A month or so ago a friend of mine asked me why I do what I do. In the moment I was perplexed enough by the question to stumble over my answer: because, I suppose, I enjoy it. Since then I have been thinking often about why I do what I do each day…
In an era where “more and more” leaves us with less and less time, the choices we make and the moments we value are a measure of who we are.
Many days I find myself running in circles but never effectively getting to the point. Have I forgotten what it is?
Beginning with the news in the morning, followed by the difficulties I see through my work with children and families and added to by the negative experiences that can pile up during a day, my daily life is sometimes coloured by the shadow of the most negative aspects of our modern world. Thinking about the hugeness of the problems in the world only serves to make it seem completely insurmountable. Reading a book review recently about how education can fail the neediest students in spite of efforts we are making to correct the imbalance threw me into a spiral of frustration. Here, again, was a huge problem that I was completely unable to help in spite of my passion for education and social equity. However, I was inspired by a post-reading comments-conversation that I had with the writer of the review:
“I know the feeling . . . and I wish I had the panacea! If you consider the problem on a grand scale, it is, without question, entirely overwhelming. What helps me is to focus on my own community (it takes a village, after all!). I focus on accomplishing what I am capable of accomplishing. For me, that means working with individual kids (volunteer mentoring/tutoring with good organizations that provide one-on-one assistance to kids who need it) and financially supporting educational not-for-profits that offer scholarships and effective educational programming and assistance…” (Christi Cassel, I Know What You Should Read)
Even as I was feeling so overwhelmed I knew she was right. By addressing even a tiny aspect of a problem I could create positive change. One small change for the better is all it takes to shift the outlook completely. Small steps to address big problems create momentum and set a path for the next steps…
“When you’re stuck in a spiral, to change all aspects of the spin you need only to change one thing.” (Christina Baldwin)
Meaningful changes can mean collaboration, connecting, building communication, strengthening relationships, generating ideas, encouraging creativity, play, fun…
At the dinner table we have been having this conversation a lot lately. For the little people in my house life presents a limitless list of opportunities, but those opportunities come with required skills. What can we do when we don’t know what we are good at? What can we do when we don’t see our place in the big picture? What can we do when we are so small that our efforts seem inconsequential? What’s the point?
During the dinnertime discussion last night two things came to mind for me right away. The first was the collection of art images here: circles and points assembled to make a bigger pictures starting from a tiny dot. I think they are a great illustration of how each of us is part of a bigger whole…
The second thing was a moment of serendipity. A tiny little passage at the bottom of yesterday’s church bulletin, already recycled, had stuck in my mind. I fished it out of the bin to read it aloud to the family:
“By giving each of us different gifts, God made sure that there would be the right combination of time, talent and treasure that was needed to do His work. However, if one of us does not utilize our gifts, God’s plan goes unfulfilled. Some important work is left undone.”
Being overwhelmed by the unsolvable problems in the world can take away all the problem-solving power that we have. Thinking about small problems as small opportunities can create meaning and purpose – essentially helping to solve the big problems by being one small point in the big picture. Each of us has a talent, and each of us is here for a reason. Our efforts are not just encouraged, they are essential! The picture may not be clear from our current point of view, but that needn’t stop us from playing our part…
“If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.”