I work with good people. At Microsoft I worked with fun people, but most of the focus was on the fun. Many of my current coworkers actively promote and participate in community building activities (blood drives, charities, volunteer requests…). Perhaps it’s because a different type of person works in public education than in a corporate environment. Anyways, I bring this up because I just received an email from a committee here at work asking for food donations for the local food bank. Next week is spring break which means that a lot of kids who get free lunch at school will go hungry.
The email was that simple but put an instant lump in my throat and gloss on my eyes. This type of request has a bigger effect on me than the old Sally Struthers type commercials. Maybe because I don’t feel like horrific images are being used to try and leverage my emotions. Maybe because it’s local and feels more real. Or maybe because I tend to avoid reality when it comes to hunger, disease, death, and pain in the world because I feel helpless to change it. I know it’s a pathetic excuse, but it’s incredibly discouraging to hear about terrible things and feel like nothing I could do would matter.
I know my attitude is toxic. It’s what keeps our world stuck. Without a mass change in attitude there will never be mass change in reality. It’s like voting. People who don’t feel like their vote matters don’t vote. There are excellent politicians who will never win because we don’t want to waste a vote on someone we don’t think has a chance, if we vote at all. So we pick from the forerunners: somebody who has a chance so our vote will matter. It would be interesting if we could strip out the social and psychological factors and vote for who we felt would best lead our country. But in this too, a feeling of helpless prevents real change…and I digress.
Because I feel helpless I numb myself from world issues. I get emails from celebrities wanting my money to fight hunger and a part of me mocks them. I read about a billionaire who donates a few million to a charity and something about it makes me a little sick. I know they are doing good in the world but it rubs me wrong. Superstars who travel the world and ask for my support from their mansions…I can’t completely cheer for them. But I know part of that is just me making excuses and I need to change my attitude.
When I get an email from coworkers who have organized themselves to collect food for a local food bank, I’m deeply touched and inspired. Honestly, donating a couple cans of food is no sacrifice and hardly worth even calling charitable, but it’s a step towards change. I know people who live meager and donate large sums of time and money and I want to get to that point. Greed, self absorption, and, most of all, feeling helpless stop me.
The older I get the better I am with being charitable. Contributing where I can see I’m making a difference helps. The irony is that the real payoff isn’t what little good I may do, it’s the change in attitude I feel by doing it. I see myself becoming a little less introverted and more socially aware. If I keep this up, maybe someday I’ll become like the kind of people I admire. But I have a long ways to go and readily admit that I’m part of the problem. Because I’m a bit narcissistic and need to feel important, I have to constantly remind myself that my actions, for good or bad, do make a difference. And to those of you out there who do so much, I thank you. You inspire me and are helping me to change.