Feminist.com's Marianne Schnall has some thoughts on that nagging desire we have to do something - to make a difference - and how it conflicts with that sense that we're just not big enough to do it.
51% Show # 1147
Following the news these days, it is hard to be optimistic, there are so many serious problems the world faces and we may see ourselves on the sidelines as a passive, helpless spectator. We all have our hands full juggling our own responsibilities and all the stresses of modern day life. Media and society in general doesn’t do a lot to inspire us or appeal to our own individual power to create change, or even to help us believe that a more hopeful vision of the world is possible. In many ways it does just the opposite. In fact, we have been conditioned to leave the messy business of world change to our elected officials, rather than as Gandhi said, to “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Or as world renowned anthropologist Margaret Mead famously remarked, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” The evolution of Mother Earth and humanity’s consciousness is calling each of us, all of us, to awaken to our own individual power, our own voice, our own way of being an active agent of change in the world.
When thinking about where to start, my best advice is to follow your heart, pay attention to where you feel called, what interests, outrages or inspires you. And then set out to find out more about the issue and what resources, people and organizations there are working on them – the Internet makes this easier now, and then follow your passion and try to discover your own unique way of contributing. Every little bit helps. Maybe it starts out in small ways, by joining an organization, a mailing list, signing online petitions or action alerts or writing op-ed pieces or letters to your representatives. Or, maybe your way of contributing is in writing a check, no matter what size, to a worthy organization doing great work around an issue you care about. You could find yourself inspired to play even a larger role, by organizing a fundraiser, or starting a campaign or your own non-profit, or volunteering or applying for a job at a local, national, or global organization you admire. There are many options to get involved, in whatever ways fit you and your lifestyle – the point is to just begin to take those first steps.
I think people can be confused by the term “activist”. It sounds so serious, so fanatical, so demanding. What I find very interesting and telling as a journalist who specializes in interviewing celebrities about the causes and charities they promote, which have included inspiring artists and activists such as Jane Fonda, Natalie Portman, Annie Lennox, Goldie Hawn, Ted Danson, Melissa Etheridge, Cameron Diaz, Meryl Streep, Ed Begley Jr., Bette Midler and so many others – is that when these artists and entertainers achieve the definition of success that society conditions us to strive for – fame and fortune– many socially-aware celebrities are passionately driven to give back, and ultimately find they derive the most meaning in their lives through their charitable work. When I interviewed Oscar-winning actress Natalie Portman, who serves as the Ambassador of Hope for the organization FINCA International which promotes micro-lending to empower women in poor countries, she talked emotionally about being dramatically transformed and greatly enriched by her time travelling the globe working with and assisting these women in developing countries. She spoke to me about how “amazing” and “rewarding” and “meaningful” volunteer work was for her, confessing that she felt, “I am not helping them in any way near as much as they are helping me.” This is the dimension of activism we need to hear more about and experience ourselves, the soul-nourishing rewards that come from working on a cause you feel passionate about, with a community of like-minded people – and the uplift of focusing on hope and working towards positive change in the world.
You can contribute to change through your very being, by being conscious of your own impact and energy you bring within your own personal circle of influence, in your family, your community, your school, your workplace. It is as simple as the way you interact with the people around you in life, which includes the messages you implant in your children, the way you talk and behave around your colleagues, the kindness you show a neighbor or a total stranger. You can be a part of bringing love and peace to the world by spreading love and peace yourself, which radiates out, and by celebrating what unites us rather than divides us. It starts in our mind, with positive thinking, intention and action. And activism is also not an all or nothing approach. For example, if you are interested in helping the environment, you can start just bringing some awareness and mindfulness to your own ecological footprint, even just by remembering to turn out the light or deciding to switch to one natural, recycled or organic product, or using a reusable container for your water - all these are positive, meaningful acts that collectively can make a huge difference and are good for the environment, your health and your soul.
You can’t help but be an optimist when you are contributing to positive change. Believe in your own power and then to be bold enough to use it. Together we will create a better world.
This commentary originally aired on 51% Show # 1147
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