Philosophical activism: For best results, start at the root

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Many of us feel the need to take concrete action, with the hope that our children may have a better place to live in. However, without contemplating the deeper reasons for our problems, activism can become a Sisyphean task – acting repeatedly, without making any real change.

Wangari Maathai, the late Kenyan Nobel prize winner, spoke about certain aid campaigns that completely missed their purpose. As an example she presented a problem they had with disease infecting mosquitoes. This problem was “solved” by the donation and installation of mosquito nets in the villages. The problem is that the nets will decompose in time, and again the humanitarian groups will have to come to the rescue.

She offered a better solution – educating the people so they can develop solutions on their own and not be dependent anymore on external aid. That is, teaching them to fish instead of giving them fish.

Contemplation or thought without action, does not change anything. However, action without thought or contemplation is as dangerous and futile, it will seem to be a solution in the eyes of spectators, but will not bring any long lasting change. It is necessary to search for the roots of our problems, and these roots are usually not in the visible, physical sphere, but within man.

For example, tooth cavities are a physical problem. But if we dig deeper we will find that it is a result of bad nutrition, “sweet-tooth”. If we dig even deeper, we may find emotional reasons for the unbalanced consumption of sweets. And digging deeper we may find even deeper roots – mental patterns which lead to these imbalances. Of course we would like to fix the cavity first, because it is painful. But if we will not treat the roots of the problem, we will eventually need to remove the roots of the teeth.

In the same way, many of our problems are symptoms of our cultural mindsets, of the way we perceive nature, the world, and ourselves.

We need to prevent the pollution of our environment, but first we need to uproot the mindset that has separated us from nature in the first place.

We need to fight against war, but how can we redirect warring nations, when we cannot even solve small conflicts with our friends, family or neighbors?

We speak about economical disparity, but are we innocent of the mindset that puts matter over values, gains over brotherhood?

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Therefore, the first step to understanding our problems, is to understand the human being. Real social change always begins with a change of the individual. The great philosopher and leader Mahatma Gandhi said that the Indian people are a bigger enemy to him than the English one, because more than just fighting the English people, it is crucial to educate the Indian people to believe in their right to freedom and autonomy.

He also said his biggest enemy is himself, because a person should be the change he wants to see in the world. That, actually, is the greatest and most profound challenge of every true idealist and philosopher.

We need to re-think Activism.

It is essential to integrate activism with philosophy.

We need to seek after the roots of reality, and to gradually change our perception, and as a result our behaviors as well. It is necessary to integrate action and contemplation and to bring to light a form of philosophical activism.

Gilad2Gilad Sommer is the director of the “New Acropolis” philosophy school in Chicago. “New Acropolis” is an international organization seeking to promote fraternity among people, comparative investigation and self-realization, through philosophy, cultural activities and volunteering.



4 Tips On How To Avoid Becoming Cynical

An unfortunate truth about law school is that it can be a real downer.

It’s expensive, demanding, and remarkably difficult. As a second year law student, I have spent the past two years watching most of my friends go through profound personal changes, often observing people I love spiral into cynical patterns of thought. I think those of us in human rights law have a particular tendency to fall into such cycles, and I’ll admit I have gone through phases of severe negative emotions myself.

As a bleeding heart and eternal optimist, I’d like to offer some advice to those going through a similar experience. This post is blunt and riddled with smidges of sarcasm, but it is also a true capturing of my experiences, and comes from someone who has found sincere happiness and fulfillment on the legal path (yes, there are a few of us!).

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It might be rough out there, but don’t let it wreck you.
(image courtesy Shutterstock)

1. Stay in denial

Okay, that’s a slight exaggeration, but I do think it’s important to remember the benefits of delusion. You can sit around all day thinking about the debt you’ll be in, the hard work your career in human rights law will entail, and the fact that you’ll likely feel overwhelmed and underappreciated for significant portions of your working life.

And why wouldn’t you? All of those points are true, right?

Yes, mostly they are. But there are other truths on the subject worth exploring as well.

Although learning to be rational and realistic is an important aspect of your legal career, sometimes the solution to stressful thoughts is simply not to dwell on them. Debt is scary, and examining world problems will inherently be an overwhelming experience. However, as a human rights advocate, it will be important to always remember the rewarding nature of your work and the satisfaction that comes with feeling good about what you do.

So don’t dwell on the negative. Focus on the positive realities of the field and ignore the rest as best you can.

2. Surround yourself with equally delusional people

The problem with law school is that it’s filled with lawyers—folks who spend their days reading and re-reading heart-wrenching cases as their debt radically accumulates (debt they’re incurring so they can afford to be hazed, broken, and scoffed at).

But here’s the good news. Law school is also filled with intelligent, passionate, and optimistic people. Sometimes they’re just hidden in the background of the day-to-day drudgery.

Law school gives you the profound privilege of connecting with bright, persevering individuals. Focus on those people—they’re the ones who will further your happiness and support you in your career goals, not serve as a daily reminder of the pitfalls of your future vocation.

It takes courage and skill to be happy during difficult phases of life. Don’t give up, and surround yourself with others who haven’t either.

3. Intern or volunteer at a human rights organization

Internships are an essential component of a legal education, and it can be terribly tempting to accept a position from the biggest law firm or most renowned judge who offers. Although people told me I was crazy and stupid for throwing away such opportunities, I knew that in order to make an educated professional decision, I had to experience human rights law as a student.

It’s a difficult fork in the road to encounter, and this choice is not for everyone. But I wouldn’t trade my internship experience for anything because it opened my eyes to the incredible things I could actually do with my degree. Furthermore, because it’s such a complicated division of the law, I now have experience in international law, United Nations protocol, immigration law, federal courts, business law, tax law, constitutional law, government law, legislation, policy work, political analysis, and many other fields that intertwine with the subject of human rights. I have met role models, made connections, and gained perspective on what I can do within the boundaries of my profession.

Currently, I work in a civil and human rights lobbying firm in Washington, DC, and I can’t imagine a better experience. Every day I am surrounded by optimistic people who radiate joy, passion, and hope. We have hard days, but our good days are so profoundly fulfilling, it makes it all worth it.

4. Remember what a treasure your education is

You might have heard the phrase “the world doesn’t need more lawyers,” but the truth is that the world does need more human rights advocates in all professional fields. Education creates many chances for personal improvement, but for me, it also opened doors to helping others.

My education is my most valued possession. It has been emotionally draining, financially difficult, and overall I expect it to be one of the most difficult things I will ever go through in my life. However, it has also equipped me with an unusual skill set and understanding, and has been the most important investment of my life.

Some days, I feel cynical, small, and overwhelmed. I want to declare my work a losing battle, throw my hands up, and walk away. However, that’s when I take a moment to step back and remember how lucky I am to have such an incredible opportunity. I have the chance to educate myself, understand the world, and use my talents to help others.

Who could have all that and stay cynical?

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Victoria Slatton is a second year law student at Pepperdine University and a passionate advocate for human and civil rights. She believes in justice, equality, and the true value of mischievous behavior.

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World’s First Communal Living Room

(From Connectors Malmö’s website)

Would you and your community benefit from a crowd sourced living room?

 

The Pop Up Space is literally just an empty room in the city of Malmö, Sweden where residents of the local communities are able to drop in and vote for what they’d like to see the room become. At the end of the week the votes are counted and one new feature is added to the room.

 

So, as it states on connectorsmalmo.com “Today, the room might be an empty room. But next week it might be filled with hundreds of pillows and a pizza oven.”

 

We caught wind of this story from Connectors Malmö’s Co-Director Julieta Talavera, who was a dedicated participant of Idealist’s Connector Initiative last year. Julieta became inspired by the idea of connecting social innovators so that they are able to collaborate and assist each other in bringing change. This inspiration, along with her own intention of bettering the world, sparked something in her that made her leap into action.

According to their site “Connectors Malmö is a community of people from here and there, doing this and that to make our city a better place.”

 

The Pop Up Space is part one of Connectors Malmö’s first featured project which they hope will lead to a prosperous career of positive change for their community and eventually the world.

Julieta explains “The neighborhood in which we are launching this space has significant social problems including unemployment, low integration and low community morale.”

 

The team over at Connectors Malmö says that the purpose of this experiment is to create a community-sourced hub that not only allows the diverse local community to work together in its creation but that will also act as a forum for people to think creatively with one another. They hope that once everything gets running this can be a comfortable place for locals to meet with each other, as well as social entrepreneurs from all around the world, to come up with unique solutions for local challenges.

(From Connectors Malmö’s website)

 

This is where Connectors Malmö’s second phase comes to play. If everything goes according to plan, Connectors Malmö plans to launch the Residency, or The Live-In Lab, at the end of the Swedish summer this year. The Residency will be a place where six to nine chosen individuals (the Residents) will live and work together. These individuals will be social entrepreneurs who are looking to use their skills in a way to help better both the local community and the world. The Pop Up Space is the common area where these individuals can collaborate both with each other and with the local community. This is why Connectors Malmö has rightfully dubbed it ‘The World’s First Crowd Sourced Living Room’.

 

This initiative is currently in what the team is calling ‘the pilot period’ and will be until mid-April. During this period, they have a number of backers who are willing to help them test the waters before going forward full-throttle with all of their plans.

 

Julieta and the team have thrust their vision into action with the launch of The Pop Up Space.  If this initiative gains traction, and the idea of communal living rooms begins to spread across the globe, participating communities would be building their own unique proverbial ant hills, where everyone puts their skills and resources together to construct a mutually beneficial utopia.

What’s an idea that you have that you would share in your community’s communal living room? Let us know in the comments!

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There’s money out there: 4 good fundraising angles for your passion project

On Idealists in Action, we love to tackle your biggest obstacles to doing good. One we hear a lot is, “I don’t have the skills or knowledge to start something.” This week, we’re taking that behemoth down.

Raising money for a personal project is seldom a walk in the park. But with corporate social responsibility in vogue and the Internet leveling the communications playing field, there’s never been a better time to give funding your passion project a shot. Here are four solid ways to approach the task:

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It’s not your lack of skill, it’s your lack of confidence… stupid!

On Idealists in Action, we love to tackle your biggest obstacles to doing good. One we hear a lot is, “I don’t have the skills or knowledge to start something.” This week, we’re taking that behemoth down.

The following post was translated from Elena Martín’s original on Idealist’s Spanish language site, Idealistas.

 

Much of your ability to do something is not dependent on whether or not you can actually do it, but whether or not you think you can do it. Someone with all the skills in the world but little confidence in himself will not get very far, while someone with less skills but true belief in himself will usually find a way to meet his goals.

Psychologists call this phenomenon “self-efficacy”—our belief in our capabilities to do what is required to achieve a given goal. Think about yourself: do you more often have the attitude: “I can get this project to work,” or “I can get this job,” or the opposite: “I don’t think I can do this,” or “I’m not going to get a call back”?

If you fall in the first camp, bravo! But if you tend to think more like the latter, don’t despair—for one thing, you’re not alone. Overriding self-confidence doesn’t come easily to everyone. You might be thinking, “Sure, I’d love to have more faith that I can do the things I want, but it’s not like I can just flip a switch. What can I do?”

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Who you gonna call? 3 online tools to connect you with experts

On Idealists in Action, we love to tackle your biggest obstacles to doing good. One we hear a lot is, “I don’t have the skills or knowledge to start something.” This week, we’re taking that behemoth down.

 

Sometimes you need to bring in the professionals. Image via IMDB.

Sometimes you need to bring in the professionals.
(image via IMDB)

Here at Idealist, we’ve written many times about harnessing the power of community to get things done. We can do more together, and tapping into the skills and knowledge of other people is a big part of why.

While finding collaborators with mad skills can be relatively easy if you’re already integrated into a niche community or have buckets of money, it’s harder when geography, time constraints, or lack of funding eat into your ability to find that special someone you just know is out there.

Fortunately, there are a lot of resources online that can connect you with talented people whether you’re looking for pro bono consultants, mentors, board members, volunteers, or creative partners.

We have to say, Idealist is a good place to start. By searching the profiles of other Idealists like you, you can find and connect with like-minded do-gooders in your area (and around the world).

Here are a few other options we think are especially handy-dandy:

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Book review: What Makes a Hero? The Surprising Science of Selflessness

On Idealists in Action, we love to tackle your biggest obstacles to doing good. One we hear a lot is, “I don’t have the skills or knowledge to start something.” This week, we’re taking that behemoth down.

HERO-REVISEI’m kinda over the hero thing.

In contrast to their ancient origins in epic poetry and lofty myths, heroes and heroism today seem to have gotten wrapped up in our cultural view of altruism.

Although the meaning of “hero” is in that delicious group of highly subjective nouns that people love to debate, I tend to think it’s a bad idea to call those who engage in good and generous acts “heroes.”

Adorable child superheroes aside, when we conflate superhero stories with commonplace altruism, it implies that acts of goodness and giving are somehow extraordinary and outside the range of normal behavior.

In Elizabeth Svoboda’s new book What Makes a Hero? The Surprising Science of Selflessness, the author tries to get to the bottom of whether or not this is true. Is it normal for humans to be generous? What would possess someone to rush into a burning building to save another person? Why would someone who lives in poverty donate money to a charity?

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How this creative director turned “no skills” into “no problem”

On Idealists in Action, we love to tackle your biggest obstacles to doing good. One we hear a lot is, “I don’t have the skills or knowledge to start something.” This week, we’re taking that behemoth down.

“In 2010 I was in the middle of a failing sabbatical,” begins Derick Tsai, founder and creative director of hip content development studio Magnus Rex.

“The brutal truth was I had bumped up against the limits of my abilities. I was going to have to drastically up my game if I had any hope of realizing my projects. In an unfamiliar space and out of my depth, I was reduced to moping around in sweats all day and constantly stressing about running out of money.”

“Then something woke me up and put everything into perspective.”

How did this visionary artist rise from the depths of not knowing to a new pinnacle of creativity? Read his story on GOOD.

 

Tell us about a time you didn’t know what to do, but turned rock bottom into your launch pad.

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What can you learn from your parents’ passion project?

We recently learned of a Canadian holiday called Family Day, celebrated in many provinces on the third Monday in February. We second the notion that recognizing the importance of family is, well, important, and are pleased to pay homage this week to clans large and small, given and chosen, with Family Week on Idealists in Action.

The value of parental wisdom is too often underestimated. We got four Idealist staffers to ask their ‘rents for advice on about starting, maintaining, and getting the most out of a passion project.

Don’t be shy.

From Kurt Olson: computer programmer, cub scout leader, skier, maple syrup artisan, fisherman, amateur evolutionary anthropologist, gumbo aficionado, and (what he’s talking about here) folk musician. Also, dad of Idealist Communications Intern Rebecca Olson.

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Kurt and Becky

I started learning to play the accordion when I was 40 years old. I often think about how much better I would have been if I had started earlier. My advice to people who want to start any kind of passion project is to start today! (Although no matter when you start, it’s never too late.)

Another piece of advice is don’t be shy. If you’re lucky enough to meet someone who shares a common interest with you, you should make the effort to get to know them. Someone might say, ‘Hey, you should stop by sometime.’ You should always follow up with them.

I’ve also learned that music really is all about people: making friends jamming, playing, teaching, learning, forming a “band.” It’s all about the community you create when you play and share your music.

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Find strength in empathy.

From Mary Ellen Mooney Hurley: vegetable goddess, empathizer extraordinaire, looks good in a hat, and possibly mother to the world—but definitely mother of Idealist Software Engineer Derek Hurley.

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Mary Ellen

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Derek

I grew up in an upper middle class family that never had to worry about making the choice between eating and paying bills, and I married into a similar lifestyle. But when that ended abruptly, I found myself wondering how I would meet all my financial obligations and still be able to feed myself healthy, nutritious food.

I went back to college to obtain my BS in rural sustainable sociology to better understand the obstacles those in need face daily. When I moved to the island of Kauai to finish my studies, I got involved with a local garden that supplies the main food pantry with produce. I have since taken over the operation, helping to feed over 300 families weekly, for free, with nutritious green vegetables.

My advice is to get out and get involved in local support groups dealing with the underprivileged. See what they face daily and look inside yourself—you’ll find the passion it takes to give unconditionally to others.

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Stay open to possibilities.

From S. Amelia O’Leary: registered nurse, crocheter of comforts, total hottie, and mom of Idealist Community Affairs Manager Megan O’Leary.

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S. Amelia and Megan

My passion project began when I learned to crochet at 20 years old. 30 years later, as a labor and delivery nurse, I was shocked to learn that there was little or no support for families that came into the hospital expecting to deliver healthy babies, but instead experienced neonatal loss.

I wondered what could I do to help in these times, and began crocheting baby blankets that parents could use as keepsakes to remember their lost child. I never knew that what started as a hobby would become a part of my career and provide me with a deeply moving way to connect with others.

My advice for those considering starting a personal project is to keep your eyes and hearts open to the possibilities of where and how your passion could be of service to others.

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Focus on the goal.

From Steve Davidson: former aeronautical engineer, psychologist, and investment consultant; current Ironman, productivity guru, world traveler, and hot tub enthusiast. Also, dad of Idealist Community Manager Kim Davidson.

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Steve’s Ironman tat!

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Kim and Steve

One man’s opinion: You only do a hobby if you enjoy it. You do a passion whether you enjoy it or not.

For me, this has not just been about becoming sufficiently fit to complete an Ironman. I found that all the training and preparation has enhanced my overall well-being. How I feel. How I relate to others. How I accomplish other tasks. My outlook. Everything.

One of the big challenges of triathlon is one that’s true of life in general: you never know what you are going to get on a given day: in this case, it might be wind, rain, heat, etc. But with preparing for the Ironman as with any other big project, I can offer this advice: begin with the end in mind. Have a clear, compelling goal.

Want to ask your passion-project-having parents for their advice and share it with us in the comments? We know you do!

*****

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Real love letters: My mom’s 20+ years of writing to her kids

We recently learned of a Canadian holiday called Family Day, celebrated in many provinces on the third Monday in February. We second the notion that recognizing the importance of family is, well, important, and are pleased to pay homage this week to clans large and small, given and chosen, with Family Week on Idealists in Action.

My mom is an ever-loving maverick.

Septuagenarian bicyclist, landlord of historic homes, singer in the choirs of churches she’s not a member of… The lady has always rocked life with gusto and generosity, and very much to her own beat.

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Me and Mom in Colorado in 2013

This could not be better illustrated than by the over 20 years of letters she’s faithfully written to me and my older brother.

The story goes like this:

My bro went away to college in 1992, and our mom started writing him a letter each week to keep in touch. A single-spaced, front-and-back letter, type-written on a typewriter. (To preempt the question that often comes next: yes the typewriter is electric, but Mom has actually never liked it and would prefer to go back to the even older days of manual!) When I moved cities to start college six years later, she began copying me on the weekly letter—yes, with carbon paper—and mailing a copy to each of us.

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A sampling of letters from throughout the years (all begun with “Hi Miss”—my mom’s salutation for me)

Sometimes the letters are embellished by hand-written notes in the margins, the odd enclosure (newspaper clippings of interest; a piece of fruit leather), or stickers and doodles on the back of the envelope.

The content of the missives, too, is always up for grabs. A weekly edition is never without whatever family news Mom has recently generated or become privy to, but additional discussion topics range from current events to timeless philosophical quandaries to the insight her book club buddy had at last week’s meetup.

I couldn’t commit to combing all 780 letters I have squirreled away in various files and folders in time to write this post, but even a random sampling through the troves turned up gems like this:

RE: The water restrictions placed on Colorado residents during times of drought: “Can only water lawns twice a week now for three hours each. HELP!!! How will this place look without that green carpet? The grass helps hold in moisture for the trees, too, don’t forget. I say: flush your toilets less! Shower less before sacrificing our lawns!” —August 19, 2002

RE: My brother, just before his marriage: “You are a powerful person and have the ability to do wonderful things for your new family. I’m thrilled that you have taken on this responsibility. Though I do have to say that the two of you seem awfully serious to me; Dad and I were far more playful. But your situation is sooooo different, as are the times. I just hope you’ll play together, too. Play is so important.” —May 9, 2004

RE: This and that? “Bonjour! Ah, that word brings back 8th grade memories and a wonderful French teacher. I still remember several French words which come in handy for crossword puzzles. Say, what would you think of a seven-foot guy who makes his living dealing with bail bondsmen, insurance frauders, vehicle stealers and more—living in our backyard cottage? Pretty colorful, you’d say? Even exciting?? He doesn’t like people to know where he lives (of course), and think of the added security we’d feel with him here!” —January 19, 2014

People often have a hard time believing me when I tell them about my mom’s letters. As a younger person, her practice didn’t seem out of the ordinary, but of course as I’ve gotten older, the unusual factors that combined to birth and maintain such a habit have risen to my consciousness: my mom’s great dislike of the telephone and (subsequently) the Internet; her unbending commitment to staying in touch with her far-flung kids—without breathing down our necks; and her drive to write 1,000 words a week—meaningfully and entertainingly—while claiming to be a terrible writer.

Mom’s letters have kept a quiet but enduring lifeline between us, undisturbed by time or space. They’ve allowed me insights into her history and personality that I doubt would have been revealed during phone chats or over email. They’ve certainly given me something to look forward to in my mailbox each and every Thursday—a particularly happy thought during weeks when I’ve been fired, dumped, or sick. Whatever’s been happening, Semper Fi: the letter will always be there.

Of all the reasons to laud these weekly missives, the one I’ve had on my mind the most lately is how grateful they remind me to be of my singular mama. She’s about to be 71 and in kicking-good shape, so I hope to have a couple more decades of letters coming to me. But even if her last letter was the last ever, I’d be set for life with all she’s committed so far.

Mom, if I ever have kids, they’re getting a weekly letter, too. Hopefully snail mail will still be around.

Which of your family’s traditions blows your mind? Share with us in the comments.

*****

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