Friday, June 14, 2013

Baby Steps to a Better World Part 7 - Keep It Burning

So…how are things going with your charity support and activism?  I hope these last few weeks have given you ideas about where to start and how. If one avenue doesn’t work then try another. Sometimes it takes a while to figure out what works best for you.

As the final installment in the series I’m going to talk about how to make this more than a passing fancy and more importantly how to avoid burnout in the process.

For many of you I don’t have to explain why any of this matters. Something touched you, stirred you up, maybe even broke your heart and you want to do something because, damn it, someone has to do something. For those with only a vague and fleeting interest I encourage you to put a human (or animal) face on the situation you’re supporting or protesting. It might be just a general concept to you but it is very real to those trapped in it. Your contribution or support could rescue someone from a nightmare and that’s not lip service. It’s reality.

How do you keep from feeling burned out, helpless and depressed when the thing that’s under your skin isn’t easy to fix? It’s all about perspective. The hard truth is it’s very unlikely world hunger will be resolved, children and animals will cease being abused and governments will stop mistreating innocent people. It is the nature of a world ruled by human beings highly susceptible to greed, ego and hostility. Unless your protest centers on a single person or event, it’s going to take more than a few years of protests or donations to solve these problems. Most of them have existed for a lifetime. They will continue to do so.

Activism and charity support isn’t about resolving the issue or curing society’s ills. It’s about speaking out for the victims who don’t have a voice or helping the individuals trapped within those ills. It all comes down to individuals and that’s where you need to keep your focus. We’re not curing world hunger. We’re making it possible for one child to go to bed tonight with a full belly. We’re not ending animal abuse. We’re giving an abused animal access to a loving home so they won’t suffer anymore. We’re not ending the death penalty. We’re helping spare one innocent man’s life when the judicial system gets it wrong.

If you combine those efforts focused in small areas you get a greater impact over a wider region but that’s not your focus. That’s for the head of the charity or human rights group to organize. Your focus is on the one. It doesn’t matter that you don’t know who that person is. Envision them in your mind because whether you know them or not they exist. In other words, accept your limitations but don’t let that stop you. Yes, it’s a big world and you’re only one person but to the individuals you’re helping you’re a savior giving them a chance they never thought they’d have. That counts for something. In fact, that counts for a hell of a lot.

It can be a depressing, crushing weight when you feel like you give and give and nothing comes of it. Children still go to bed hungry, the innocent still die, the corrupt and evil still prevail. I’ve been there several times and I know exactly how helpless that feels and how close it can bring you to giving up. Take a breath. Take a step back and do something small with an obvious and instantaneous result. Then do it again and again until you start to see that it’s not really hopeless. You’re just scanning the horizon for change that is centuries away when you should focus on the things in front of you.

My cure for helpless depression is to do something small for someone else and lately that has been kids. I find a charity that focuses on them and make a donation. Hockey tickets are my favorite.

Hockey games and Canadian youngsters go hand in hand but only those from families that can afford it. The NHL and the average family have very different ideas about what the word “affordable” means. As a result, thousands of kids live their whole lives never knowing the thrill of watching a live game, staring wide-eyed at the players they’ve only seen on television, listening to the roar of the crowd and eating an overpriced hotdog. It’s not a tragedy but it’s a shame. So I buy a couple of tickets, donate them to a group called Kids Up Front and some little boy or girl gets an unforgettable night living a dream.

I imagine their wide-eyed excitement as they sit in big plastic chairs, little hands on the armrests. I see them trying to fit their mouth around a hotdog, spilling ketchup on their shirt. I watch them dangling legs over the edge of the seat with a huge smile as they watch the players chasing each other across the ice with riveted attention. Little hands go to ears when the crowd cheers at a goal…and I feel better.

That’s my therapy. What’s yours? If you’re short on ideas look back at the week 3 post of simple things you can do without much money or time. Pick one and do it. Then go out and do something to cheer yourself up.

Life shouldn’t be about charity or activism 100% of the time. You need balance. Do things that have nothing to do with fighting for a cause. Have friends you can just be fun and silly with and be fun and silly. It’s a weighty thing struggling against the determined tide of negativity this world provides. Find the things that are light and easy and play with them on a regular basis. Laugh and smile and be grateful you are on the outside helping the victims rather than walking in their shoes. Revel in the things you have that they don’t. Then roll up your sleeves and dig back into the work of making your corner of the world and theirs a better place. If that’s too hard to do then scale back and do simple, easy things for a while. Even the smallest effort counts and if that’s emotionally and spiritually all you can handle then keep it small until you’re back on your feet.

I’d love to hear some of the things you guys are involved in and how it’s going. If you have questions let me know. I’ll do my best to answer them. If you have a great new idea spread it around. If you’re down in the dumps because the whole thing seems hopeless, drop me a line. Maybe I can help you gain a new perspective. It’s not hopeless. It’s just a frustrating pain in the ass sometimes. Believe me, I know.

See you in the trenches, folks!

DP Denman

Member of the human race

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