We live in a world where tragedy befalls millions on a daily basis. The world may be better than it once was, but that doesn’t mean that it’s were it could be. It’s not hard to imagine how the world could be better.
But it’s hard to make the world we imagine a reality. What can we do about all of the problems when our hands are only so big? Imagine, then act!
I teach applied ethics, and the most common reason students give for not becoming active about social and political change is that they reason that their efforts will be fruitless since they, individually, can have very little effect on such large problems of international conflict, world poverty, genocide, AIDs, global warming, etc. Since they can’t have a marked impact on the problems, they conclude that they’re efforts won’t help.
What they fail to see, though, is that the small efforts of large groups of people make a huge impact on the problems. Or, conversely: we don’t remember the faceless hordes of Nazis that slew millions of people during the Holocaust – we remember Hitler. One man.
Why should we think that one man can be the cause of so much suffering and yet conclude that one person can’t be the cause of the same amount of progress?
I didn’t really explain any of this when I wrote about the Problem of Dirty Hands, so the tone of that post perhaps make me sound as if I take myself, and my efforts, way too seriously. Quite the contrary: I take myself, and my efforts, seriously enough.
By that, I mean that I know that my small efforts can have an impact and I feel responsible for those actions that I don’t do that would make the world better. We each have an obligation to help with the talents that we have – and that help is through action.
Here are some easy actions you can do to help:
- Find one pet issue or area you’d like to help
We can’t solve everything at once, but we can make one thing better. This is the “Imagine” part.
- Become educated about that issue
While wanting to help is admirable, it’s critical that you become educated about the issues. It’ll increase your confidence that what you’re doing helps, and it will better help you…
- Persuade others to join you
An easy way to “own” an issue is to get T-shirts for the issue and actually wear them. It markets the issue, but it also places you in the position to be an advocate for the issue. Warning: this requires some courage.
- Write your politicians
Draft a well-written, but personal, letter to your politicians letting them know that you care about the issue and that you expect them to do so, as well. If you have a small coalition forming, cite that coalition so that they know they’re not dealing with just one person but a block of voters.
- Develop a small way to help with that issue that you do on a regular basis
Evangelizing is great. Donating money to organizations that champion your issue is even better. The best thing you can donate, though, is your time and elbow grease – for that’s what most groups don’t get.
The point here is to start small. Don’t become the regional president of Amnesty International without attending a few meetings. But attend a meeting. Volunteer (for one day) to hand out fliers or mail newsletters.
While I’m not necessarily encouraging you to become a full-time activist, I am encouraging you to become active.
I’ll refer to Martin Luther King, Jr. again: it’s not the small majority of evil people that make the world as bad as it is – it’s the silence of the majority that stands by while the evil occurs. Don’t be a part of the silent majority.
My pet human rights issue: World Poverty. Because the right to free speech, for example, is useless if one doesn’t have the energy to speak.
My favorite non-government organization for World Poverty: The Heifer Project International. Because they not only help people in ways that make sense for their culture, but they also promote the “Pay it Forward” ethos through their program.
(Pick up the album, Instant Karma: The Amnesty International Campaign to Save Darfur, that the entry song comes from on Amazon. Proceeds from the campaign will go directly to support Amnesty International’s urgent work on Darfur and other human rights crises worldwide.)
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Charlie, this is a fantastic post. I think you touch on such a widespread issue, one that seems to afflict many Americans these days with an administration that seems out of touch and beyond our control. That issue is the ability or inability to make a difference.
I fully admit that I feel helpless sometimes when it comes to all the shit going down in the world, and feel like your students – what’s the power of one person, truly? In response to that, your system is right on the money. Focus your efforts, and you can make a difference.
Well-timed and thought-out piece. Great job!
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Charles Gilkey says
@ Amy: It is really hard to get motivated to back something when it’s hard to see the effect of your action. The great thing about getting your friends to join is that you have fun doing it – so your motivation becomes hanging out with friends.
So what’s my rebellious friend’s issue?