Acting and Living Advocacy

 

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This week I learned the value of small acts of kindness. We walked into class and saw ten $10 bills laid out. Our instruction was to each take $10 and do something with it in the community. The catch was that we could not just donate it, instead, we had to figure out a way to make that little bit of money make the biggest impact. We could pool the money if we chose to, or we could individually do something with our $10. Our first idea was to go buy as many sanitary and food products as we could, based on the needs of a couple of selected shelters and drop them off. As soon as we split into cars we began questioning if we were really getting the point of the activity. We were concerned that by donating goods we were essentially just donating the money, as we had been instructed not to do. We were running out of time, though, we only had 2 and a half hours total to do something with the money.

We finally decided to each take our $10 and buy a gift card with it from Walmart and give it to a stranger. On a piece of notebook paper, I wrote a quote by Neil Gaiman, author of Coraline, and it goes like this:

I hope you will have a wonderful year, that you’ll dream dangerously and outrageously, that you’ll make something that didn’t exist before you made it, that you will be loved and that you will be liked, and that you will have people to love and to like in return. And, most importantly (because I think there should be more kindness and more wisdom in the world right now), that you will, when you need to be, be wise, and that you will always be kind.

 

I sealed this note along with the gift card in an envelope and took it back into Walmart to find someone to give it to. I really wanted to give it to a worker, someone who spends all day working for other people without receiving many thanks. So, I got in line where a small, smiley elderly woman was ringing up another woman. I waited until she finished and walked up, handed her the envelope and said

“Hi, I am not buying anything today but I wanted to say thank you for your work and have a wonderful rest of your day.”

She smiled, said thank you and I walked away. Although I wanted to see her reaction, I knew the purpose of the activity was to normalize small acts of kindness in our daily lives so I did not linger. As I was leaving I noticed the woman who had been in front of me watched as the elderly woman opened the card and although I do not know how the act was taken, I can only hope it inspired her to do something kind in her day.

I felt like I was on a high as I walked back to the car. I hadn’t even done anything that significant, but just the fact that I acknowledged someone and maybe made their day a little bit better made me feel happiness beyond my control. When the class reconvened, the feeling was mutual among all of us. It was amazing how long it had taken us to decide on such a simple act of kindness and the magnitude of the satisfaction we all felt for having done it.

 

The takeaway: You cannot be an advocate for large-scale issues if you cannot be an advocate of kindness and demonstrate concern for others throughout your daily life.

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Assumption vs. Understanding

What are some images that come to your mind when you think of Africa?

Do you think of a desert? Do you think of an undeveloped place? Do you think of war?

Do you think of images like these…

Yes? Okay, do you know what is going on in each of these pictures? Do you know what is happening and why it is happening?

Probably not, right? Okay, so what you are experiencing is called scene-act approach to humanitarian advocacy. Fancy title, so let’s break down what it actually means and how it impacts our daily lives.

Scene-act is essentially a type of advocacy that puts more emphasis on the location rather than the individuals and humans who are suffering. So, in  those pictures above, when you think of Africa, you think of war and an impoverished continent but, not of the individuals there suffering. You think of “saving Africa” or “X country” but not taking the time to first understand why those individuals in those countries are suffering. Subconsciously removing the blame from those corrupted governments and individuals who are doing the killings.

For example, when someone states that “Sudan has always been like that.” This is a prime example of one of the risks of scene-act advocacy because they are stating the country has always been like that and will continue to always be like that. Therefore, making it more difficult to separate the country from the horrible acts. It becomes apart of the country’s identity, something that defines it instead of something that should be changed.

Another result is the loss of compassion and empathy that motivates us to want to help. Rather than taking the step to put ourselves in their shoes and trying to make the issue something we can relate to, it creates a barrier that makes the issue more distant from the lives we lead.

So, what are some steps to overcome this? 

The first step that we can make towards understanding is to open our eyes, hearts, and mind to the sufferings that other people experience is by being actively engaged in small acts. This is a simple concept but a very impactful one.

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By engaging in these small gestures we accept the fact that we aren’t mind readers. We are not able to know what someone is feeling and what obstacles and struggles their life has consisted of but either way we still care. We care about them because they are humans like you and I. We care because we know they deserve to be shown kindness like we want to be shown.

This is why.

This is why it is so important to not only show compassion to others but to never assume you know where they come from, because you don’t. Just because they come from Jordan or Sudan, or Syria, doesn’t give us a right to judge them and their country based on the things we read in the media. Instead of assuming that their country has always and will always remain war stricken, take the time to listen to their stories and learn the real reasons as to why there is war. Just as we wouldn’t want others to assume things about our country, don’t stereotype theirs.

 

-ValCat

 

 

Empathy Unites

Empathy

The ability to understand and share the feelings of another

Empathy connects people, expands understanding, and is vital to our relationship with others. We all have our own reality; our individual set of beliefs and understanding of the world. That being said, it is important to observe others outside of yourself and try to understand where they come from and how they got to where they are today.

By putting yourself in another persons situation, you are able to reach common ground and think about things from their point of view. This is crucial in order to not begin viewing people as “others” but rather, see them as one of you.

One way to participate in being empathetic is to listen. Really listen, without a pre-formulated response, but by taking their viewpoint into consideration and then respectfully replying with your take on the issue. This is a good way to share experiences and gain a mutual understanding of each other’s realities.

Another great way to practice being empathetic, is to observe the world around you and take others into account. Look up from your phone and let others know that you are here and you see them. Smile at people who look like they are having a rough day. Give money to the homeless guy, even if you are skeptical of his intentions of what he might do with your money.

You never know the influence a smile or small amount of money to someone in need might have. They could be at the lowest point in their life and your simple contribution might restore their faith in the world and their potential. Be willing to look outside of yourself and begin to care for complete strangers.

Expand your horizons and look into others people’s lives starting today!

Watch the amazing video below for further understanding!

 

Be Kind.

When you turn on the news, what will you probably see a ton of?

Politics. Violence. Crimes. Fear. 

What do you see not too much of?

Acts of Kindness. Love.

That does not mean that the news never displays it, or that no one is committing acts of service and kindness. However, it is not as publicized or as known as all the “bad” news.

What would the world look like if we started focusing on the “good” news?  What if we all started to give to one another and show kindness through our actions. Would the world look drastically different? Would it look how it was originally created?

It’s Possible.

We can start small. Maybe with a family member or a neighbor. We can help pay for someone’s groceries, compliment someone, or even just by saying “hello”. These things seem like they do not do much, but they definitely can and will.

As we continue to do more and more kind things, we can start to show this kindness to our brothers and sisters around the world. We have the resources to help them, even if that is just our voice. South Sudan is facing conflict with (northern) Sudan. While the Central African Republic is in need of support because of ongoing violence, which began in 2013.

These on top of so many more. Within the United States and out, we have the choice to make the world better by using kindness. Showing LOVE.

Take it from Kid President, “YOU can change the world”.

-A.R

Does Slacktivism Work?

In a world where social media permeates our every day lives, activist and advocacy groups have been more reliant on using social media platforms to raise awareness for their causes. People are encouraged to “like” pages, share posts, or even create videos and take pictures by these groups as support for their cause. Are these campaigns actually successful?

“Slacktivism” is defined by Kristofferson, White, & Peloza, as “willingness to perform a relative‐ly costless, token display of support for a social cause, with an accompanyinglack of willingness to devote significant effort to enact meaningful change.” A simple click, like, retweet, share, can make the slacktivist feel like they have actively contributed to a cause. It is low-risk and low-cost activism. It doesn’t require leaving the comfort of your home and doing manual labor or donating part of your salary to help an organization. However, does slacktivism work? Does a simple like or a share of a post help with these campaigns? 

Kony 2012 was a huge social media movement, perhaps the first of its kind. It set the precedent for creating awareness on social media. The youtube video reached over 100 million views on youtube and had the endorsing of big name celebrities. The movement however, was met with a lot of criticism. While a lot of the facts were inaccurate, Kony 2012 allowed people to easily become activists or agents for the cause by simply sharing the video on their social media platforms. By starting the culture of “slacktivism”, critics argued that it would not enact any social change and could possibly hurt real civic actions such as volunteering, protests, and charity. These acts only make people “feel good” about themselves and will not lead to active citizenship.

There have been other large social media movement such as the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge that have been met with the same criticisms. Although the Ice Bucket Challenge raised over $220 million for ALS research, the percentage of people who actually donated was very small. There were many participants of the ice bucket challenge that did not end up donating. While these criticisms are valid, I believe that slacktivism opens up doors for future activism for those who would not traditionally pursue activism. A simple share or like can come along way in raising awareness.

-KZ

 

I am privileged, not entitled.

I was born to a middle class family of European-descent. My twin sister and I were born into the arms of parents who knew (well, I think?) what they were getting themselves into when preparing to conceive another child. Yep, surprise, ya hit the jackpot and got two, mom and dad! The best things come in pairs! Two healthy babies. One with very little hair – ahem, Alli – but two green-eyed, spunky little humans.

Anyway, I loved my childhood. There is not a moment that I would change about it. We had the neighborhood bike rides, the heated pool, the fluffy golden retriever, the backyard barbecues, the leisurely drives, the candy, the board games. I grew, developed, and learned in supportive households, even before I was sent to school to further such aspects of myself. When my parents divorced, I was indeed too young to understand, but am grateful that they took on this immensely difficult challenge. Divorce is often regarded as a “split” of a family; separate households, separate holidays, separate lifestyles. While some of this has felt true throughout my life, it has never held me back significantly.

I don’t want to discount anything that my parents have worked so hard to provide for me. I am grateful beyond belief for every hardship that they each had to, and continue to, go through to provide for our family. This is something that I aim to do for my children one day, too. (Except in my household, we’ll have many, many more dogs.) This is superfluous, though.

I am privileged.

That word should not make you shiver, or make you think that I am some egotistical gal. Privilege is something that you are unable to influence, so why is it a curse word? Many people refuse to admit and acknowledge privilege. What does this mean for our community and relationships?

Recognizing and accepting privilege takes courage because you know that it is something others wish to have more of. Needless to say, you hold a lot of power by having a lot of privilege. This, however, does not make you entitled.

I did nothing to be born into the situation I am in. I am forever grateful, but I know that I can’t say that I just got lucky and sit idly by, content with just my own well-being. I am no more entitled to a healthy, happy life than anyone else. I feel fortunate that I was not born into a division of my community that struggles with their identity in the larger community, or born into a family that is not fiscally able to provide for anything but my basic needs of life. I was able to worry about my socks mismatching rather than the next time I would eat.

If we forget to recognize that other people are not born into such privilege, we also brush aside the inhumanities that people with less privilege inevitably face. Admitting privilege and rejecting the feelings of entitlement are our first steps to caring. If we are in a position to help those who are unable to control their situation, we should feel inclined to do so, knowing that we would want someone to do that for us.

-LKR

Erase Impossible

 

It seems daunting to try to take on even one issue in the world, but to be attentive and engaged in stimulating change on multiple issues seems almost impossible. How do we get past asking the questions:

How do advocate for something when there are so many things to advocate for?

And, how do we minimize the issues that get overlooked?

The other day I was sitting with my friend and I started talking about various issues in the world, from social issues and environmental crises, and how they are often overlapping. I turned to him and said, “How do we confront the issues of the world when there are so many?”

His response was, “the world is a shit show, but what can you do?”

I was saddened by his response and considered it. It is easy to fall into the gloom of a cynic. It’s like standing at the bottom of a ladder and looking up, the top of the ladder out of sight. Taking that first step up can be the hardest part, but it is going to be well worth the effort.

As a young advocate, I believe there is value in everything we do as long as we do something. The first step to creating change is bringing issues to the forefront where they will be seen. Once people are aware, they will want to engage. We live in an era of international interconnectedness. Social media creates an avenue for advocacy like no other. Sharing one article can reach a thousand people in a week. 

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It may not be the large scale advocacy we all want to be involved in but perhaps just by raising awareness, we can inspire more people to engage in the issues of the world. Then together we can maximize the impact we have when we confront the world’s most impossible problems.

 

-ESC