Saturday 22 May 2010

The 6th Resistance: " It can't be done"

When we talk mindset changes, desired big geo-political changes, or new freedoms for currently oppressed groups, about the most common reaction in the mainstream seems to be: "It can't be done", ....or "'re being too idealistic".

Of course we can all think of momentous shifts that actually have taken place historically, and against the odds: the ending of slavery, votes for women, the independence of India (from Britain), the fall of the Berlin wall..........but somehow these are often regarded as exceptional.

Yet there are numerous, but less well known, examples of small groups overcoming the "it can't be done" resistance. Take a household name like Oxfam. Years ago I used to go around schools in Norfolk giving talks about various Oxfam projects. With smaller kids especially, I liked to tell them the story of how Oxfam began. It goes like this:

In the thick of the second European war (in 1942), 2 very ordinary citizens of Oxford met in a house to decide to act on the plight of refugees in Greece, which at the time was occupied by Hitler's forces. They decided, these 2 people, to organise a local clothes collection, and before long a committee had been formed - small amounts of clothes were sent to occupied Greece to assist the refugees. The idea caught on, and larger and larger shipments of clothes were sent. Within 9 months, the shipments became so large that the U.K. Government's War Ministry (yes, it was called that), became worried enough to write to the group - called the 'Oxford Committee for Famine Relief' - worried that the clothing would fall into the hands of the occupying forces. Does this sound familiar?! The group persisted, and by the mid-1950s, it was sending clothes and money to several war-ravaged countries.

Fast forward to 2010, and Oxfam, as it became known, now works in over 80 countries and spends £235M a year.

I have a quotation on my desk: " People who say that it cannot be done, should not interrupt people who are doing it".

Doing it, may not lead to change, or some big organisation - but not doing it, can't possibly lead to anything (except sloth or supporting the status quo!). Put another way, saying "it can't be done" is a self-determining argument.

Doing it doesn't always lead to success, but it does always teach us new skills, makes us wiser, and above all keeps idealism alive. 'It' - the doing - can always be done.


  1. I like your final sentance Chris - we should have some badges made with ''It' - the doing - can always be done'!

    Talk of Oxfam always reminds me of some Americans at university who asked 'Just where is this Ox Farm that everyone helps at?'. I guess that Oxfam was not so well known in the 70s.

  2. bravo! beautiful words, beautiful beliefs, beautiful man!

  3. Thanks Chris. I'm picking up the message all travellers know, that the journey can be even more significant than the destination.