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A Life Lesson from Calloused Fingertips

22 February 2012 No Comment

Dina Badawy

Dina Badawy

“Between 2004 and 2010, Egyptian workers led over 3,000 labor protests, strikes, and other demonstrations.”


Since the age of seven I wanted to play the guitar, but it wasn’t until 20 years later that I learned my first chord — and an important life lesson.

Two years ago, I was sitting in my second official class at a local studio, guitar on my lap as I glided my thumb across my other four raw and blistered fingertips.

“I don’t think I’m meant to play guitar,” I said to the instructor. “My fingers are too sensitive and small. There are lots of other people who find a way to play the guitar but this is just too painful for me.”

The instructor assured me that some pain in my fingers was normal, that almost everyone who plays guitar has calluses develop on their fingertips or has their hands cramp when they first start learning.

“Pressing hard on the strings is the only way to play the notes clearly,” he said. “The bad news is that there’s no way around it. Your fingers may bleed and feel sore for a time. But the good news is that in the near future, you’ll be playing guitar.

Keep strumming. The pain will lift and the music will appear.”

A few months ago, I remembered my calloused fingers and the analogy of perseverance as I prepared to give a presentation about the January 25th revolution in Egypt at the Southern Regional Amnesty International Conference. The panel organizer advised me to reflect on the following question, since he believed it would probably be asked: “How did the revolution happen so quickly?”

It’s a great question. Most of the revolutions throughout history took several years to actualize. Of course there had been activists struggling against Mubarak’s regime for decades prior to January 25, 2011, but the rapid rate of change in the Arab Spring was unprecedented. How did the Egyptians manage to pull it off in 18 days?

The pace of the revolution appeared almost magical until I came across a statistic that put everything into context:

Between 2004 and 2010, Egyptian workers led over 3,000 labor protests, strikes, and other demonstrations.

Workers are recognized as a critical force behind political and social change throughout the world. But the most fascinating part of this statistic is the great number of actions the workers in Egypt took in those six years.

This statistic also reminded me that the revolution was not a product of one strategy or the efforts of one community; everyone plays a role that is significant, no matter the size of the action, as every single brick is necessary when paving the path to revolution — the youth, the veterans, the workers, the middle class, those in poverty, those in wealth, expatriates, academia, politicians, artists. Each individual is a part of the change.

As I researched the lives of the Egyptian activists, I envisioned the brutality they faced, the difficulty in maintaining momentum during times of perceived failure and uncertainty, the confusion of how to proceed in utter chaos.

I felt overwhelmed and discouraged by simply thinking about their challenges, yet these peace leaders remained focused and determined to fulfill an exciting, just vision for their sisters and brothers, despite the pain they endured.

The theme I presented to the group at Amnesty’s conference and try to live by every day as we struggle for all that social justice encompasses — from human rights to environmental to political to economic justice — is perseverance. The importance of perseverance echoes throughout history, such as the Civil Rights Movement that lasted over 30 years, and the ongoing revolutions and struggles for peace throughout the world.

Our visions will come true. And for the very worthy mission of peace, we must keep strumming through the pain and find the beautiful music.

The views and opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Peace X Peace.


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