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Review-a-Day
Christian Science Monitor
Monday, July 4th, 2005


 

A Beginner's Guide to Changing the World: A True Life Adventure Story

by Isabel Losada

Not in power but learning to better humanity anyway

A review by Amelia Newcomb

Waking up in the morning and deciding that the injustices of the world must be addressed -- right now -- is not an uncommon experience. Most people then shake the sleep from their eyes, get dressed, fight traffic, and start work.

But one day British journalist/author/ single mother Isabel Losada wakes up and decides she has been "tummy-button" gazing a bit too long. She wants to soothe a warring post-9/11 world. And after spending some quality time with her computer's search engine, she knows what she must do.

Thus begins the charming and true tale of a self-guided education in activism that propels Losada from a ragtag demonstration for Tibet in front of the Chinese Embassy in London to a meeting in India with the Dalai Lama himself -- the ultimate voice of nonviolence, in her view. But, more important, it transforms her from an individual questioning the "power of one" to a woman with absolute confidence that she -- and anyone -- can make the world just a bit better, if they try.

If Losada's trials are any indication, the serious business of global transformation is best pursued with a sense of humor, not to mention persistence and humility. Indeed, she seems bent on proving that a happy and occasionally self-depreciating activist is not an oxymoron. "I want to be persistently joyful and joyfully persistent," she insists, adding that "I believe that it's OK to want to make a difference and have fun...."

Along the way, she learns what it takes to be a well-rounded rabble-rouser: If you're going to wave a Tibetan flag that no one recognizes, for example, learn something about its history. This being the 21st century, also learn HTML. Accept that working within the democratic process will be "a profound spiritual exercise in patience." Seek out those on all sides of an issue -- as Losada notes, "It's amazing who will agree to meet you if you write them a letter that fits on one page."

If you manage to fend off the Greek chorus of well-intentioned friends -- Job's comforters, she calls them -- the results could be dramatic. Losada finds herself en route to Tibet via Nepal, where she meets a flirtatious monk. She pulls off a daring publicity maneuver, the kind most people only dream of and one that briefly transforms Trafalgar Square and generates global headlines. She gives the Dalai Lama a copy of Harry Potter.

What guides Losada is a simple prayer: "Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change/ The courage to change the things I can/ And the wisdom to know the difference."

As she moves between Chinese Embassy officials and spiritual leaders, she comes to accept that she may not change history. But she realizes that, in her own way, she is making a mark.

Though an interest in Buddhism and Tibet clearly motivates Losada, this is not ultimately a story about either topic. In what really seems like an extended conversation, her joy in finding her activist way becomes yours. It's easy to think you could call her up and chat about anything from topics of state interest to living with a teenage daughter.

In the end, you may feel you've made a friend, one who, in this delightful read, has shared her conviction that the only difference between a dreamer and an activist is a willingness to take the first step -- even if, deep down, you have absolutely no idea what you're doing.

Amelia Newcomb is the Monitor's deputy World editor.


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