Sean laments how inconsequential our actions can sometimes feel. The day that Sean wrote that I think we must have been riding the same wave, so I started a short rant about how I deal with those kind of days. Of course, it turned into a long rant (surprise, surprise).
Earlier the same morning I was thinking about how I spend roughly 12 hours each day either preparing for, travelling to or from, or being at work. Now, I have a pretty sweet job – I don’t complain – but I can sometimes fall into a rut where it feels like what I’m doing with my life is not serving some higher purpose. I saw on a TV show this week (yes, I’ve had time to watch TV!) that this might be a reaction to other parts of my personality, but that’s a whole other story.
And I have to admit just the other day I was event wondering about how useful these “little comments on the web” really are? Am I achieving anything by spouting opinions into cyberspace?
In his (in)famous book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People Stephen R. Covey talks about the concept of your circle of influence, and your circle concern. In short (and this probably won’t make a lot of sense out of the context of the rest of the book, but I’ll try) your circle of concern is all those things in your world (be they personal or in a broader sense of the word “world”) that you care about, that affect (are of concern to) you, and that you would like to do something about. Your circle of influence is those things of concern in your world that you can directly impact and make a difference in, however small. The idea being that if you spend your time focussing on the things in your circle of influence that that circle will, over time, grow to encompass more of your circle of concern. He does point out that your circle of concern will always be larger than your circle of influence, and that your circle of influence may not be all that expansive, but if you focus too much on that part of your circle of concern that is outside your circle of influence, you are wasting your energy, and you will always feel that the problems are just too big, that they’re “out there”, that there’s nothing you can do about things, so why bother?
It’s kind of like an intellectually expanded version of that popular Reinhold Niebuhr quote: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” However, there’s a bit more to it than that. I find generally that when I am in one of those ruts that I am focussed too much on the outside of my circle of influence. Conversely, when I am happiest, I am entrenched in doing things that fall within my circle of influence. Those are the times where I feel that, no matter how small the specific task is and no matter how inconcequential it may feel (or be), that I feel I am doing something positive, that I am, in my own small way, making a difference.
I also find solace in the idea that if each of us, in our own way, does the right thing, does our little bit, that collectively this adds up – especially if we can find some things to do with other people where synergy can take effect and something bigger than ourselves can happen. I have to admit that outside of making music with other people, I don’t think I have fully felt “synergy” on a consistent basis (I have felt it at times at work and in other pursuits, but not consistently). I hope that looking ahead I can find and/or create more of these kinds of synergistic opportunities. huméco is one of those opportunties, Glance is another. These are things that feel “bigger than me” – where I feel a real synergy with the other people involved. And it feels great!
The question that I find hardest to answer is “what, specifically, should I do?” In other words, what is something that I can apply my effort to, that is achievable with my current means and within the constraints of my situation, that can make that difference and give me that sense of wellbeing and positive contribution? I don’t think I have ever fully answered that question, but I feel that currently I’m at least walking in the right general direction.
I think it all starts with coming to peace with yourself, and giving yourself the time to understand what your core values you are. It may seem odd to start helping others by first focussing on yourself (I’m not talking about being selfish here, just taking time out to sort out your own issues), but without that I think there is a risk that your efforts will be misguided – either because they don’t mesh with your core values, or because the motives behind, be they conscious or sub-conscious, may not be appropriately placed.
When I started thinking about what I could do, tonnes of things came to mind – volunteering with an NGO (Non-Government Organisation – i.e. in no particular order Amnesty International, Oxfam, ATC, Friends of the Earth), travelling (possibly volunteering overseas), writing letters to government representitives (you’d be surprised how effective this can be in having an effect on policy debate if framed well), joining a political party (yeh – they all suck, but the only way to change them, unless you’re a media magnate, is to get on the inside – Exhibit A: Labor for Refugees), writing on a weblog or talking to your friends about the things that matter to you (even if it’s only to your friends – awareness about and activation around an issue can start from the smallest of seeds), and plenty more too. Of course, everybody will have their own ideas about what fits them. That’s where the personal questioning comes in…
Each of these things might not take a lot of time, which means they don’t steal away the 3-4 hours a day you have left after earning a crust, but with thousands of other people, the difference such activity can make is palpable. And it’s this thought that gets me through those kind of days.