Although this happened about a year ago, this conversation with a friend of mine has stuck with me for a while. I was talking to my friend about my passion for community service and giving back to communities and people who ask and invite it. They then asked me a question that greatly challenged me:
If there are so many people and organizations out there working towards ameliorating communities so there is no more injustice and societal problems, then why are these problems not already fixed?
I was struggling with how to respond. Yes, there are many nonprofit organizations in our country and beyond that are working towards improving the quality of life and conditions for all people and ensuring that our local communities are just, equal, and safe. Yes, there are many people who are working towards making this world a better place. But why are there so many problems, injustices, and suffering that still exist? Although this question could carry over into several different blog posts, articles, essays, and books (and has), I’m going to focus on one small part of this complex puzzle.
One reason (out of many) why we’re not seeing huge shifts away from large problems that exist and solutions to those problems is because we view our service and ability to assist others as temporary. Many people view their impact on their community and others as impermanent and short-lived. It’s not just a few of us that hold this mindset about service and activism – it’s a large pattern. Yes, signing up for a shift to volunteer at your local assisted living home for the elderly or animal shelter is helpful – but it’s important for us to look beyond the 12-2 PM volunteer shift and envision how we can make that sustainable. If you volunteer once a week at your assisted living home, is there a sustainable, impactful, and regular opportunity you can create and implement for those who live there so that if you ever move away or stop volunteering, the fruit of your service is still available and being utilized and benefit from? In addition, is there a way we, as individuals and active participants in our local and global society, can view and carry out our service so that it’s a part of our lifestyle and not just a brief experience for both us and the communities we serve?
The answer to my friend’s question is certainly complex and requires us to look at injustices through various different lenses and to empathize across our boundaries of familiarity. Discovering the answers to the question also requires us to examine the oppressive, unfair, and historical systems that have allowed for these problems to pervade, worsen, and exist overtime. And although that may seem daunting and you may not be able to identify and articulate your specific and personal role in that solution and answer right now, as individuals who care and are concerned for the well-being of others and our planet, I encourage you to start incorporating service, civic engagement, and activism in your daily lives. Our society’s injustices and problems are not going to be solved with temporary fixes or short-term community service shifts. It’s going to take people re-imagining what our society looks like, how it can be more just and equal, and how they can be a part of the sustainability of these solutions.
Now, I’m not suggesting everyone leave their job right now and devote their lives to a cause – but it can be as simple as reframing and reexamining how your current job (whether you’re a magazine journalist, chef, waitress, bank teller, etc.) can positively contribute to the betterment of our society. I understand that changing your job for a cause or social justice issue is not for everyone. But what can you do in your current job today to help the betterment of your local community and society? What can you do outside of your job regularly, feasibly, and sustainably to promote for a more just and equitable world? And don’t feel overwhelmed just yet. Even the smallest of steps can ameliorate your local community in some way. Then from there, start challenging yourself and ask how you can make those calls to action and pushes for justice more engrained in your livelihood. Recognize, utilize, and leverage the privileges you may have in society to help pave, support, and advocate for solutions that benefit and assist others (with their consent, willingness, and acceptance). It’s important to remember that social change and justice are vital but must also be invited and accepted by those it most deeply affects. Imposing social change and solutions on communities and people are not going to lead to a fairer, healthful, and more principled global society. Justice and change must be consensual and lead to productive dialogues that are as inclusive as possible.
And what I’ve explained is certainly not the only answer. But if we start treating the solutions to our world’s most pressing problems as consistent and sustainable acts that are a part of our daily lives instead of just temporary moments, I believe we can start seeing a more just, equitable, and fruitful society for all.