Are dreams more important than needs?

On Tuesday, March 11, Idealist will launch a new network to help practical dreamers all over the world connect and take action on the issues that concern them. Preparing for the debut of this imaginative new effort has gotten us exploring the many facets of dreams: what are their purposes, their powers, their opposites?

Welcome to Dreams Week on Idealists in Action.

 

 

We’ve written a couple of times lately about wants superseding needs in a social good context: Sonia Manchanda’s DREAM:IN project asks people from Bangalore to Brazil about their hopes and dreams instead of what they think their community needs, and Anne Koller’s TAPIN art collective asserts that the best social good efforts come from a place of personal passion, not a feeling of obligation.

To be sure, helping people to meet their basic needs will always be a noble goal, but are there times when prioritizing their desires over the bare essentials might be the greater service (ie: buying a homeless girl a doll instead of a toothbrush)? Or, in the grand mix-up of the human condition, are wants and needs really so separate? And if they are different, how do we define them? Is food a need, but love a want?

Turns out this topic is on a lot of people’s minds right now. Here’s a smattering of current conversation:

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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.

Another way you can defeat the obstacles in your path is by joining the Idealist Network—a new online and on-the-ground platform we’re designing to help people everywhere connect and take action on any issue that concerns them, locally or globally. Sign up to attend our online launch on March 11 and see what it’s all about.

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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TAPIN: Through self-reflection, a broader definition of ‘social good’

As we honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. this week and people across the U.S. come together to help each other and work toward solving our common problems, we’d like to pose the question: what exactly is social good?

When my co-editor Celeste told me in November that she heard about a cool new art project we might want to blog about, I was psyched to learn more. As an aspiring creative and an Idealist interested in how individuals can beat obstacles and connect with each other to live the best possible lives, the language on TAPIN‘s homepage spoke to me:

TAPIN seeks to make the world a more emotionally connected place. Our community connects through interactive art installations that explore the broad spectrum of human emotions. We believe true freedom comes through exposing our most intense emotions and finding new power to remove the barriers around our dreams.

I attended TAPIN’s first public event in New York last month—titled “OUT FEAR. TAP IN: An Installation on Beating Fear to the Punch”—and founder Anne Koller agreed to let us feature the project on the Idealists in Action blog.

Kathryn for TAPIN3

TAPIN’s first exhibition focused on bringing fear out of the shadows.
(photo courtesy Kathryn Weill for TAPIN)

Before our phone interview, also joined by TAPIN’s head storyteller Becky Burton, I wrote out some questions to get us started: “What would you say to members of the Idealist community about how to ‘unearth the clues of what drives their emotions and harness them for good,’ as you say on TAPIN’s website?” and “What challenges have you faced since you started TAPIN, and what have you tried doing to overcome those challenges?”

But our conversation wound up taking a different turn. Here’s Anne:

After working in social good for some time—in favelas in Brazil, in coffee fields in Rwanda, at Davos [the World Economic Forum annual meeting] with some of the world’s most powerful leaders—I thought I would have become a diplomat by now, or work in the foreign service. I speak four languages, I have a Masters degree in public administration from Columbia… Sometimes I have guilt and ask myself why I’m not still out there.

But what I’ve learned is that we are unable to create true social good if our service is inauthentic, if it feels responsibility-driven and not in line with our true purpose. Social good is about aligning with what makes us truly unique and then magnifying that to serve others. Someone else might feel that working in an orphanage is their purpose—in fact, I know lots of people do, and that’s a wonderful thing—but it’s not mine.

All the world needs from you is to be a lot of what you are. Capitalize on that, drive it forward. The more you can work with your own alignment, the more powerful your contribution can be.

A friend recently said to me, ‘With TAPIN, you’re allowing people the opportunity to feel free and be themselves.’ I don’t know what else social good is, or what else I could be doing.

And this strikes me as a perfect time to redefine social impact. We—all the people who are shaping the world today—can redefine it for ourselves.

Becky then broadened the scope in the other direction, pointing out that social good is not just about rethinking what roles we should fill as individuals, but also about rethinking who we should try to serve:

For people who want to take action, there’s an expectation for social good that it only serves disadvantaged communities, but we think social good is for everyone. Social good is everyone finding their purpose and living their passion—it’s not only about helping people in a state of crisis. It can take the form of a very simple action that just brings a smile.

So how can each of us find our purpose? In Becky’s words, how can we “get down to what excites us, what we’re good at, and share that with the world”?

TAPIN thinks exploring your emotions is a good place to start.

“Examining your happiness or fear can help illuminate the root of what actually makes you happy or fearful,” Becky says. “It might be different than you think.”

Read more about TAPIN’s approach to facing emotions and making creative experiences around them on their website, watch this video about their founding, or support their goal to create four installations in 2014 on Indiegogo. If you want to start a project like TAPIN and would like some advice, feel free to get in touch with Anne at wetapin@thetapin.org. And read more about loving the bliss of everyday on Becky’s website, Gus McAllibaster.

What does social good mean to you? Tell us in the comments.

 

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Join Idealist on March 11 as we launch a new global movement for action and change!

 

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