It was 1997 and there I awkwardly sat with nine other equally uncomfortable people. While different in circumstance, we were united in need—in need of a job. I and around 60 other hopefuls had made it to round two of the interview process for a local manufacturing company. Ushered into a large hall, we were soon divided into several groups and seated around a designated table. It was in attentive silence we sat as our task for the day was explained. And that task was to make paper planes—but with a difference. We were not to make the good old-fashioned, two folds and you’re done type plane. No this plane was much more complex and would involve group participation. As such we were to form an assembly line to produce the final product—a state-of-the-art paper plane, coloured, with wings and a couple of other whizz-bang things that have taken leave of my memory. We would need to rotate through the tasks, undertake quality control, manage stocks and maintain efficiencies: all the while working as a team with a common goal.
I still remember the mix of nervousness and eagerness that had been let loose within me, only to be stalled by self-doubt, which saw me sitting there motionless. If I was to lose the moniker of “unemployed”, I desperately needed that job, and desperately needed to impress the company representative that I indeed would be a valuable team member. I think I could safely say this was a common thought for all the others sitting there in equally motionless unrest. But as the clock began to tick, no one made a move. I looked to my left and saw nervous eyes dart; on my right I heard awkward shuffles of seats. I waited anxiously for someone to make a move, take charge, get the show on the road and lead us all to ‘higher ground’, because when they did I was more than willing to jump in and follow. But no one did. It was a most bizarre scenario that gets eked out each day in a dozen different situations as people recognise the need but lack intestinal fortitude to take the lead. An almost modern-day version of Hans Christian Andersen “The Emperor’s new clothes” if you like. So there we sat around the table knowing we needed to do something yet no one daring to venture beyond the protective shield of their comfort zone. I spied our supervisor look at the clock, then our idle group, then, nonplussed, they made some notes.
I could take it no more. I didn’t want this narrative of my life to end this way, so gulping in courage, I spoke, “Hey guys, we’ve got to do something here if we want to get a job”. My short and impromptu motivational speech got a few nods. “Sooooo, where do we start?? Any takers?” Some heads moved left to right, some nodded in agreement and other people just fidgeted in their seats—but still nobody did anything despite the mounting urgency of the situation. And the time ticked on some more. In those few agonising seconds I saw two options and as reluctant as I was, I knew just what I had to do. Whilst team leader was a most uncomfortable role, I managed to steer our crew to crafting the best darn paper planes in the history of the universe and in doing so I also landed the job.
Despite being incredibly shy and much preferring cows to crowds, I could no longer ignore the urgent need for a change in the way people view the animals our society farms for food and fibre. And in an ironic twist, it would be from my job secured by my paper plane-making exploits I would resign and create Edgar’s Mission. I remember having the same anxious self-doubts that flooded me way back in that small hall in 1997—“What if I fail?”, “What if I make a mistake?”, “What if no one joins in?”, “What if people ridicule me?” and “What if I end up looking silly?”—running through my head. And once again I knew that worse than all these things was doing nothing.
Throughout my life, I have always felt that there was something tugging at me, some urgent need, but I never knew just what it was. Never knew, until 2003, when Edgar Alan Pig began to tug on my heart strings, that I realised it was actually my conscience pulling me to just where I needed to be and that all my life had been carefully navigating me to this point.
The reward for my efforts has been the belief, support and assistance of so many truly amazing people who share the vision of a kinder, more humane and just world for all.
I often think of the words of Martin Luther King, Junior (it’s one of my favourite quotes and I even have it printed out on my wall):
“Cowardice asks the question, is it safe?
Expediency ask the question, is it politic?
Vanity asks the question, is it popular?
But, conscience asks the question, is it right? And there comes a time when we must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but one must take it because it is right.”
And I am reminded that when we do stand up for what we believe in, we find our wings and then we truly soar.