“What is one major personal sacrifice you are willing to make this year in the service of the greater good?”
~Scott Barry Kaufmann
I’ve struggled with my response to this one. Four unusable drafts later, I am closer to what I really want to say, as close as I can get for now. Others’ words are helping me with this topic that I find hard to write about, so I begin it with an excerpt from a recent writing by psychologist and author Clarissa Pinkola Estes.
“…In the language of aviators and sailors, ours is to sail forward now, all balls out. Understand the paradox: If you study the physics of a waterspout, you will see that the outer vortex whirls far more quickly than the inner one. To calm the storm means to quiet the outer layer, to cause it, by whatever countervailing means, to swirl much less, to more evenly match the velocity of the inner, far less volatile core — till whatever has been lifted into such a vicious funnel falls back to Earth, lays down, is peaceable again.
One of the most important steps you can take to help calm the storm is to not allow yourself to be taken in a flurry of overwrought emotion or despair — thereby accidentally contributing to the swale and the swirl. Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach. Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul, to assist some portion of this poor suffering world, will help immensely. It is not given to us to know which acts or by whom, will cause the critical mass to tip toward an enduring good.
What is needed for dramatic change is an accumulation of acts — adding, adding to, adding more, continuing. We know that it does not take “everyone on Earth” to bring justice and peace, but only a small, determined group who will not give up during the first, second, or hundredth gale…
Struggling souls catch light from other souls who are fully lit and willing to show it. If you would help to calm the tumult, this is one of the strongest things you can do.”
Sacrifice and Risk
Scott asks what personal sacrifice we are willing to make for the greater good. The most personal sacrifice I can make is a sacrifice of myself. This year, I am willing to sacrifice something closely tied to who I am, and how I most prefer to live. I value my privacy, my quiet time, and the intimacy of exchange that one-on-one contacts and small groups allow. I am comfortable in the safety of my relative obscurity.bI probably reach a couple of thousand people each year through my in-person and online presence. My active, ongoing followers number in the hundreds, not the thousands, and for the most part that suits me fine. More are always welcome, and I’ve spent the past year working to broaden my reach, with heartening success. That slow growth has been ok with me, up until now. But now is the time to step out of that relative obscurity because I have medicine to offer for the greater good, and it can’t do its work unless people can find it.
We find ourselves in perhaps the most difficult times I have known in my lifetime. We could argue that, as I was born toward the end of our country’s second Red Scare. I have lived through the Bay of Pigs, the Vietnam War/Civil Rights– era, the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, and 9/11 and it’s aftermath. All of these were times of unrest, uncertainty and social/political conflict. But today, it seems to me, we are in a more perilous place, worldwide as well as in our nation. This time of peril includes new levels of threat. We are made aware of these with every exposure to the news and social media, and through what we see happening locally, nationally and worldwide. Times of peril open up amazing possibilities. We don’t know what will happen next, and our individual and collective actions can lead to unexpectedly positive change. Both threat and possibility are real, and both must be attended to.
Sacrifice and the Greater Good
I will sacrifice my comfortable obscurity in service of the greater good. I will stretch out to mend the part of the world that is within my reach. I am and will continue contributing time, energy, money and effort to launch the Department of Hope. I will craft and deliver messages, events, and materials to share this idea and gather in those who want to be part of it and help it grow. This decision, these actions, this sacrifice incurs some risks, ones that concern me. I accept this. Because, now is the time. Because to not to do so carries even greater risks. Because if not now, when?
I want to find help for my struggling soul and want to be a light for others’. I want to find hope, meaning, and deep gladness. I want to be energized by this activity, and I want to find rewards within it. I am comforted and strengthened by the knowledge that I am part of a “….small accumulation of acts creating a a critical mass that will tip toward an enduring good.”
Activism generates hope because it is an alternative and it shows the way to a better world. (Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark, 2016, 3rd edition). Hope leads to action; action strengthens hope. Hope lights our struggling souls.
Sacrifice and Joy
During our recent Department of Hope online gathering, we spoke of hope-based action: “I do what brings me joy,” said one participant. She went on to describe how she loves reading and writing, so she supports the greater good through her literacy volunteering. She noted there are other things she could do, but she wouldn’t enjoy them as much. I love this linking of activism and joy, and I think about her words in the sense of theologian Frederick Breur’s words:
…the vocation for you is the one in which your deep gladness and the world’s deep need meet.
Deep gladness isn’t about frivolity (not that there’s anything wrong with bouts of frivolity!); nor is about forcing yourself into an action that meets a need but that you dislike. Deep gladness is found in those actions that bring us into alignment with our true selves as we better the world around us.
Is it okay to find rewards in sacrifice? Is it okay to take care of ourselves and even to have fun as we sacrifice for the greater good? Most certainly! Does this somehow mean we aren’t really sacrificing? I think not. What we say “yes” to in life necessitates saying “no” to something else. It means taking on risk and giving up something of value. So its best to say yes to those things that bring us profound satisfaction, a deep gladness and a sense of joy. And it’s best to have fun as we go, which restores us, energizes us and reminds us why sacrifice is worthwhile.
See what other members of Quest2017 have to say about sacrifice:
My previous Quest2017 posts:
Quest2017, lead by Jeffrey Davis, Chief Tracker at Tracking Wonder. The Tracking Wonder Quest, begun 3 years ago, gathers up people like you and me, creatives, business artists and professionals, in search of ways to do good and do better in the coming year. You can still join us. The Quest is free, and you will have access to the first five prompts. You can respond privately, post just in our private FB group, or share your responses in your blog on social media.