A dear friend Georgina recently shared a story that inspires this piece to life. I am especially grateful to dedicate it to the recent celebrations of human victory in Zimbabwe. Thank you for inspiring so much across the continent that we call home and beyond.
It was a hot Saturday afternoon on the shores of Lagos and the boys were playing football. Sweat, heat, and adrenalin filled the sandy field, intoxicating all around not least a young girl who longed to be part of it all. She lurked the sidelines, perhaps hoping to be invited.
Eventually giving up on the likelihood of this, she tried to slip into the game but was bullied away by one of the boys. She remained in the corner, longingly watching the excitement of the players move across the beach. And this was the case for days on end.
Until one day, Georgina, no stranger to hanging with the boys, in her usual don’t-care stride, sauntered in and joined the game. Upon seeing Georgina unofficially welcomed and playing with the team of boys, the young girl was freed. Freed from her own hesitations and insecurities and the power of the potential bullies.
And in she ran, her yellow dress bellowing in the wind, flowing into the game with a freedom of a soul that finally gets to play.
The picture as shared above captured this moment in time. Georgina was not aware that in giving herself permission to be, she was unwittingly giving another permission to do the same.
A Zimbabwean friend Tinashe recently shared his experience of turning the page of one-man rule where a most powerful bully has silenced the will of the people for far too long. He said, “I’m only realizing now the magnitude of having permission to wave my flag, which I went around doing yesterday, but prior to this had been criminalized because it had become a symbol of protest.”
From a macro to a micro level, the power of giving another permission holds. Can you remember a time when someone gave you permission to be? Can you remember a time when you gave another permission?
I remember one person who gave me permission in recent times has been Oprah. Oprah embodies a spirituality that resonates with me but which I struggle to capture in a way that wouldn’t be dismissed as ‘too hippy’, too…’insert word here’. If Oprah says it and it’s okay, perhaps I too can share from this space.
I remember the freedom of all the women that have inspired my own liberation and how they show up fully, without censorship, in full embodiment of self. I am struck by the millions of people on the streets of Zimbabwe who in the last days have been given permission to speak up and how loud and strong their voice is. Witnessing again and again the role and power of permission, can we learn to emancipate our own selves?
As Georgina reminded me as we reflected together on her story, sometimes it is to our own selves that we must give permission. Permission to dream. Permission to speak. Permission to forgive. Permission to love. Permission to be angry. Permission to cry. The list might be as endless as all the ways that we hold back, timid on the sidelines of our emotions.
Because fear is a most primal emotion and a potentially powerful block to our freedom. Allow me to reflect on fear for a moment. Can we give ourselves permission to go through our fears? Permission to unravel the threads of her many voices? Can we give others permission to go through their fears? To see fear not as a foe but never as a driver.
We have so much power to create and live the reality that we want, but in my experience, our power, the creator spirit in us needs permission to be heard in full. This is why I continue to advocate for quiet spaces. Space to be with your silence, with your God energy. I find that on this journey, listening is paramount. Especially when we are in a chapter of life with more questions than answers. Listen.
To listen and in listening, to see always the eye of the vision that is in harmony with the greatest good. In visioning, to act, and in acting, buoyed by smooth waters or rough winds, to have faith in the silence of your guidance. And in all things, to give thanks.
Should we agree that both being given permission and giving one self permission are critical. Can we see the danger of a world so fragmented that few feel they have the authority, the permission to speak up against that which we know to be wrong? For so much is wrong, yet so many of us myself included too often stand on the sidelines.
Allow me to share a story that captures a scenario where permission in not explicit versus one where it is. It was a hot August day in the desert of Nevada at the ‘festival’ known as Burning Man. Seated under a man-made tree of Ténéré hundreds sought shade from the brutal heat of the sun. The tree with its sturdy branches beckoned to be climbed but for a cardboard cut out with the large letterings ‘Do Not Climb’. Many heeded, few didn’t and went on to climb. While the latter received quiet judgmental stares punctuated perhaps with a shake of the head, no-one said a word. We must have spent about 2 hours under the tree watching the scene play out.
Two days later, we came back and instead of the previous sign, a new one hung up that read: ‘Do not climb and tell anyone who does not to’. This simple change in language drastically changed the reality of the day. Instead of the silence of the last day, we would observe a person climb only to be held accountable by strong voices calling them and their actions out. The only difference, perhaps in addition to the incremental consciousness one with hope gains over the course of the days at Burning Man, was the sign and with it, the permission to hold others accountable. It was no longer the next person’s problem.
The truth as I perceive it to be is that in many ways we have abdicated responsibility. Movies teach us how to love, social media teach us how to be, school teaches us how to think, government teaches us how to be political. In this ‘order’ of things, we become less responsible to self and in turn, to one another.
The sign gave people permission to follow through with their conscience. Can we be sign posts not just for selves, but also for others? Can we be a sign post that say, it’s OK to have a voice, it’s OK to speak truth to power, it’s OK to be in your power? It’s OK!
For now more than ever, we need not abdicate our powers because “it’s not my place”, and instead know that if not us, then who, if not now, then when. Now more than ever, our full colors are needed. Zimbabweans took back their power to speak and in their voice the world witnessed the strength of the human will.
Can we give ourselves permission and in so doing give one another? Ours is a butterfly revolution with the vision that no one has to hang onto the sides, longing to play.
Your wings are welcome
Chidiogo Akunyili is the Founder of She ROARs – Reimagining Our Africa Rising — empowering women across Africa to unleash their full potential and that of the continent. She is a writer, storyteller, and movement builder who is impacting global narrative based on her belief in the power of people to change the world. Her philosophy is founded on the humanist African concept of Ubuntu upholding and celebrating our shared humanity.
Having lived and worked across 5 continents, Chidiogo speaks 7 of the world’s languages including Chinese, English, French, German, Igbo, Italian and Spanish — invaluable tools that bridge lives, people and their global realities.
She is a World Economic Forum Global Leadership Fellow and Associate Fellow of Nigerian Leadership Initiative. She was named ‘100 most influential Young Africans’, ‘100 most Influential Nigerians’, ‘Young Professional of the Year’ and ‘100 most inspiring women in Nigeria’.