference in small and hopefully bigger ways to people’s lives. Given that I had chosen to work in the private sector, my journey towards learning more about positive impact in the corporate context began.

On 27th December 2004, I was glued to my TV screen. Watching international news in horror and in tears as the news channels played and replayed the devastation, the suddenness, the speed and the magnitude of the Indian Ocean Tsunami. In such a short space of time, more than 220,000 people died. Families were decimated, communities and economies destroyed. How could this have happened? Did anyone see this coming? I don’t think I will ever forget how I felt at that time or some of the images I saw on TV; and I don’t think I ever want to.

Back to 2006. Sitting in my living room one early evening, I remembered a conversation at work about a report called the Stern Review. After a quick Google search, I found and opened it The Stern Review: The Economics of Climate Change. Nicholas Stern is an economist, chair of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics (LSE) and is also chair of the Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy (CCCEP) at Leeds University and LSE.  The report, published in 2006, was commissioned by Her Majesty’s Treasury of the UK Government to give evidence on the economic impacts of climate change, and on the costs and benefits of action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on the UK and globally. 

I read the report. At first, the four-page executive summary; and then the full report.  I sat quietly for a long while after I finished it. My brain trying to digest the science, the facts. My emotions struggling to comprehend the consequences. I didn’t understand a lot of the details at that time. But there were a couple of things that I did understand and that really ‘hit home’. 

The report clearly highlighted that: 

Climate change presents a unique challenge for economics: it is the greatest and widest-ranging market failure ever seen. 

The impacts of climate change are not evenly distributed – the poorest countries and people will suffer earliest and most. And if and when the damages appear it will be too late to reverse the process. Thus we are forced to look a long way ahead. 

The deeply disheartening reality is that developing countries have barely contributed to our current climate change scenario. It was a daunting reality, imagining the possibility of the Indian Ocean Tsunami happening over and over again in coastal cities and towns across the African continent and the wider developing world. I couldn’t believe it. My home, my country, my continent, my family, my friends, my communities; would suffer the most. 

I was angry – this was not our fault, this was not our problem, why should we be the ones to suffer the most for something we didn’t do. And then I felt lost – where do you even begin, what does one do with something like this? How could I begin to forget what I had read, was that even possible?

That night, I pulled my fluffy elephant – a childhood cuddly toy – out from the back of my wardrobe, where I had hidden it; and I held it close while I tried to fall asleep. Sleep was an elusive friend. I left the bedside lamp on that night. For the first time in a very long time, I was afraid of the dark, and the thoughts that were filling my head. And I was afraid of the morning that was to come, with its certainty that what I had thought before was never going to be the same ever again.

It was that night, or early morning that my meaning changed. 

I knew I couldn’t stand by and not do something, no matter how small. That day, I promised myself that I would always choose to do something to protect the environment and foster better lives and communities. And that I had to share what I knew with my friends, social circles, and anyone who might be willing to listen; and maybe sometimes those who didn’t want to listen.

And so, in 2006, my life changed. From that time to today and onwards, my meaning is to always seek ways to make this world a better place through my career, my life choices and actions. I want to do my part in creating a world where we care about each other and our shared future. That is my life’s vision. And because of what I have come to know and who I have become, it is simply impossible for me to live with myself if I’m not doing so. 

It is not easy, and I will continue to make mistakes every day; sometimes more than I can dare to count. But the thing is, I never thought it would be simple and easy, because the challenge at hand is massive, and also because I believe that really important things rarely are simple or easy. They take effort, time, perseverance, and like Barack Obama said, the audacity of hope. But each day I will strive. Because making that conscious choice daily to create a better world (for my home, my country, my continent, my family, my friends, my communities) gives me my meaning. 

It is important to always remember, that it is still the reality that despite the developing world’s minimal contribution to climate change, we will still experience its (perhaps worst) impacts. And that our own development trajectory will likely exacerbate the crisis. There are no simple answers, but we all need to do something better, big or small. I have hope in our individual choices and actions. 


Al Jazeera: What is Climate Change? (video: 7m07secs)

The Stern Review is considered an influential report in the climate change debate despite being published more than a decade ago. Read the 4-page executive summary 

In December 2019, the UN Climate Change COP 25 took place. Here is a little insight into where we all (the world) stand today: World Meteorological Organisation Provisional Statement on the State of the Global Climate 2019 (video: 1m41secs)