A Little Bit of Wonder is where I journal about the somewhat roundabout way that I have been working to establish a career and a strong sense of self--I spend a lot of time thinking and writing about "direction" and "identity." I have a Master's Degree in Literature, but I'm no longer working as an English Professor; I'm starting the next step in my life as I work to establish a career as a writer in the non-profit sector.

At my companion blog, Little Wonder's Recommended Reading, you will find reviews for both books and other blogs that I enjoy. The two blogs are inter-linked, so you can access my reviews and reading challenges from the sidebar on the left.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

It Starts at Home

“Everything thinks about changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” – Leo Tolstoy

In order to spark some ideas and strategize for my new role as a PR/Communications Associate at a non-profit organization, I’m reading an awesome book called The Networked Non-Profit: Connecting with Social Media to Drive Change, by Beth Kanter and Allison H. Fine. Yesterday, on the train ride home from a class on Grant Proposal Writing, I came across Tolstoy’s quote in Kanter and Fine’s book.

I realized that while I used to closely connect my concept of “who I am” with the lofty aspirations that I had to change the world, that my identity became less and less dependent on my role as a social servant. After moving around a few times, experiencing a crisis of personal religious thought and the East Coast cold shoulder, and slaving away in isolation as a graduate student, I became more of a pragmatist, a realist – yes, you could even say a bit of a jaded cynic. (Although I work for a non-profit now, so the idealist must still be in there somewhere, and clawing her way to the surface again.) I had been a resident of the Land Called Youthful Ignorance, but I packed my bags and moved to the Land of Terrified Disenchantment.

Thinking about Tolstoy’s words, I felt inspired to come up with ways that I could change myself before/while I take on the huge task of trying to promote and shift a movement of social change. I’ve been generating a lot of exciting ideas for projects that my non-profit organization could make a difference in the Bronx, one of its core service areas. I’ve been excited about how we could use Facebook, bloggers, and possibly even tweets to spread awareness, raise money, collect donations of books and clothes, find volunteers and supporters. But if I’m honest, it’s been a long time since I’ve really given much thought to changing the person that I am, at least in that capacity.

I think a lot about my selfishness in the context of my relationship with my husband. I think one of the perfect ways to sum up my experience of marriage is the Bible verse Proverbs 27:17 that says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” My husband certainly spoils me in many ways, but beginning even before we got married, my relationship with him has forced me to confront and change many aspects of my selfishness. Whereas my parents and grandparents spoiled me in almost every way imaginable, taking care of their little princess, my husband expects his wife to be his partner – and rightly so. And I’m honestly grateful for the way that our conflicts and struggles have sharpened me, whittled me down little by little. I want to be a mature, responsible, capable woman.

But while marriage has perhaps been the experience that has “sharpened” me the most, there are other valuable relationships and situations that challenge and sharpen a person – many of which have slipped out of my life since we moved away from our friends and families in Michigan almost six years ago. While I used to be a dedicated member of a church community, deliberately allowing myself to be checked and challenged by several close Christian friends, I no longer have people in my day-to-day life that notice and speak up when something about my behavior is less than admirable. It’s almost a bit of a shock when I get into a deep conversation with one of my old friends and they point out that I’m being kind of a jerk about something.

I think I’ve slipped a little ways down the rabbit hole and gotten away from Tolstoy’s intended meaning – or have I? There are a hundred different ways – a thousand – that we could each resolve to change our behavior, our demeanor, our hearts. Wouldn’t each of those decisions make the world a little bit better?

But here’s the kicker. I came home to find this email in my inbox: “40 Days of Water Begins Today! Sign Up Now!” 40 Days of Water is a fundraiser for the awesome charity Blood Water Mission, which "empowers communities to work together against the HIV/AIDS and water crises in Africa." The concept of the 40 Days Fundraiser is this:

It’s a big commitment to not drink anything but water for Forty days. But from March 9 to April 23, that’s exactly what we’re asking you to do. By giving up what you'd normally drink in exchange for the water from your tap, you can save that money and donate it to help build clean water projects for communities in Uganda. Imagine it this way, because $1 can provide a year of water for 1 person in Africa, with each drink you give up each day, you'll be providing years of water for someone else.

We hope that through this experience you’ll be reminded daily of the privilege of having safe water at your everyday disposal, and that you gain a sense of solidarity with your neighbors in Africa. We also expect that your heart will be filled with hope that something can be done about the water crisis – and that you’re a part of actually doing it.

An awesome idea, right?

Except I hate the taste of water. Except I have a stomach condition and I often drink peppermint or chamomile tea to aid my digestion. Except I love cream soda. Except with my new job, I need the caffeine in my diet Coke to get through the day, especially when my insomnia has kept me up the night before and I’m running on four hours of sleep, trying to produce copy that sounds eloquent for a grant proposal or a newsletter. Except I hate the taste of water.

My first round of thoughts: Can’t I just donate a chunk of money? Even a dollar would provide a water supply for someone else for a full year.

And then I respond to myself: Lauren, you’re such a selfish jerk. You want to change the world? Or even just yourself? But you can’t even give up drinking diet Coke and tea for forty days.

Maybe my stomach condition is a legitimate excuse, maybe not – that’s not so much what I want to debate. I want to think about the kind of person that I really am and challenge myself to find small ways that I can make a difference. I want to think about changing myself before I go on a mission to change the world, or even the Bronx.

I’m going to search out some different events like 40 Days and sign up to participate in some of them, as well as consider if there are any other ways that I can challenge myself to “sharpen” my character. Change starts at home – in your heart, if I’m allowed to be hokey for a minute here.

What are some ways that you challenge yourself?

1 comment:

XY said...

It's surprising a lot of your topics coincide with things that are on my mind these days. The perspective might be a different, and I certainly like to learn other perspectives. So besides the question of "who am I", I have also been thinking of the topic of "changing the self". Ever since college I seem to have become more and more pessimistic. Maybe it has to do with the fact that the more mature a person becomes the less illusions he/she will have about life. I was on the phone with a friend the other day and she told me no one else will make me happier, I have to change myself. Then a couple weeks later another friend sent me a link on "positive psychology" by Tal Ben Shahar who offered a class on the topic at Yale in the past few years and he and the subject became very popular. I have started to do the "homework" by consciously focusing on the positive sides of things in life rather than ruminating on the negative, by appreciating good things more rather than taking them for granted, by giving more rather than taking all the time. These are indeed "work", at least for now. Because it is so easy to focus on the negative, to take things for granted and to be selfish. I hope with time the changes will become wired in and therefore more natural:) As another coincidence, I have also been thinking about the changes my marriage has brought to me. Similarly, I believe it has been "sharpening" me through many different challenges.

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