Things Fall Apart: A Book That Stirs the Spirit

September 2, 2010

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe is a powerful narrative that is both exhilarating and touching.  Though the novel doesn’t necessarily carry a direct connection with the modern social enterprise movement, it has strong overtones that anyone who wants to be a changemaker should take to heart.  African to the core, Things Fall Apart tells the story of a man named Okonkwo who is a traditional tribal leader as he encounters various life difficulties and struggles.  Through Okonkwo’s story the reader experiences British colonialism from the native’s perspective.  Broadly, Achebe’s account demonstrates the pain and confusion caused by the clash of cultures and religions between the tribe and the colonialists.

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Though the novel was written over 50 years ago, it is perfectly applicable to today’s ever changing world.  As I am currently traveling around South America, I am continuously reminded that we are rapidly becoming a global singular culture.  As an example, just a few years ago I was in Costa Rica and barely heard an American pop song on the radio; today it seems that the majority of music being played (even in small rural towns in Argentina and Peru) are songs I’m quite familiar with.  Movies, music, TV and the internet have brought America to the world.  Though there are certainly benefits to things such as email that should be shared, it’s clear that the introduction of global connectedness comes at the expense of local culture and tradition.  Things Fall Apart is a stark reminder that losing the ways and cultures of the past is a true tragedy.

In some ways, social entrepreneurs are in danger of becoming modern colonialists.  While we do have the best of intentions in mind, we are essentially bringing the world’s poorest goods and services which we claim are “better” than what they have.  While it may be true that what social entrepreneurs have to offer will improve the standard of living for many, Achebe’s novel points out the importance of treading with caution and respect.  Serving those in unique cultures is like tinkering with exhibits in a living museum; be careful not to touch too much!

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