Community is the Key to Transformation
Many specific memories of my childhood are lost to me, growing up as I did in the United States foster care system, but I am left with a dominant impression of powerlessness, the sensation of being like a ghost in my own life, fully present yet invisible and irrelevant. I have always been a compassionate person, but unable to use my voice as an agent in my own life, I had no idea how to raise it in defense of others. Instead, I was caught up in a cycle of anger and disempowerment that led to self-destructive behavior. When basic emotional and material needs are not being met, dreams of change, personal and universal, can easily become more distant. When we are not empowered in our own lives, it is very difficult to reach out towards others. For this reason, many of our world’s most vulnerable populations are not involved in proactive efforts, as my experience has shown. The mentality understandably becomes be selfish or perish.
Now, I am an instructor at a liberal arts college with the mission of promoting environmental and social justice. Generally, my students are idealists who have led comfortable, sheltered lives. Some of my students are remarkable, and undertake community campaigns to help recent immigrants or promote lesbian and gay rights. However, many of my students want to change the world but get distracted by their social lives or the mundane demands of even our progressive school. They also become easily overwhelmed by the number of causes needing attention and the amount of work to be done. Some of them go on to make great strides towards change; some of them give up. This disconnect between those with accessible resources to help others and the people and situations in such dire need of change is another major obstacle to transformation. My students recognize their position of privilege, and the weight of the world on their shoulders is paralyzing.
If vulnerable populations are left voiceless, and more privileged populations are paralyzed, then the obstacles to change are formidable. However, if we look at these two problems together, we can see that the solution may lie in their convergence. Perhaps the real hurdle is our division from one another—the “haves” and “have-nots.” Perhaps if we move beyond survival and philanthropy to re-envision all people as one community, we would produce the power to rise above our circumstances. Though history likes to favor stories of heroes, real change has only ever occurred when people from varying circumstances come together under a common cause. In order for this to succeed, we must all do some serious soul searching and honestly scrutinize our perceived limitations and preconceived notions of others. To address such a grand problem as we are facing, we must have the strength to look inside, and the courage to reach beyond ourselves.