The heading of my article today is borrowed from a beautiful song that uplifts morale. You raise me up was written in 2001 by the Secret Garden duo; the Irish novelist and songwriter Brendan Graham wrote the lyrics on request from the Norwegian Rolf Løvland, who composed the melody. It has been recorded by more than a hundred artists, with certain changes and popularisations, and it came high on the lists of pop songs in the UK, USA, and elsewhere.

It has a sad, kind and contemplative atmosphere to it, similar to the moving Irish song Danny Boy, produced in 1910, based in an Irish folk song tune of Londonderry Air, which in many ways is the national anthem for all Irish people, not only in Northern Ireland, but on both sides of the wide blue Atlantic Ocean.

You raise me up has been used at the Nobel Peace Prize Concert in Oslo, first in 2005, and again in 2009, when Barack Obama won the prize, having the promise of hope, fairness and goodness about him.

It is also used as a contemporary church hymn. The spirit of the song may be religious, in a universal way, simply telling us something about how we should live together with fellow human beings. Løvland performed it on his mother’s funeral in 2003; indeed a suitable tribute for a son’s last farewell to a parent, whose love and concern for a child are limitless.

The lyrics tell about the need to accept help and encouragement from others; that we all are sometimes down and weary; that we feel better when others give us a kind word, and simply knowing that there is someone who cares about us.

“I am still and wait in silence till you come and sit while with me”, the song says, and it continues, “You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains; You raise me up, so I can walk on stormy seas; I am strong when I am on your shoulders; You raise me up, to be more than I can be”.

The simple lyrics can indeed encourage anyone to ‘pick up the pieces and go on’, as we say, when something has gone wrong in our life and the heart is burdened. That happens to all of us from time to time. And if it did not, if there was sunshine all the time, we would probably lack in depth and wisdom, because we learn too, from difficulties. But when it happens, we should be prepared for it, at least to some extent, and most importantly, we should be willing to receive help so we can stand up again.

American presidential candidate Hillary Clinton recently said: “I know what it is like to be knocked down” (Time Magazine, 15 February 2016). And she continued: “It’s the stories that drive your passion. It’s the people you’ve met along the way.” She gives credit to many people who have helped her trough telling their stories. She admits that she in her life has had challenges and difficulties, yet, those of others may have been more.

When the Kenyan professor and activist for rural women and men in ‘The Green Belt Movement’, Wangari Maathai (1940-2011) in 2004, received the Nobel Peace Prize, one might think that the first African woman to receive the high award had always been successful and been ‘standing on mountains’. Yet, she had indeed seen more than her fair share of difficulties in her personal, professional and political life. I remember that she said that when she was knocked down, when she was hurt and even ridiculed, when opponents went after her, she had had the strength to stand up and go on – often with the help of others – and thanks to her own willpower and spirit.

Success is often based on hard work, stubbornness, and the ability just to go on; come rain or sun. How great it is then if we receive help of others when we are in difficult situations; and how great it is if we give help to fellow human beings when they need it.

An old saying has it that we learn through difficulties; ‘Durch Schaden wird man klug’, the Germans say; the Danes and Norwegians say, ‘Av skade blir man klog’. In English, the saying is less sharp, ‘You learn from your mistakes’. In any case, we should know that when we fall, when we make mistakes and have difficulties, we don’t only learn from that, we also get hurt from it.

Hence, it is not true that creative people, for example, become better writers, composers, painters and so on, from having difficulties in their everyday life. When Knut Hamsun (1859-1952), the Norwegian Nobel Prize Laureate for Literature (1920), had written the novel Hunger (‘Sult’ in his original language) in 1890, some people thought that he had deeper insight into the difficulties of ordinary people, young intellectuals and the ‘continuous wanderers’ in the Norwegian capital Oslo (called Kristiania that time) because he too had faced many of the same problems as the poor living on the outskirts of life and community. He had also grown up in poverty and been beaten and starved as punishment, in the custody of an uncle.

Maybe his own hunger and poverty helped him, but maybe not? Perhaps he would have been even more innovative and productive if he had had comfortable working conditions, with access to books, conversations with likeminded, and more. He could still have been able to ‘see and feel the pain of others’, as Karen Armstrong would put it, the great writer about compassion, interfaith and seeing all men and women on this earth as God’s equal creations. Her little book, A Letter to Pakistan (2011), with references to the Quran and other sacred texts, always provides inspiration and wisdom.

Less than a week ago, Film Director Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy received her second Oscar Award for her work; this time for the documentary film, A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness. It is about a young woman who was shot, simply because she fell in love with a man that was against her family’s liking. She survived and lived to tell the story. A few years ago, Sharmeen received an Oscar Award for a film about acid victims, Saving Face (2012). Both traditions are outdated and cruel, as they have always been, of course. They are about men having power over women, about men owning women; it has nothing to do with honour or shame, religion or faith, yet, they are used to justify the actions, and some people somehow accept it.

I hope that Sharmeen has only experienced the cruel actions at a distance, not from direct experience of her close friends or relatives. She has researched fields that are best highlighted by someone from outside, someone who shows passion and has an agenda to contribute to end it all. It is important that social workers, social scientists, writers and journalists document and study issues at a distance – and help the victims to cope. Filmmakers can retell the stories so we can all understand the tragedies and do what we have a duty to do, end such scars on the culture, as apartheid and slavery became politically unacceptable, too.

I was impressed by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif when he recently hosted Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy at Prime Minister House in Islamabad, and he spoke passionately against the said practice, shown in a PTV World news report. “There is no honour in honour killing”, the PM said.
Finally today, being a social scientist, let me say that we must all work collectively to change the world for better; get rid of outrageous practices; improve everyday life for underpaid workers; change oppression of women; make life better for all children, including access to education instead of child labour; and more.

It is through collective efforts we get results. We must all help each other to do what we can. It is “when I am on your shoulders that I feel strong”, said the song. Then I am more and do better than I would if I were alone; when I get help, then I can face problems and stand on mountains. We should always aim at doing good together, and alone, in everyday life and in trying to solve the big shortcomings in society – with God’s help.