If I could sum up my experience throughout this course, it wouldn’t be a simple task. It dive into my journal that I collected throughout our Spring Break trip to Phoenix and center around the people I met and the relationships I built. I created this digital story to show the impact of this one week of my life. I hope you can feel the experience of the journey with me.
This past week, we discussed a particular article in class entitled 7 Ways You Can Change the World and we decided to discuss two of the questions at the end of the article. These questions are powerful. As I really examined these over the past week I found myself almost being more impressed by the magnitude of the questions than my answers to them. These aren’t questions we really think about. Think about the number of times a day that you say, “I would love to but I can’t” for whatever reason. You can’t because you’re busy or don’t have the time, or you can’t because you’re scared of what might happen if you do?
What if you knew you could do anything and wouldn’t fail?
The concept of dreaming this big is a little intimidating. How do I conceptualize doing anything I’ve ever dreamed of if I knew I wouldn’t fail when we live in such a realistic and practical society that makes dreams coming to fruition so hard? There is an extensive list of things I would do if I knew that at the end of the day, I would make progress or succeed in making a difference. I would find the cure for cancer, I would eliminate all disease and illness, I would find a way to rid the world of bugs and insects (because ew), and I could go on and on about things I would change. Yet, there is really one, somewhat difficult task that I want to tackle head on. If I could do just one thing, knowing I wouldn’t fail, it would be to give every single person in this world confidence. Including myself.
Confidence can do so much more for a person than you may even realize. Confidence could be the reason a woman leaves an abusive relationship. Confidence could be the reason that a bystander stands up against injustice. Confidence could be the reason that someone gets hired. Confidence could be the reason that someone is the first to go to college in a family. Confidence could be the reason for the uprising of a great societal leader who works to stop world tragedy. Confidence could give the mind of a person with the cure to a rare disease the reason to become educated. Confidence could be the reason that we do anything without fear of failing. While confidence can be dangerous in the hands of the wrong people, it can also save the lives of those who suffer.
What is one thing you can start doing toward that goal in the next 24 hours?
Well, this is difficult to answer because how exactly do you give someone confidence? I can’t just hand you a card with the word confidence on it and expect you to feel that way. It’s not always a simple answer. I guess something that I could start doing in order to give others confidence, would be to find mine. I don’t think I can find all of the confidence I don’t have in a matter of 24 hours, but I can do things to improve it. I can start looking in the mirror and telling myself I Can instead of Maybe you shouldn’t or Don’t bother. I could probably start recognizing my accomplishments instead of dwelling on my imperfections. I could attempt to set goals and actually believe that I can follow through with them instead of being shocked when I am successful. I could just do instead of thinking about doing. Sometimes you’ve got to work on yourself before you try and tackle someone else’s issues. So, I guess within the next 24 hours — wait I will within the next 24 hours make strides toward my own confidence so that I can figure out a way to empower others to find their own confidence.
When I got into a cab this morning after traveling hundreds of miles north to Boston, one of the last things on my agenda was making a friend. The cab ride was short but was the most meaningful conversation I will have today and it’s only 9 am. My new friend’s name is Blaze and he traveled to America in 1997 from Congo. I am so thankful to have met him because in a time where grades, job interviews and follow up calls had clouded my mind, a simple “Where are you from?” brought me instantly back into focus.
If you need a refresher, United to End Genocide reported that 5 million lives were lost between the civil war breakout in 1996 and 2003 which already makes it the deadliest conflict since World War II. From my conversation with Blaze today, even this astronomic number is 3 million people short. Some of this violence originated when people fled after genocide was stopped in neighboring Rwanda in 1994 but the main sources of conflict have been and continue to be diamonds, minerals and oil. What is most heartbreaking is the list of war crimes include mass killings, corpse mutilation and rape as a weapon of war. Congo is the rape capital of the world which reports over one thousand women becoming victims every day (that is 48 an HOUR). In case this conflict could not get more disturbing, in 2011 a presidential election erupted in chaos and resulted in a mass killing that claimed 18 million lives.
I am not a government official and it would be hard for me to believe that any human that is can 1. grasp the tragedy of this situation and 2. quickly find a solution but what we need to do is keep talking. This this the most dire situation in our world right now but no one knows about it. What we can do as citizens is share the information in the paragraph above or go find the facts yourself and TELL EVERYONE. We cannot let this many lives continue to be derailed by sexual violence or completely lost. Thank you Blaze for bringing me back into focus.
How many times a day do we go through life and ask ourselves what about me? We as people have this complexity were we think about our needs before anyone else 24/7. This is not a bad thing at all. Sometimes it is what helps us get the motivation we need to get a college degree or get a job, while other times it causes a riff in mankind. When we are constantly asking ourselves “what about me” we forget about the others around us.
When we come into this world we gain different experiences, we each have our own story to tell. By only asking “what about me” we are loosing the opportunity to enrich ourselves by listening to someone else’s experience. We are a resource for one another. We can help each other achieve the things we desire. We can learn from each other’s experiences. We can develop a community of growth rather than community where mankind is constantly putting each other in a position where we can only think about his or her selves.
Instead of asking ourselves what about me, why don’t we ask ourselves what about the stranger next to me? Why don’t we ask them how their day is going or if we can help them when they look stressed? This answer is simple, we are afraid. We are afraid of being hurt or how the stranger will perceive us or we are afraid that wont is not enough. We go through life only worry about what we can do for ourselves and never wondering how we can help one another.
As human beings, we need to hold each other accountable. We need to start thinking about the person next to us. We need to ask him or her about his or her day and ask for help when we are faced with a problem. It is when we do this we will have a network of people to fallback on when we are faced with tough times and a group of people to look to as a recourse. We can look what we have accomplished individually and inspire one another to do something bigger and better.
Changing the world is something everyone thinks about when they are school or choosing a career path. But what if changing the world was tangible? What if all of us could be agents in changing the world? You don’t have to a doctor or a lawyer or a Nobel Peace Prize winner to change the world. It can be simple. You can start small, start thinking about your neighbor and ask them about their day and find out more about them. From there find out more about your community, what is happening there, is there Farmer’s Market? Learn about an issue that makes you passionate in your community and explain it to your friends. Continue to be kind to strangers; don’t forget how far a little kindness goes. Over and above all, follow your heart. Your heart will guide you and tell you what is ethical and what is unethical.
Challenge yourself to start thinking the person next you and you can be a steward of changing the world.
One of our biggest sources of inspiration and aspiration at James Madison is the eternal Gandhi. This venerable man said “the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others”. This is very true of my university experience. My first two years here felt like I was wandering around, flailing, grasping at false friendships, trying to make meaning for myself in a place where I felt so lost. One of the most amazing moments of clarity came to me while driving back to Harrisonburg from my first Alternative Break trip to Bristol, FL. Surrounded by people from diverse backgrounds, of different talents and interests, all with a common goal: to leave a positive impact on an environment that needed help. I felt more alive on that trip that I had in a while. Dan Cumberland said “Finding your voice is mostly having the courage to speak and letting it be enough.” On this break trip (and subsequent ones), I learned that silence is not productive. That activism is more important than I ever knew. I somehow found myself comforted in the fact that I could pour myself into something like service and find clarity. I can be myself and be comfortable with the fact that not everyone will share my values or thoughts or emotions, that not everyone will agree with what I care about, but that shouldn’t stop me from doing so. My whole life before this was punctuated with thoughts of “oh I shouldn’t say that it sounds stupid” or “I won’t say anything at all”. Not anymore. I found my truth. And it is loud. I think it is because I was surrounded with such love and support, in ways that nurtured me and challenged me. I was starting to find my happiness. To find my truth, and not trying to fit into someone else’s version of truth.
Around this same time at the end of my second year of school, I found my way to yoga. Yoga is where I learned to be humble, yet bold. I learned to be safe, yet fearless. I learned to take care of myself and love myself in ways I didn’t know I could. I found this amazing capacity for love and empathy in my heart. I found that I can find a beautiful balance between self love and service. Service, outreach, and activism can be crucial cornerstones in my life and identity, but it is not everything. I live unapologetically and authentically as my true self. My true self also just happens to care a whole lot about other people.
Monica Bourgeau wrote an inspiring article for HuffPost: 7 ways you can change the world. She talks about how small changes can lead to big changes, how by doing something as simple as saying hello to someone can make a change, how happiness and love are inherent characteristics of activists. I believe in balance. I believe that there is an intense and wonderful joy that comes from serving others. I also believe that your true happiness comes from within. If you can reach inside, so some digging, find your truth, you can share it with the world. I think I have so much to share with the world, and I intend on using what I have learned and what I possess to create positive and lasting change in this world. Gandhi spoke to my truth in that I found myself in service and advocacy, but I will never lose myself.
p.s. Happy Earth Day! Do something kind for the planet. Do something kind for someone else. Be kind. Namaste!
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about speaking up. Whether it is for your own interests or the interests of others, it can be very daunting to assert yourself. We fear that we will not be accepted, that no one will listen, or that we will lose the respect of others for speaking about something that we care for. When we are silent, we have no commitments. When we use our voice, we are making a commitment to the words we speak. When we are silent, it is easy to assimilate into a crowd. Using our voice makes us known and makes us stand out. Silence tolerates destruction, anger, and injustice. The TED talk by Clint Smith entitled “The Dangers of Silence” offers excellent illustrations of why we need to stop being silent – “all around us we see the consequences of silence manifest themselves in the form of discrimination, violence, genocide, and war”.
Discrimination. Violence. Genocide. War.
This is what happens when we remain silent. We allow those who have the stronger voices, and not the right voices, be the loudest. We have the ability to be heard and we have to believe that there are people that will listen! If we do not speak out, who will? This class has taught me to no longer be intimidated by using my own voice. I may just be a college student, but that should not stop me from speaking out about issues that are important to me. I have a duty to erase indifference with my voice. I have a responsibility to speak out about injustice with my voice. I would want someone to use their voice for me if I needed it, so I must use my voice to help those I can. We must remember that our voice, the voice for good, is stronger.
Clint Smith has four core principles that he encourages his students to abide by:
Read Critically. Write Consciously. Speak Clearly. Tell your Truth.
This is why we have a voice – If we read about injustice, we must then write about it, blog, tweet, or post. We have to communicate to others about why this injustice is wrong and keep talking until they listen. We cannot be silent. We must be loud.