Painted in 1831 by Japanese artist Hokusai, “The Great Wave off Kanagawa” is celebrated as one of Japan’s most famous masterpieces–so renowned that it has been recreated and reinterpreted countless times. To us, it depicts one of Savhera’s core values: perseverance.
Savhera’s meditation book, Diffusing Dignity, defines perseverance as wresting through challenges and we are all too familiar with what that feels like! First off, we are a start-up. The Bureau of Labor Statistics data suggests that 45% of businesses fail within the first five years. Second, we are a startup with a business model aimed at providing sustainable, living-wage, professional employment to sex trafficking survivors who need extensive on-the-job training. Even when this is not the business mandate, start-up life is challenging, but add to it a steadfast adherence and uncompromising commitment to a social mission and the challenges are multiplied! Yet, we persevere.
In “the Wave,” we see two different approaches to hardship. One is to fight for survival, depicted by the boat trying with all its might to to escape the wave. The other is to surrender to one’s fate, represented by the boat that appears to have given up, waiting for the wave to come crashing down. We relate to both–this duality of surrendering and persevering–and so do our employees. There are times to surrender, times to fight, and times to do both!
Some of our production employees in India have expressed that they had “made peace with their fate” of living a life of exploitation and squalor in the brothels of Delhi. They learned early on that any act of resistance or attempt at self-determination would increase the level of abuse and control. They eventually ceased striving for anything better because, after years of enduring beatings and hardship, they knew the likelihood of anything better coming along was infinitesimally small. So they surrendered; they “made peace with their fate.”
Yet, they fought! They fought for their children to be educated. They fought to keep living. And Pushpa fought for her own human rights to freedom, independence, and self-determination when–after 35 years stuck in the brothels–she proclaimed, “I need dignified employment to get out of this dirty business!” Even as they surrendered to their circumstances, they fought. They persevered even as they surrendered.
As a company, we are always seeking to glean wisdom from those who have gone before us. Here, we are thankful that Hokusai’s art prompted us to contemplate the duality of surrender and perseverance even as our employees have modeled it for us. As we surrender to the waves of a startup reality, we also fight to overcome them. We will persevere. We must persevere. The stakes are much too high and the lives much too precious. Will you fight with us?