Excerpt from Chapter 1: Ways to get Excited and Involved
Discover Your Unique Viewpoint by Exploring the Resources around You
In the unlikely story that is America, there has never been anything false about hope.
- Barack Obama
In This Chapter:
- Jump-Start Your World-Changing efforts
- Be an Informed Activist
- How to Look for Third-Party Credibility
- Ideas for Investing in the Future
- Ways Guide to Getting Involved right Now
- Ready to Do More?
JUMP-START YOUR WORLD-CHANGING EFFORTS
As we stand at this crossroads, it is clear that the tide is swiftly turning toward hope, action, and a collective interest in a better world. With record youth-voter turnout in the 2008 election, we see that change as the result of our actions is possible, and we are energized and excited about this potential. So what are your goals, exactly? The answer for everyone will be different, but now is the time to embark on explorations about how to spend your valuable time on this planet. Seize this moment to choose your own adventure.
As soon as people hear about this book, the most common (and heartening) question is, "What can I do?" My response is always, "What are you interested in?" Changing the world is deeply personal; at its core it is the quest to identify what matters most to you. What do you want for yourself, your community, and for the world? Do you want to help children learn to read? Do you want to save monkeys? Do you want to help fight malaria? Do you want to teach monkeys to read or fight malaria? Your options are limited only by your willingness to believe in your ability to make a difference. To be sure, many of you are grappling with circumstances that limit you in some practical sense, whether they are financial burdens, health restrictions, or time constraints that you do not fully control. I am not here to deny that such realities exist, but as you will see throughout this book, people of all stripes and backgrounds have been able to do remarkable things despite, and sometimes because of, these obstacles. So while I can't tell you exactly how to go about changing the world, I can offer many suggestions to help you answer these questions by finding interesting and creative ways to start exploring your most precious inheritance: the world.
Get the Ball Rolling
This business of "making a difference" often seems overwhelming, and the information superhighway can often lead to a feeling of overload. Every day I wade through the barrage of news from around the world and action updates from the charities that I support. Like many of you, I often find that the volume of statistics and anecdotes available in my inbox, mailbox, and living room is staggering. My stack of books and research is now so tall that my husband uses it for cover when he sneaks off to play video games. From global warming to poverty and disease, the list of challenges we face seems to grow faster than we can track.
But within this confluence of good intentions, fluctuating priorities, and shortages of time, it is important to remember (and I will continue to remind you) that we have already taken the first step: we care. I wouldn't have started writing my Weekly Way blog and this bookand you wouldn't be reading this bookif that were not the case. One of the best aspects of being in your twenties is increased autonomy: what you do with your day (or at least part of it) is up to you, so start making proactive decisions about how you will spend it. Besides, doing what you love now could help prevent a midlife-crisis freak-out when you're fifty. In an effort to avoid overwhelming you, here goes: Just start. Go ahead and pull the trigger! Too many people spend too much time getting ready or aiming.
Begin by using the rating system in this book to help you find the most convenient suggestions these chapters have to offer. Take a simple action or two every day or a few times a week, even if you don't think it matters much. Don't worry, I will spare you the corny talk about how a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step, or how a waterfall begins with a single drop, or how, by working together, a school of tiny piranhas can skeletonize a cow. Still, even babies must crawl before they run, and they have to get up off their little bellies to do even that much.
Once these actions become second nature and you develop some momentum, you will probably find yourself looking for more to do and learn. But consider this your fair warning: knowledge and activism, like power, Facebook, and Sour Patch Kids, are addictive, so be prepared for a life of personal growth and positive contributions to your local or global community. While the world has occasionally changed in enormous and rapid ways (ask the dinosaurs), most big changes are the product of millions of little changes. You are one of those millions, and the momentum of your efforts is what will keep the changes coming. Get started by trying a few or all of the ideas detailed later in this chapter, see what works best for you, and let me know how it goes.
BE AN INFORMED ACTIVIST
Not the pompous, condescending kind but the wise, gentle kind, like Yoda or Gandalf, who seem merely to be reminding people of what they already know to be true. After all, nobody likes to be told what to do, but if presented in the right way, a gentle suggestion about recycling or purchasing socially responsible products is almost always welcome among friends.
Before preaching to the choir or converting the heathens, you actually need to know what you are talking about. A crappy argument is an unconvincing one, and while personal insults and sarcasm might be a self-satisfying form of entertainment, neither will do much to move an issue forward. If you want to effectively influence people, advocate for a cause you care about, or enlighten someone about green consumption habits, volunteering opportunities, or energy-efficient practices, you'd better do your homework first. There are many ways to fire up those neurons, and there are endless issues to explore. Don't panic. Start slow and stay true to yourself. You will find the path and actions that are right for you.
At the core of any good dialogue is not the ability to talk louder than your colleagues in discourse; rather, it is the ability to listen calmly to diverse perspectives. Be curious, because the day you run out of curiosity is the day you start to become boring to the rest of us. Ask questions about the world around you, and pay attention to the answers.
You can always learn more by listening to other points of view, especially those you disagree with. It is hard to find common ground without understanding where people are coming from. Spend as much time as possible listening to what other people have to say, even when you are sure of your stance. After all, if you are going to bring a message to people, understanding and appreciating their positions is the first step in persuading them to accept yours.
The more you listen to differing points of view, the more clearly you will be able to articulate your own. Pay attention to yourself, your local community, and the world around you. Be open to change. The smartest people in the room are often the ones with the least to say. They aren't talking because they are listening, and when they do decide to speak, you can bet everyone else will be paying attention.