It was the little book that could during the holidays. As The Independent reports, it sold 600,000 copies over Christmas and an additional 200,000 were just reprinted. Authored by a 93-year old hero of the resistance, Stéphane Hessel, the 30-page essay carries one single message: be outraged!
It resonated with the French, who were urged, along with all of us I suppose, to recapture the wartime spirit of resistance to the Nazis by rejecting the "insolent, selfish" power of money and markets and by defending the social "values of modern democracy".
You can order Indignez vous! on Amazon UK, if you'd like. What has people so engaged with? Here's part of his message of resistance:
* "It's true that reasons to cry out can seem less obvious today. The world appears too complex. But in this world, there are things we should not tolerate… I say to the young, look around you a little and you will find them. The worst of all attitudes is indifference…"
* "The productivist obsession of the West has plunged the world into a crisis which can only be resolved by a radical shift away from the 'ever more', in the world of finance but also in science and technology. It is high time that ethics, justice and a sustainable balance prevailed…"
There was a spark of British students in reaction to raising of students' fees and students all over Italy took to the highways (autostrada), train stations, and the capital to protest budget cuts ahead of senate vote in recent weeks.
This is not a conversation about French, British, and Italians… or a joke, there were many that started that way when I was growing up. The much bigger conversation is about value systems, and involvement — putting skin in the game. I believe in social everyone calls it "engagement". Is it real, though? Is it transformative?
In reading the comments and reports from people who have heard Hessel speak, he is all that and clarity of purpose on top of it. In fact, I was thinking about my grandparents as I was listening. They are and were his contemporaries.
Why did the book go viral? To me, there were several elements:
- it came at the right time — public sentiment was there in terms of stress and yearning to gain some modicum of control or voice in how things are run
- it was published in the right place — the voice and cultural grounding of the author resonate with the history and past conversation of the country and language where it was released
- it was written with an authentic voice — the author speaks from a place of personal values, and involvement. People respond to people
- its author is credible — his agenda is stated, a call to and by way of sharing his story and experience, it also engenders trust
- it inspires a simple call to action — more manifesto than ten-step "how to" get outraged
In other words the simple call to action — don't just sit there and get angry, do something positive to change the situation — can be embraced by all and executed in many different ways, from the smallest gestures and up. Indifference, acquiescence to the powers that be, passive complicity are no longer an option, he says. It's a compelling message.