Its the time of year when many people, particularly those raised in the Judeo-Christian tradition, reflect more deeply than usual on the state of humanity.
I know I won the lottery to be born and to live in Canada, a remarkably safe, secure corner of the world. (A wonderful resource to share with children when you want them to understand the good fortune of their birth, without being pedantic or making them feel guilty, is Earthscape: A Kids’ Geography Museum in a Book by John Cassidy, Klutz Books)
I know the depth of this good fortune because I lived and worked in many countries where people live in generally more difficult situations. I think it is because of this exposure that I developed a finely tuned sense of justice that drives me to want to make the world a more just, equitable and inclusive place. I am not unique in this, I know.
Most recently, I was travelling by train from Toronto to Montreal. I witnessed what I believe was racism on the part of the train conductors. Racism is something I think about a lot, and I’ll talk about that incident more in a future blog.
My intent is to ask you, as you go through your days, what rankles you, stirs your tummy, gets into your brain? What are you mulling over? What is your vision of the world you want to live in?
When confronted by huge issues in our city and in other places, we can easily feel overwhelmed. The problems around us just seem too big, too ugly, and too far removed from the pressures and stresses of our own lives. It can be scary to speak up. Perhaps we feel we can leave the problems to others who are more capable. Or we may shut down because we can’t imagine how to change the situation.
Do you ever wonder, however, how can I make a difference? I’m quite sure that you do.
When young women with whom I am working see things that bother them and come to me for support, the first thing I say is “Yes, you can do something”. Even when the problem is far away.
Four years ago a group of students in grade 4 came to me concerned about the Syrian children who were living in refugee camps in Lebanon, and losing their education. These students were way ahead of the curve, and very upset. We researched how to send school supplies, support schools in refugee camps, write letters of friendship….all of which came up empty. Quite reasonably, agencies such as Unicef and UNHCR don’t want stuff and letters, they need money. This was frustrating to the group who wanted to help directly, and who didn’t have money to send.
To address their frustration, and to help them bring a far away issue home, we started with an exploration of their values. What did these students value, and how were their values betrayed by what they saw happening so far away?
Through conversation we learned that they value their family and friends, they value safety, they value school. Another group of students was having similar conversations, concerned about the people they saw without coats and boots in the winter. That group valued empathy and compassion. All were determined to act on their values.
To help them do that, we researched supports for new immigrants and refugees to Canada. We soon found New Circles, a Toronto agency that provides clothing and other services to new Canadians.
Since we were unable to help the Syrian refugees in Lebanon, we would help them when they arrived here. The group concerned about coats and boots realized that many of the people they saw inadequately dressed may also be new to Canada. Together, they initiated three school-wide drives for seasonal clothing, drives that continue to this day.
Starting with a far away issue, these young girls had an impact by addressing the local manifestation of that issue. They’ve been true to their values through local action on the massive global issue of human migration.
We can all learn from this.
When something bothers you and you want to act, start from your values — they are your why. You care because your values are offended. That is a very deeply rooted motivation to act.
When I witnessed what I interpreted as a serious act of racism, I realized that my sense of justice was deeply offended. I was really angry. I tried to forget about it, to talk myself out of what I had seen. I couldn’t. I had to act. (I only wish that I had taken a video — something I will always do in the future)
Then, ask yourself, where do those values play out within my locus of control?
What can I do to advance my values? How? Do some research in your city — I guarantee that there will always be someone with whom you can connect.
For me, that meant going to the train station where my inner voice insisted on maintaining a calm exterior even as I was shaking with a sense of injustice. I forced myself to find reasonable language and a sense of calm as I waited to speak to the station manager. I then wrote letters, persisted with emails, and did not let the issue fade away.
If you go through this process whenever you witness something that bothers you, you will figure out what you can do about it. You will make action possible, and you will have an impact on the world.
You will learn that you are capable. That you can engage in ways that make sense to you and that are within your reach.
And have a wonderful holiday season. Best wishes