Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Maintaining Your Inner Activist

I have meant to write on this subject for quite a while. It is a subject that comes up regularly when I am speaking with someone not in the international development field. How can you keep your awareness of world realities alive when buffeted by and enveloped in the daily life of a wealthy, technologically-advanced nation?

You tend to forget. We all do. Maybe you travelled abroad or travelled domestically or even just read something that awakened in you an awareness of an issue about which you had deep feelings and intentions to help. Maybe someone tells you about a charity or social cause and you may look into it once or give a couple of donations, but then a week of the daily grind pushes it from your mind.

I won’t say don’t feel bad, because you need to feel a little bad about it. Instead, don’t feel too bad. What you need to feel is just bad enough. Just enough to cause you to make a positive change and start making room for the cause or issue or issues you care about. You need to feel just bad enough to motivate you.

Now I know the first thing you’ll say. It’s what I hear in those conversations I find myself having all the time. You think you have no time. I assure you that you do. Here are a few things you can do the keep current on and active in your favorite causes:

1. Use the internet. You can set up a Google News page with headings for your particular interests. My Google News page has sections for World News, US News, DC News, Honduras, Cuba, Venezuela, Education, and Brain Science, just to name a few. I can scan the top headlines and see the first couple lines of a story. I may not get to spend time reading articles in depth, but events are far less likely to occur completely unbeknownst to me. The same thing is possible with a Google Reader, letting you see the most recent postings to your favorite blogs and online periodicals.
Bookmark a few websites that you can look at while waiting for a large file to download or for a document to print. Especially useful are the news pages on websites for your favorite activist organizations or websites for the networks of those interested in a particular cause.
Finally, sign up for email newsletters. Receiving a newsletter once a month or once a week really isn’t such a big deal, right, and they can be chalk full of unexpected informational tidbits and opportunities to become involved in a cause close to your heart.

2. Go old school, too. Read print materials. Subscribe to a magazine or newletter that focuses on the issue you want to be involved in. Read books on the subject. Especially great are coffee table books that will become conversation pieces with visitors so that you can help spread the word about your cause. My favorite activist print material, besides the newsletter, is the calendar. You look at it every day. You keep your cause in your mind that way. And you usually make a small donation in order to get it.

3. Make it a social experience. Find group volunteering or informational activities that you can do with friends and family. Or take part in such activities on your own to make new friends with whom you share this particular cause. Activism means engaging with your community, so you can’t just stay in and read about it. Make sure you get out there and do, even if just once every six months. Getting out of your own head and opinions so that you are listening and witnessing the lived realities of a cause keep it present in your life.

4. Use your particular talents and skills. Do what you do well, do it for free, and do it to advance the cause about which you care. This might be the ability to write grants, bake bread, to file papers, to babysit children, to construct flower beds, or to hold the hand of someone who is struggling. It doesn’t matter. Every little bit helps. In the end, no one effort is more important or valuable than any other.

5. Donate.
Don’t deny the fact that your money can go a long way. You don’t have to give a lot, just what you are capable of. $5 $50 $500 It is up to us all to do what we can. You are more than your bank account, so prove it by giving up a little of it to help someone in need.

6. Talk!
Tell people what you are interested in and working on and how they can help. Listen and ask questions. Start conversations about your cause. Keep it present for more than just yourself. We often process our knowledge and expand upon it by talking about it with others, especially those we might at first meeting think would have no interest in our subject. Those are often the people who can bring the most insight and the most chance for you to make your own insights, all at the same time that you are spreading the word about your particular cause!

The point I’m really trying to make here is to not give up, to not say, “We’re all just cogs in the wheel anyway.” We don’t have to be. And breaking out of that habit isn’t a matter of grand gestures or overwhelming change. Do what you can and don’t berate yourself that it isn’t enough, because that just shuts you off from the good that you do. Ask yourself if you are really doing all that you can, and if the answer is no, then think about some ways you could do more. Hopefully some of the ideas I presented here will be helpful.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Jungle Schooling

I changed the name of this blog a while back. I hadn’t thought about it really. It was an act of instinct. I was no longer writing from the perspective of a volunteer abroad, so “Diario de una Voluntaria” no longer seemed apt.

But today I realized that I did not pick the new title out of the air, or if I did so, it was a lucky pick for I am getting a “Jungle Schooling” of sorts. My senses and intellectual perceptions are beginning to sense past the projected structures we take for granted, allowing me to examine the foundations on which those structures are built.

I can hear the fairly conservative voices of my upbringing whispering “radical” as if it was a dirty word, but I urge readers to shrug off the qualitative label factory that has been installed in our brains. Think as you read this blog, think as you read my sources for yourself, and most importantly think for yourself. And try to find the intellectual freedom to think of things in themselves.

I hope that you will find that we are all “radical” in our own vibrant ways, for if I had to choose be3tween living in a manicured garden or a slightly wild meadow, I would have to choose the meadow hands down. It might be a bit chaotic, yes, but knowing what is going to bloom where would be utterly boring and, in fact, stifling. Even Sir Issac Newton acknowledged nature’s tendency toward entropy.

In the future…
I do not so much have concrete plans for this space, but I do hope some regular features will soon begin to take shape. These will hopefully include return reflections to my sojourns abroad and reading suggestions (novels as well as non-fiction) for those traveling, working, or just thinking in development contexts.

I cannot promise how often I will post. I prefer to let the chaos of inspiration decide. That said, it will be more regular than in the past. I am on a journey of discovery, and I want to send postcards of my travels.

To whom am I speaking?
I say here, now, clearly, that I do not intend to preach but to engage in a discussion, or at least my side thereof (the rest is up to you, readers.) I do not want only readers and comments that agree with me (but devil’s advocates, please keep in constructive!) I want to help us all, including myself, think more than we have about things I happen to think are worth thinking about.