As I approach the 2/3rd mark on my year of giving daily, if there is one thing that has become crystal clear— with absolutely no room for doubt— is that words mean nothing, actions mean everything when it comes to helping people.
Before this year, I gave to charity, but more often than not, I wasn’t putting my money (or my time) where my mouth was (except for my time on the Liberty Hill Foundation board). I talked a lot and had a lot of empathy for those less fortunate, but, guess what? Empathy means squat when it comes to actually helping. Empathy doesn’t get one disenfranchised kid a job that needs one. Empathy doesn’t save one animal in a kill shelter. Empathy doesn’t help get laws passed that discriminate against certain sectors. It takes money and manpower to do that. In other words, it takes action: whether that comes from volunteering or writing a check or both.
I really saw this when I volunteered during the 2012 election. I wasn’t going to say for which candidate, but it’s probably not too hard to guess that I was for Obama over Romney. I went to Las Vegas the weekend before the election and knocked on doors to encourage people to get out to vote. It was amazing how many people needed to be reminded that the election was the upcoming Tuesday and that their polling place on Tuesday would be different from where they could have voted in early voting. I have no idea what kind of difference we made in getting people to vote for Obama (although Nevada did go blue), but I know for a fact we helped a lot of people from going to the wrong polling place. There was something deeply satisfying with talking to strangers about our right to vote and connecting with them on that level. And, by the way, if they said they were going to vote for Romney, we didn’t try to dissuade them (much), and we made sure they still knew where to go on Tuesday.
When I stress action, that’s not to say I don’t believe in kindness and intention. Mother Teresa said “we’ve forgotten that we belong to each other” and that’s true. We let outside markers, like sexual orientation, skin color, religious preferences, political affiliation, ethnic differences, etc., divide us when inside we are all exactly the same and we all want the same things: to be loved, respected, fed, clothed, nourished (body and soul), and given the opportunity to flourish and contribute to the best of our abilities. I know that sounds high-minded, but I really do believe that even those that society is quick to write off just need a chance to show that someone believes in them and that they can contribute. It matters that we think kindly towards others and wish them well. This past week I had a discussion with someone about the level of hate speak out there directed to politicians whose views may oppose ours. I’m distressed every day by the level of violent rhetoric that gets tossed around on Facebook about politicians. I really try to never wish anyone ill will. I’m going to get political again, but this past week, I read that President George W. Bush had a stent put in for a blocked artery. I was not very fond of Bush during his time in office, but all I did was wish him well in my mind and hope for a speedy recovery. It’s not that I don’t have horrible thoughts, I most certainly do, but I don’t want to even put them out into the universe by saying them aloud. If we really believe that good intentions and good thoughts have reverberations, then we have to believe bad ones do too... in ways we may never realize.
This popped up on Facebook today (even though it’s been around for months) and while it’s a bit harsh in going to the extreme for the sake of making its point, the fundamental take away is: if you’re not taking some action, you’re taking up space (again, it is a might harsh in some places). It’s called “Six Harsh Truths That Will Make You A Better Person.” It really doesn't have much to do with what I'm writing about other than the take action part, but it makes you think...or at least, it did me.
I’ve been on a bit of a social justice/social services kick lately, so today’s $10 goes to Beyond Shelter, a Los Angeles-based organization that fights chronic poverty, welfare dependency and homelessness by finding housing for the homeless first. According to its website, Beyond Shelter creates a team around a client- first finding her and her family shelter (as you know, single female, head of households are among those worst affected by the economic downturn). Once they have a roof over their heads, then the client can begin to work on job development, schooling, etc. Beyond Shelter works with its clients for at least a year to help the client and her family transition from welfare to work. (On a side note, if you’re looking for a great way to help that will really make you feel good, Beyond Shelter’s website has a link to its Kmart Gift Registry, where you can go buy a household supply for someone who has gone from homelessness to a home. It’s a wonderful way to help. Items include basics like mixing bowls, brooms, irons, plates....)
Aug. 11: Beyond Shelter
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