I am traveling. Currently traveling without the bookstore as I am on the other side of the ocean. Regardless of where I am, there are opportunities to meet good people, to have thought provoking encounters. Recently a juxtaposition of conversations pushed me to examine the expectations I hold and the impatience I often feel these days.
I met a social activist in Brno, Czech Republic. She is heartedly involved in local politics, searching out how to improve services for older people, and helping with ways to feed the homeless in her city among other causes she is involved with. During our conversation I was inspired and relieved that this person was trying so hard to improve the quality of life for people in her extended community.
There are others I conversed with on this trip. Some people teach school, others raise families, or are artists, or work in IT, or are retired. Some volunteer at summer camps and others help in prisons in their spare time, while some put together community theater after day jobs. Is there any particular work or community service that is better than another? Surely there is a need in every place for carpenters, cooks, shop assistants, musicians, doctors, welders, and teachers. And thus there must also be a need for the various ways people freely contribute to their community. Scout leaders, hospice volunteers, parents who help at schools, individuals who donate to the arts, drivers for Meals on Wheels, people who write letters to elected officials, and those who take to the streets to counter injustice.
I want every individual to give to their community in a meaningful way. Some religions encourage tithing a percentage of income. Is it unrealistic to ask people to tithe a percentage of time? And what age should we begin? In one conversation recently, a young man told me he didn’t volunteer but tried to live a caring life helping his friends. Another person said she didn’t volunteer but was working to raise her children well. That her contribution to the larger community would be these two children who grew up polite, creative, thoughtful. These answers challenged my hope we can be caring to those in our immediate circle and help improve the greater community as well. Is this expecting too much? Can a parent who has skills to raise children give four hours a week to help other children in an after school program or work towards improving state or federal education policy? Can the man who cares about his friends donate time at a homeless shelter or become involved with NAMI? Over the last few years, a number of individuals and groups began to provide accessible ways to make a difference without leaving home. Jen Hoffman’s Americans of Conscience Checklist is one.
Yes, we can have meaningful conversations, care for our children, help our friends. But these are very much within the context of our community, our state, our country. Our efforts need to include this context if we truly care about anyone.