In It’s My Life, Jon Bon Jovi sings, “my heart is like an open highway…I did it my way.” In this song, we are reminded that we only have one life and every moment is a precious gift. We have the power to choose how to live our lives every second of every day based on unlimited possibilities. Let’s make the most of it.
My early experiences working in human services resurfaced the trauma of many of my own personal challenges. I found a lot of commonality between my life story and that of the people served by the organizations for which I worked. This led to a strong sense of experiential empathy to complement my feelings of generalized or theoretical compassion. I truly felt solidarity with others based on my own past and felt that this made me more effective in my work. Yet, I found myself focusing on the most negative aspects of my personal life story. I became a professional victim.
Focusing on problems is quite common in human service and other nonprofit organizations. It is the modus operandi and the basis upon which organizations justify their existence and promote their case for support.
I feel that acting as a professional victim was psychologically damaging. Rather than learning from and healing my past to move forward, I felt stuck in the mire of my previous lives.
Now that I am more mature, I understand that I can still feel compassion, empathy, and solidarity with others without limiting myself to the most negative aspects of my life story. I can focus on all of the good things we have in common as well as the bad or challenging things. We can engage around our shared dreams for the future.
I have become a provocateur of possibility.
Philanthropic organizations are increasingly demanding that grantees measure impact. It is not the measuring of impact to which I object, it is the way this expectation is unidirectionally communicated and enforced. This paternalistic practice is an abuse of power that emphasizes control and containment over partnership and possibilities.
The MacArthur Fellows Program is an amazing example of trusting philanthropy (and I hope to be one someday!). Grantees are selected according to their contributions and are then trusted to make decisions about the best use of the funds; reports are not required. As a teacher, I take a similar approach with my students in the community or online setting. I expect students to take what we learn in class and to use it to the best of their ability in their context. My hope is to inspire change that can’t be captured in numbers or even words, and to provoke changes that are multiplicative.
With trust and freedom, great things will happen. Let’s share with each other out of love rather than fear.
“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change.” – Gandhi
Just as we ought to be the change that we desire in the world, we should be the rose that others will want to stop and smell. Be still in the present moment and blossom. Grow your roots, soak up the water and sunshine. Feel the gentle breeze rustle through your leaves. Relax and connect in the quiet open space of unlimited possibilities. Appreciate your beauty and the intricacy of every delicate petal that is your conscience. Engage all of your senses and absorb the aromatic nuance of unconditional love.