Saturday, November 14, 2009

What you can do

People sometimes ask, "What can I do?" in response to weighty social problems. But I think the first questions should be: What are you already doing? What do you enjoy? What are you good at? Once we identify our interests and capabilities, orienting them toward a social purpose needn't require any great leaps. It can be as gradual as one likes, with confidence gained from even the smallest successes, often building toward bigger things.

Jumping headfirst into some stereotype of social activity -- whether it is soup kitchens or civil disobedience -- is rarely a prescription for long-term engagement. Often this ignores possibilities already present in our lives, and attempts to supplement what we are already doing with "something meaningful." But adding another all-consuming activity to the menagerie of obligations attending work and home life is unlikely to be sustained in the longer term -- with that which earns one's livelihood prevailing in the end.

Identifying the opportunities for social advocacy within "the matrix of the mundane," as I like to call it, has been in my experience the most fruitful. This means examining one's life and identifying those elements which conform to one's values, while segregating those that do not. And with this understanding, taking whatever steps needed to aid the former while undermining the latter. In the context of the workplace, for example, this might entail the conscious pursuit of that which is just in contrast to the prescribed pursuit of that which will earn one a promotion. Obviously, this implies a cost; and part of the benefit of doing things gradually is to prepare oneself to take risks in ways that can be sustained.

These are opportunities that daily go unanswered, but require little more than an understanding of one's skills and an eye for the vulnerabilities inherent in every unjust system.

1 comment:

almostinfamous said...

bang freakin on. I am spreading the word!