by Mary Pat Champeau, IHE's Director of Education
"How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world." ~ Anne Frank
"Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself." ~ Leo Nikolaevich Tolstoy
What I love about looking for a way to pitch in, to be another pair of hands where hands are needed, is that transcendent feeling of belonging to a slightly higher purpose than paying my phone bill or changing the kitty litter (for example). I like joining all my unknown brothers and sisters around the world who are also pitching in, maybe at this very moment, as part of their life's work. This is a true community in my opinion, perhaps one of the truest communities that exists, and it spans across centuries. Ever since the very first person who needed help demonstrated this need, there was another person who arrived to provide it. Sometimes we need help, sometimes we have help to spare.
Helen Keller said, "Many persons have the wrong idea of what constitutes true happiness. It is not attained through self-gratification, but through fidelity to a worthy purpose." Something else she talks about in her writings is that idea that every slave has a king in his ancestry, and every king has a slave in his ancestry. We belong to lineages beyond our immediate parents and grandparents; we also have spiritual lineages (I believe).
There have been first adopters of new ways of thinking and acting since the beginning of time -- first adopters are usually activists of some kind, and all this means is that we don't sit around and think and worry as the end result of our understanding; we get out do something. (As one wonderful student of mine once said: "I finally decided wringing my hands really wasn't activism enough!") We package up our spare coats for people who are cold in the winter, we attend a protest, we work for change that matters to us, we sit on committees, we write letters, we pay someone's way, we buy a gas card for our local HIV/AIDS organization, we bring blankets to a shelter, we help pack food at a food pantry, we donate pet food to that same pantry (always a need!), we pick up garbage where it's strewn in parks.
This links us to our invisible community; to people who are in jail for their beliefs; people who have put their lives on the line to stand up for the rights of other people, animals, or the environment; people throughout history who have refused to stand by silently and wait for someone else to step in and do what needs to be done. We do it. And we also do it with our children, or with a young person in our lives perhaps. This is a golden gift we give our youth -- a glimpse of the transcendence that happens when we put our little selves aside and take our rightful place in the long line of others who have worked for the greater good.
There's a verse by Rumi that I've always liked, and I think it helps remind us that the best kind of activism is that which we love to do:
Today, like every other day, we wake up empty and afraid. Do not open the door to the study and begin to read! Take down the dulcimer. Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are a hundred ways to kneel and kiss the ground.Let the beauty you love be what you do today and every day!
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